Why do we need Theology? Why should we practice it and who is it even for? These major themes are discussed in by Grenz and Olson’s Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God. The authors explain their motivation by observing that “Many Christians today not only are uninformed about basic theology but even seem hostile to it.” The beginning of Who Needs Theology is summed into two distinctive parts:
- everyone is a theologian and
- not all theologies are equal.
The book then continues with definitions, methods, and tools that can help theology be defended and put into application.
Theology is a combination of two Greek words, “theos” meaning God and “logos” meaning wisdom or thought. Theology is “and thinking, reflecting, or contemplating on the reality of God- even on the question of God.” . Biblical theology is based wholly on scripture, therefore limiting our sources to The Bible. Historical Theology is rooted solely in history.
Systematic Theology defined from our class notes is “the collecting, scientifically arranging, comparing, exhibiting, and defending of all facts from any and every source concerning God and His works.” This means Systematic Theology is both biblical and historical and brings together the facts. As I continued reading about the various levels of theology I realized that as a college student I would have found myself in the folk and/or lay theology columns. Believing blindly because of what I had heard from a minister, and then eventually asking some qualitative questions to help more wholly understand my beliefs.
I felt called to ministry in high school, but I didn’t know what that really meant. Would I be involved in ministry as my full time occupation, would I be an all star volunteer within a ministry, would I work for a church? Para-church? It was during my graduate schooling, as I continued to mature in my faith that I transitioned into Ministerial Theology. Reflecting on the beliefs I had come to know, and entering into more intentional studied through my church and the organizations, and now as a part of my job I am taking classes through DTS and other trainings, etc from various seminary professors and pastors.
My journey in theology as been progressing and developing for many years even if I did not realize it’s forward motion. My upbringing taught me that theology was for the most academic, prestigious of high priests, and although I changed my perspective and denominations it has taken quite some time for my brain to relearn many of the “truths” that I came to know and just believe.
I have always thought theology to be important. I would have said that to anyone who asked, and would have even defended the need for theology. However, if you asked me to back my beliefs with something more that “because it’s important,” I am not sure how much depth I could have brought to this argument. In the beginning of the book the statement is made, “Theology grounds Christian living.” This sentence was really the mindset I had while digesting the readings and reflecting on my own ministry. I would agree that I am looking to deepen my understanding of Christ, but wouldn’t have given myself the title of theologian until after reading Mr. Grenz and Mr. Olson’s book.
I work for the ministry of Young Life and our mission is to introduce adolescents to Christ and help them grow in their faith. Many of our students have no knowledge of Christ when we meet them and are not interested in a relationship with him because of their own past experiences with the church or because of past experiences with “Christians.” Many of the college students I work with do however want to know the facts. They are, many for the first time, asking their own questions about faith, life, etc. and are looking for someone to give them the truth.
To gain knowledge for themselves, not just because someone has told them what to believe or how to believe it. These students are in a pursuit of wisdom, they might just not realize that Jesus is the answer they’re looking for. Therefore, my job, is to walk along side of them and point them to scripture. Help them find answers in the Bible and help them understand what it looks like to be God’s people.
Every day I am interacting as a theologian, however it wasn’t until reading this book that I would have vocalized it in such this way. Maybe a bout of low self confidence would have told me that I am no where near as educated as I should be for someone who would call themselves a theologian. As Christians, we are tasked to go and make disciples and as we are training our volunteers in Young Life we often reference that verse, and reference a saying that we can only lead people where we’ve been. Without theology, we are giving people a very small vision of Christ’s plan for their lives.
Additionally, without theology it can be alluring to engage in someone’s religion that might not be based in biblical truth. Our cultural is strongly encouraging us to “follow our hearts,” or “ do what feels good,” and because of that, I think churches might be aware of key issues in our culture, yet fail to engage them in dialogue. I live in the Bible belt, so everyone could easily be described as a “Christian.’ A cultural Christian. I related with the book when it gave warning to the “cultural expressions that capture the imagination of people around us.” .
I find it so easy to walk the line of engaging folks in the creativity and newness that our culture brings while sometimes slipping dangerously close to anti-biblical norms “Appraising and responding to culture” with our theologian filter on helps us to challenge ourselves, to live out our convictions. I’ve heard the expression that as Christians, we should be in the world, but not “of” the world, and I think this is the heart of that that saying is trying to express. We can better understand ourselves, and our lives as Christians the more extravagantly we understand Christ.
When I began working more closely with college students, is when I first found myself defending theology more often. College students are catapulted into adulthood as soon as they arrive on campus trying on newfound indolence all while wondering where and with whom they belong. While they’re still navigating their way through extended adolescence they are confronted with major life decisions. As the familiarity of home fades, diversions of the college culture emerge and college students are desperately trying to fix their broken lives with anything offered to them.
I get to offer these college students unconditional support, encouragement, and hope as they examine Christ. Just as we discussed tradition in theology and the church, these students are asking WHY. Do I believe what I believe because someone told me to do that, or do I believe because the Bible says that. They want to know where this information comes from, and they want to know what to believe. This is when I often see objection to Theology. The killjoy objection might be one I am faced with most often. Students want to live guilt free and if they view God as a rule maker who comes to bring judgement then being a Christian might not feel good. They want to live in a world with prosperity theology and not biblical theology.
When Grenz/Olson states “too many people confuse “simple, childlike faith” with “simplistic and childish faith,” AMEN. I have not heard it explained this way, but I have seen this to be true. I believe I can be more effective in my discipleship if I am more aware of these objections. My goal is not to have the right answer ready to shut them down, but I can hopefully walk through their objections with some structure and truth, and as I now know, theology.
I remember walking through my own questions when looking for a church to join as a young adult. I looked at the doctrines and beliefs that different churches held and looked to see what the Bible had to say about them. While I did not officially label these Christian beliefs into the specific categories of dogma, doctrines, and opinions, but those beliefs are what I was investigating. Growing up Catholic I had already made my own decisions that some of the traditions of the Catholic church were held to a standard of “biblical truth” that did not exist. I was looking for scripture to back up all the decisions a church had made.
This is where I first came upon questions on the Trinity and much like discussed in the book, I was first surprised to find that the Bible does not directly illustrate this doctrine. As a newer Christian I was uneasy and a little unnerved that something I believed so freely and wholly was not in scripture. Thankfully, I had some great theologians in my life who were able to point me to the indirect teachings of the Trinity in the Bible. As Grenz/Olson say, “The concept of the Trinity is a product of synthesizing reflection on the diverse biblical portrayals of God.” . I was relived to know that a pillar I had built so much of my faith on was indeed Biblical. That, subsequently, was when I learned, most likely for the first time, the importance of theology.
While I have already been utilizing some of these tools of theology without realizing what I was doing, knowing these tools will hopefully allow my discipleship to be more effective. The authors conclude much of the book with a suggestion of pursuing theology within community and while theology might have been a part of my ministry and life already, I feel more equipped with tools and language to walk onto college campuses and share the hope of Christ, to enter into the lunch rooms of high schools, and to engage in meaningful conversations with peers, families, and anyone in my every day life.
- Grenz, Stanley J. And Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: an Invitation to the Study of God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, USA, 1996.
- Kreider, Glenn R. “Prologomena + History of Theology Modules.” Unpublished class notes for ST101OL. Dallas Theological Seminary. Spring Semester, 2019.