Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Comparing the Stages of Cognitive Development (Jean Piaget) to the Stages of Faith (James Fowler)

New Ways of Thinking — Part One
John W. Hawthorne
May 28, 2013
I’m working on a book chapter summarizing literature on social psychology and learning as it relates to students attending Christian universities. Today I worked my way through Jean Piaget’s stages of cognitive development and James Fowler’s stages of faith.  It helped me think about three things: 1) the transitions described by Piaget and Fowler may be particularly difficult for evangelical young people to navigate, 2) Christian colleges are especially significant as that navigation is taking place, and 3) the transitions of thought process or the lack thereof is at the center of many of our issues in the evangelical church.
Stage theories have their limits, which I’ll speak to shortly. But there’s something significant about exploring shifts in cognitive processes. They suggest that students aren’t simply involved in learning new stuff — they’re developing entirely new ways of thinking.  Those new ways have their own risks and challenges.
Jean Piaget identifies four stages:
  1. Sensorimotor Stage: infants respond to environmental stimuli
  2. Preoperational Stage: pre-school children acquire language and learn to take the perspective of others.
  3. Concrete Operational Stage: roughly equivalent to school years. Children adopt rigid categories and classifications. Imagining situations other than the current is very difficult.
  4. Formal Operational Stage: begins in the teen years. Child is able to use formal processes to consider hypotheticals, alternatives, and contrasts between situations.
James Fowler, adopting ideas of Piaget and Kolberg, identifies six stages of faith development:
  1. Intuitive Projective Faith: young children have an imagined sense of things, clinging to stories but operating in a free-form sense
  2. Mythic-Literal Faith: school children see faith as connected to right and wrong and have a tendency to take metaphors literally
  3. Synthetic-Conventional Faith: teens are balancing a high commitment to conform to religious authority with simultaneously working through issues of personal identity
  4. Individuative-Reflective Faith: young adults begin to take responsibilities for their own personal views but struggle with difference from their past patterns
  5. Conjunctive Faith: associated with mid-life periods, faith is able to handle paradox, conflict, and abiguity. Certainty is not as highly valued.
  6. Universalizing Faith: for a limited number of individuals, faith becomes generalized rather than particular with an openness to justice for all people.
When I consider the students I deal with on a daily basis, they’re generally in transition between Piaget’s concrete operational and formal operational stages. In terms of Fowler, they’re moving from Synthetic-Conventional to Individuative-Reflective. A central component of the educational experience is to provide the context in which these new ways of thinking are explored.
There are many problems with stage theories but I’ll mention three. First, people move through the stages at their own pace. Not everybody who enters college is ready for formal operational thinking. (I’ve known some professors who are more comfortable with synthetic-conventional faith!) Second, the movement between stages is really more of a sense of back and forth. Some days are conjunctive and others are individuative-reflective. Some topics are concrete operational while others are formal operational. Third, these transitions are not easy. When students start to individuate their faith, they often feel like what they “have known” (that is, adopted from their parents) is crumbling. They need solid support as they’re exploring transitions.
I’ve written before about the young evangelicals I’ve been reading. As I said in that post, these are characteristically people of deep faith who are trying to think in new ways (individuative-Reflective). In my first post on this blog, I wrote of Rachel Held Evans’ story from Evolving in Monkey Town. Hers is a classic story of moving from concrete operational to formal operational thinking. The more she works out her questions in public forums, the faster she’s moving toward Fowler’s Conjunctive Faith.
There are some more sociological implications of these developmental stages. There are subcultures that inhabit a particular stage and place normative pressures on their members to think accordingly — not just to agree with conclusions but to process information in a particular way. They take pride in holding to a concrete, conventional faith. (I worry that some really desire the mythic-literal faith of elementary aged children.) If folks in the membership start thinking otherwise, they’ll feel great pressure to get back in line or leave. Pete Enns’ post yesterday gives voice to what it’s like to be in that pressure-filled situation.
I have other friends who valiantly attempt to engage concrete/conventional thinkers in dialogue on Facebook (looking at you, James McGrath and Karl Giberson). I’m always impressed by their efforts to confront those who claim evolution is of Satan or that Obama is destroying the world. They want their dialogue partners to engage in a level of thought Piaget would admire but it never seems to happen.
These notions of how people think are related to the general patterns we’re seeing in the evangelical world. The more today’s youth embrace the open postmodernism of cultural diversity, the harder it is for them to manage synthetic-conventional faith. The more they cling to mythic-literal faith, the hard it is to navigate the society. Kinnaman’s work on disaffected youth is consistent with such a pattern. Even if they aren’t lost to Christianity (as one Christianity Today headline worried) they are thinking about that faith differently.
Another very interesting pattern is occurring later in the age cycle. The Barna group found that church involvement for those over 40 has dropped significantly over the last decade. Michelle Van Loon has been conducting some informal online surveys (reported here) to unpack that result and we’ve been exploring ideas about what factors contribute to the change. It may be a family-focus that doesn’t speak to empty nesters. It may be burnout or care for aging parents. It may have something to do with our focus on seeker-sensitive services. I wondered today if it might not be that some of the 40+ crowd are moving into Fowler’s Conjunctive Faith while their congregations are barely making out of Synthetic-Conventional.
In short, how we organize our thinking appears to matter a lot. It speaks to how information is (or isn’t) processed and the kinds of conclusions that are open for consideration.
My next post will look at some of the same issues from the perspective of mental schemas, heuristics, and other patterns of meaning-making.

New Ways of Thinking — Part Two
John W. Hawthorne
May xx, 2013

Be Amazed by God's Weakness... Not by His Divine Power!

Cirque of Unclimbables, Nahanni National Park, Northwest Territories, Canda

I am not familiar with today's author, David Henson. Not his beliefs. Not his theology. However, in today's article I felt he has touched upon a subject that we have looked at before. A subject that asks how we are to imagine God's power in relationship to God's creation. A creation which appears all-powerful, and oft times, out-of-control, or unsubmitted, to God's rulership.
I say "all-powerful" because many of the astronomers, cosmologists, and physicists of the world become geeked-out over the depth, the wonder, the strangeness of our infinite universe (or universes!). In the eyes of a godless science it only sees unending power stretching across the vast voids of time and space. But for the Christian scientist, s/he sees the God of the bible who stands behind the universe's emptiness and amazing wonders. Who Himself had cast its beginning from the span of his hands and very heart. Who has shared Himself through a universe and creation which we sometimes tremble before in its displays of deadly power and terrible acts of random destruction.
Certainly we know God's creation to be out-of-control.... Are we ourselves not the essence of this statement by our heads, hearts, souls, and spirits, as we strive against one another instead of with one another? Are we not unsubmitted to the Creator God of the universe who fills our hearts with timeless wonder before the ant or sun, the rainstorm or rolling expanse of mountain, desert, and saged prairie? Before endless meadows, the violent turbulent seas, and endless icy plains of snow and tundra?
And yet, in the sublimity of God's holy creation He would empty Himself of His omnipotence and share this power to His handiwork... to we ourselves as even to the created realm we find ourselves... to use, work, and live within, by His allowance, will and divine submission of power. To wield His creative majesty as would please ourselves and not Himself (not that I would ascribe existential willfulness to mortal-less matter... ). For this is the essence of creative indeterminacy and human free will. To exert power at the behest of the created thing or man. To allow the wind to become a deadly storm. The water a fatal force. Or man a wicked thing.
More simply said, when God did create, He created at the same time the freedom that we find in ourselves and observe within our ecosystems, sun, moon, and stars. This "creaturely freedom" the bible calls "sin." For in the granting of indeterminacy to nature, and of freedom to man, God did allow for its immediate affects and causations. But, God did also immediately begin exercising His divine sovereignty (how could He not by being who He is!?!?) by implementing His plan of redemption back to all. This we have observed in the progressive evolution of the universe, and of nature, and of man. However, within this redemption is the purposefulness that is held in what can be known as the "weakness" of God.
And it is to this biblical expression of God that I have found today's article quite helpful. So rather than asking the wrong question of "Why isn't God all-powerful?" Or by making the incorrect statement that foolishly asserts "God isn't all-powerful!" Let us behave our theological tempers and learn to appreciate the "weakness of God" emanating pervasively throughout His creation. And to likewise discover what this means to us, most implacably. That God has granted to man the use of His power. That it is we ourselves who must bear God's divine responsibility of using our freedom aright. That it is we who bear His divine accountability. Who must seek to behave our human willfulness. To learn God's heart of grace and merciful forgiveness so that we might more ablely share some small portion of God "Power" back with one another. And to the ecosystem that we live within.
To me, this is the better question to ask. Questions that we should ask of ourselves. Of our responsibilities within the larger redemptive scheme of things. And to pay attention to the smaller nuances of the biblical record as pertaining to Jesus who not only was God's representative to us on this earth. But was very God Himself come to show to us God's "weakness' in the wisdom of His purposeful creation. To show to us what it meant to "empty" Himself of His divine power in submission to the flesh through Incarnation; to the powers of this world; to the cross of redemption; and to the sinful freedom of man's willfulness.
This then is the ultimate example bourne by God's "servitude" to the redemption of both man and cosmos. That in the re-ordering of all things according to His will, mind and heart, it is God's purposeful "weakness" that we most find God. Not by demonstrations of His creative power (not that we haven't observe this in the biblical record). Nor by His amazing feats of coercive miracle (again, something we have also observed within biblical passages). But by His willing submission of His power to redeem all. Be amazed at that... and not by God's subjective use power demonstrations for we-of-little-faith. Rest then in the sleep of Jesus, wearied upon a boat at sea, thrashed by violent waters, and know even then that our God reigns!
R.E. Slater
May 29, 2013
Sleeping Through Storms: Rethinking Theodicy, Natural Disasters and God’s Omnipotence
May 28, 2013
God is not all-powerful.
At least, not in the ways we tend to define power.
For us, power means that we get our way, that we can impose our will upon the world around us, that we can conform others into our images in order to achieve unity and security. In our minds, we equate power with control, sovereignty.
So, when the world spins out of control as it did in Oklahoma this week, and at the Boston marathon a month ago, and at Sandy Hook Elementary six months ago, we begin to wonder what happened to this all-powerful God to whom the skies and seas and nations are supposed to bow.
Are the heavens really declaring the majesty of God when an E-5 tornado destroys an entire town?
Only the most deranged and pathological of leaders suggested in the tornado’s wake that God was in control of the situation or was somehow, ultimately, responsible for the deadly twister. That includes, apparently, folk like John Piper and our own president, who seemed to imply that the tornado was a part of God’s plan. I’m sorry, but tornadoes are not part of God’s plan. Most of us can admit that without losing our faith, just like we can admit that God isn’t really calling the shots when it comes to jet streams, weather patterns and 200-mile-per-hour winds.
Instead of attributing the destruction to God, we tend to reassure ourselves that, in spite of it all, God is with us in the destruction, with us in the suffering, weeping with us. What we imply in this, but don’t often say, is that, deep down, we know God is not in control. And secretly, we give thanks for that. Naturally, we then ask where exactly is God in the midst of tragedy and suffering. This existential question doubles as an unconscious and fragile prayer of thanksgiving and relief. While we may feel desolation and alienation from God in the midst of great natural disasters, we also feel grateful — hopeful, even — that God isn’t orchestrating all the pain and destruction in the world. It is a relief not to be worshipping a God who sends tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, disease, and pestilence. It is a relief not to pray to a God who indiscriminately kills children with the same heavens which declare God’s glory.
God is not in control of the weather. Thanks be to God, God is not in the business of controlling anything.
But if God isn’t in control in the midst of such destruction, then who is? Something more sinister? Maybe something more dangerous than a sinister being. Perhaps no one — and nothing — is in control. It is a scary and disorienting thought to begin to consider God isn’t our bodyguard protecting us like the divine Secret Service from the suffering and tragedy in our world.
We find this idea jarring because I think we misunderstand what divine power is. God doesn’t control the weather, because that isn’t the nature of God’s power. God’s power is something stranger, more paradoxical.
God’s power is in the act of becoming empty (kenosis), in becoming one of us.
God’s power is in incarnation and immanence, not omnipotence and distant transcendence.
In the gospel of John, Jesus tells us that when we see him, we see God. There’s a popular aphorism based on that notion, suggesting the radical nature of the Christian faith is not that Jesus is like God, but that God is like Jesus. And Jesus is in the business of emptying himself of power to the point of utter alienation and forsakenness by God. So what if God is indeed like that, like Jesus?
But, you might argue, there is a story in the gospels about Jesus and his power to control the weather. And it’s true. In the gospel of Mark, a terrible storm rises on the sea, threatening to swamp the disciples and the boat they are in. They are terrified, undone at the prospect of capsizing and drowning. They are baling water from the boat, struggling with wind-whipped sails, hanging on for their lives.
Jesus, meanwhile, is sleeping.
“Don’t you care that we are perishing?” they finally shout at him to wake him.
Jesus rebukes the wind and commands it to quiet down. “Peace! Be still,” he says, and it is a rebuke directed as much at the disciples as it is at the wind.
The disciples marvel at his power, asking, “Who is this, then, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
We are like the disciples. We want God to calm the wind and seas. We want to shout at God, “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you see we are perishing? Don’t you see so many of us — children, even! — have already perished? Wake up, God! Stop sleeping when we need you most!”
Like the disciples, we believe the power — the divine — is in the ability to control things. We assume, like the disciples, that the miracle is in Jesus rebuking and calming the storm.
But if you notice, Jesus only reluctantly uses his power. He doesn’t seem to want to do anything. He wants to keep sleeping! He goes so far as to rebuke his disciples for even asking for his help. He calls them faithless. This storm-calming power isn’t the kind of power Jesus came to demonstrate. Rather, it is the exact kind of power Jesus came in order to give up, to empty himself of. It is the same power he rejects when he refuses to throw himself from the pinnacle when he is tempted in the desert, the same power he turns down when he refuses to kneel before the Adversary, that same superficial power that controls earthly things.
As much as we might like, this isn’t a story, I don’t think, about Jesus’ ability to control the weather. He is bothered to do it and is bothered that his disciples even asked. This is a story, rather, about how little we believe God to be with us in the midst of an overwhelming storm. It’s about how, deep down, maybe we don’t really believe that a God-with-us is actually enough. It’s about how what we really want is a God who is in control. And it is an indictment of the disciples and of us.
I don’t really think the miracle in this story is about Jesus calming the storm and taking control. The miracle in this story is that Jesus with the disciples in the water-logged and weatherbeaten boat, experiencing the same terrible storm, the same terrible waves, the same terrible danger.
And that alone should have been enough.
God’s power isn’t in the control of creation or of people, but in being in covenant and relationship with them. It isn’t in imposing the divine will or insisting on its own way but in sojourning with us as we fumble around and make our way in the world. God’s power is not in miraculous interventions, pre-emptive strikes in the cosmic war against suffering and evil, but in inviting us to build a kingdom out of love, peace and justice with God. God’s power is not in the obliterating of what is bad in the world, but in empowering us to build something good in this world — even if that is something as small and life-changing as constructing storm shelters at every public school on the tornado-strewn plains.
And isn’t this true power? Instead of enforcing control and solutions onto the world, God’s power is revealed in coming alongside us, journeying with us, suffering with us, and even staying with us in the boat when the storms come.
The omnipotence of God isn’t about having all the power. That’s would turn God into an insecure narcissist. Rather, the omnipotence of God is in the sharing of power.



What Is Theology and Who Does It? Parts 1-3

by Roger Olson
            It may sound like a simple question (or two simple questions), but it’s not. I’ve been a “professional theologian” (someone who gets paid for being one) for thirty-one years and before that I was preparing to be one for several years. The dream of being a theologian probably formed in my mind during seminary. I sensed that I would never understand my Christian faith as fully as I wanted to without being a theologian myself. And I desperately wanted to understand my faith. But the roots of my vocation go back to childhood. I was raised in a pastor’s home and in a “high demand” church. Jesus and the Bible saturated our home, not just our church. And I always had an inquiring mind. After church I would often quiz my father about the meanings of hymns we sang and of things I heard in his sermon or in my Sunday School lesson. I didn’t always find his answers satisfying and that sense of dissatisfaction with answers stayed with me and grew stronger as I matriculated at our denomination’s college where I was spoon fed doctrines and not really allowed to explore them.
            The sense that theology might be my calling, however, really dawned in me during seminary. Some of my professors were brilliant, sensitive and very spiritual men and women who encouraged my inquisitiveness even when they didn’t have satisfying answers to my questions. My main textbook in “Systematic Theology” was Emil Brunner’s Dogmatics (3 volumes) and I loved it. Reading it propelled me to read deeper and wider in scholarly theology so that I eventually read in Barth, Tillich, Moltmann, Pannenberg, etc. And, yes, I also read portions of the church fathers and great Reformers—especially Calvin (Institutes). I knew I was an evangelical and determined to remain one, so I explored evangelical theologians. I found Carl Henry dry as dust but Bernard Ramm exhilarating. But my favorite was Donald Bloesch and I read everything I could get my hands on by him.
            My own faith family (broadly defined) rejected my thirst for theology and my calling to become a theologian. Nobody in it had ever done that without “losing the faith.” Seminary was routinely called “cemetery” and my determination to study theology led indirectly, if not directly, to my exclusion from my faith family which was saturated in anti-intellectualism. That I was attending seminary was bad enough, but when I announced my acceptance into the Ph.D. program in Religious Studies (with a concentration in theology) at a secular university my spiritual mentors rejected me entirely.
            All that is to say that my earliest experiences of becoming, and then being, a theologian - someone who professionally conducts research in and teaches and writes theology - were negative—so far as the people nearest and dearest to me were concerned. I will never forget the day before I left to study theology in Germany (during my Ph.D. work) I attended a family reunion. A dear uncle who was a wonderful Christian, but untutored in biblical studies or theology, took me aside and said “Roger, remember, there’s such a thing as an over educated idiot.” No one congratulated me or patted me on the back or said anything positive about my studies or my calling or my goals. I could easily detect a great hesitation and even uneasiness about what I was doing. It was considered dangerous and a waste of time. They all would have preferred I went directly from college into ministry—preferably as a missionary.

In large segments of American Christianity “theology” is almost a dirty word.
            And yet, whenever I explained theology as “faith seeking understanding” or “thinking about God” those same people, my faith family, would indicate that they thought that was something they did—better than any professionally trained “scholarly” theologian. And yet, time and time again, as I listened to and attempted to interact with them, I realized they knew almost nothing about theology. Their “theology” was folk religion. I wanted to move beyond that without leaving my evangelical faith behind.
            I hoped to discover a “world” where theology as I understood it—intellectually serious, even scholarly thinking about God (“the science of God”)—would be valued and where my vocation and training would be affirmed and used by people of God. That was my dream... but for the most part it has been dashed.
            My advice to young would-be theologians (in the sense I mean the vocation) is be prepared to be misunderstood and under-valued. Only go into it if you can’t do otherwise. For the most part, with notable and blessed exceptions, American culture and faith communities will not really value what you do. And you will often, even continually, be confronted with two attitudes among people of faith. One will be that you are wasting your time and theirs and unnecessarily complicating the Christian faith. The other will be that others do what you think you do better.
            During my studies in Germany my wife and I attended a Baptist church pastored by a “missionary” from the U.S. It was an English-speaking church with ties to the Southern Baptist Convention. The reason is that my wife and daughter did not speak or understand German. There were a few German-speaking Baptist churches in the city where we lived, but we settled on the English-speaking one for their sakes. (I often attended a German Lutheran church down the street before they joined me for the early afternoon Sunday worship service at the English-speaking Baptist church.) The pastor was a nice enough fellow, but he had no use for theology—except his own folk religious version of it. (He was not a seminary graduate.) I will never forget the Sunday he preached on the Christian’s attitude toward “secular culture.” He ended his sermon with “The Christian’s attitude toward secular culture should be ‘Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is already made up’.” I felt swept up and transported back to my faith family of origin and the college I [had once] attended.
I reveled in my doctoral studies in religion and theology but always held tightly to the broad evangelical faith of my seminary days.
            I walked into my first full time teaching position, in a Christian university, thinking my theological training would be valued and affirmed by people of my own faith orientation. It was an evangelical university with a strongly charismatic flavor. I had wonderful colleagues and many fine students—some of who come here occasionally (to my blog). The top administration, however, was just as anti-intellectual and anti-theological as anything I had ever encountered in my childhood and youth. The president (who was also the founder) forbid any philosophy major or department and was clearly suspicious of theology and theologians. He attempted to change course titles that included “theology” to say “doctrine” instead. “Introduction to Christian Theology” (which I taught in the undergraduate department) was to become “Introduction to Bible Doctrine.” Several of my colleagues in both the undergraduate and graduate departments of theology informed me that the president of the university was intentionally “untouched” by theology. Still, and nevertheless, I was left mostly alone in the classroom. I was free to select textbooks without interference and teach theology as I wanted to and felt led to.
            I left that university for several reasons, the main one being the top administration’s attitudes toward the life of the mind including theology. I could sense that I could never flourish there as a theologian. And I desperately wanted to enter into the “mainstream” of evangelical academic life by teaching in an evangelical Christian liberal arts college with a seminary (and perhaps eventually teach in the seminary). So I made my first career move—to a well-known and influential, growing evangelical Baptist college and seminary (now a university). I taught theology there for fifteen years and, for the most part, loved it. Again, I had many wonderful colleagues and excellent students. The constituency, however, was another matter. So were some of my colleagues and administrators.
            I will never forget the day I walked into the faculty lounge (to get a cup of coffee) and was introduced to a long-time member of the Cultural Studies Department—an anthropologist. He asked me what I would be teaching at the college and I replied “theology.” He scowled and said “Theology? We teach theology in our department.” It was the first shot across the bow of a long-standing debate about theology that would go on for years within the college. Some of my colleagues believed (and they were not alone among evangelical academics) that “theology” is a pseudo-discipline and that “real theology” was taught in other departments (than the Biblical and Theological Studies Department). One colleague in the Arts Department informed me that his works of art expressed Christian faith as well if not better than theology.
            Gradually I deduced that I was faced with a new form of antipathy toward theology—as I understood my professional discipline and vocation. It wasn’t anti-intellectual at all; it was simply rejection of formal, scholarly, academic theology as a distinct discipline alongside others in the academy. That rejection stemmed from various impulses; there was no one reason for it. But I found it to be common, not only in the college where I taught but in many other academic and religious communities—both “mainline” and evangelical.
            I entered theology as a career, a vocation, a life’s endeavor, for personal reasons of faith. I wanted to understand my Christian faith. But I also expected to find Christian communities that would value and affirm it and me. I at least hoped to be respected if I conducted myself rightly. What I often encountered, however, among both so-called “mainline” Christians and my fellow evangelicals was a suspicion of theology and resistance to it. (I worked for a few years under an administrator who regularly referred to those of us who taught theology as “you theology types” with a sneer in his voice. Most who shared his opinion were not as blatant about their disdain. Later, another administrator told me “Our students don’t need to know anything about Barth or Tillich or any other theologians”.)

Of course, there have been many exceptions. And they have given me hope and strength.
            ... Overall and in general, however, I have encountered mostly suspicion and resistance to serious, scholarly, academic theology—from secular people (of course), anti-intellectual Christians, and fellow Christians who do take the life of the mind seriously.
            The most dismaying party of people who are suspicious toward theology and resist it has been fellow evangelical (or just biblically-serious) intellectuals, scholars and academics—philosophers, biblical scholars, sociologists, anthropologists, etc. Many of them openly express the opinion that if “theology” has any value it is what they do and that theology itself, as a distinct discipline, is unnecessary at best and a pseudo-science (like astrology) at worst.
            Here are some reasons for that attitude. First, many evangelical scholars, intellectuals, academics have encountered - and been “burned” by - theologians who pontificate. They tend to blame all theologians and theology itself for those who have abused them. Second, many tend to think of theology, as a discipline, as esoteric and therefore unworthy of being taken seriously as a distinct discipline (in the sense the Germans mean by “scientific”—wissenschaftlich). In other words, they view it as speculative at best. Third, and perhaps this is a combination of the first two, many think that theology unnecessarily and even harmfully complicates religious faith, the Bible, and spirituality. One form this takes among some biblical scholars is the suspicion that theology attempts to impose harmony on the Bible—reducing the gospels to one account of Jesus’ life and ministry and forcing Jesus (or the gospel writers) to agree with Paul and vice versa.
            Perhaps the single most important, influential reason for the attitude I describe is the opinion that religion is primarily about ethics and/or spirituality and not doctrine. Therefore, the work of theologians is unnecessary unless it is simply the exposition of Christian discipleship and/or spiritual formation.
            No doubt some readers will think I am simply whining here—“I don’t get no respect!” (Rodney Dangerfield) Well, not really. I came to terms with this situation long ago even though I still find it dismaying—not because it hurts my feelings but because I think it hurts the churches.
            In Part 2 I will explain what I think theology really is and why it is a distinct and important discipline that should be valued and respected by Christians.
by Roger Olson
by Roger Olson