jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

doing theology

Who does theology? In short, everyone does! And everyone is a theologian, even those who never realize it! Any thought that is related to the ultimate questions in life is inherently theological. Someone might say, “I have my Bible and the Holy Spirit. I pray to my God and He talks to me. I don’t need theology!” However, the irony is this: not only did that person just issue a deeply theological thought in denouncing theology, but also he/she underwent a profound theological process, one that was likely shaped by years of experiences and theological indoctrination, in order to arrive at his/her conclusion. There is no way to escape theology. You have done it, you are doing it, and you will continue to do it. Hopefully that is not disappointing to hear. Here is the good news for us to hear: We’re all invited! We all belong to the process of doing theology.

How is theology done? Well, that can become a complicated answer. However, here is a starting point. The difference between the most brilliant theologian and you or me or good-old Sister Jones in our church back home is a difference of degree, not kind. In other words, the most sophisticated theological thought may be theology on a different level, but it is still the same basic theological questions that all of us ask. The professional theologian, in her/his years of study, has not so much expanded into new areas of inquiry, as simply perfected and deepened the fundamentals. Hopefully discipleship has introduced you to these fundamentals. And if you choose to do so, you will find that you can explore them the rest of your life.

Is all theology created equally? No. Certainly there are plenty of examples of theology poorly done. Since you will do theology whether you want to or not, why not choose to do it well? After all, doing theology well is a biblical doctrine (instruction). In any professional field—business, sports, politics, etc.—there are a few individuals, groups, and organizations that have risen to the very top. When you ask these professionals how they got there you normally here the same basic response: “I (or we) continued to focus on the basics of the business, the fundamentals of the game.” Obviously theology is not a competition. However, it seems that you and I, and the church in general, could learn from the wisdom of these successful persons. We must commit ourselves to sound doctrine, and then diligently work on those fundamentals for the rest of our lives. This, in my mind anyway, is a trustworthy approach to the confusion of our times.

3 comments on “doing theology

  1. Don Warrington
    October 18, 2008

    You, my friend, have hit up on what is for me, at least, a sore subject.

    A little while back, I made this statement: “I’ve just about come to the conclusion that the phrase “Protestant theology” is an oxymoron. Protestants don’t have theology; they have doctrine. They teach it, they make it a litmus test for acceptance and, if they’re really on their game, they live it. But the word “theology” implies that one has to think out the “why”–the mechanics, to use an engineering term–behind something, and Protestants in general and Evangelicals in particular seem to be afraid of that. Too many people have the idea that such a quest will end up with an unBiblical result. That’s why I say that Roman Catholic theology, for all of its problems (the biggest of which is the institution of the Roman Catholic Church itself,) is the premier intellectual tradition in Christianity. It also makes me glad that I spent my undergraduate years as an engineering student while ploughing through St. Thomas Aquinas on the side rather than sit in a seminary listening to “doctrine” be pompously exposited.”

    Honestly, I haven’t seen anything since that would change my thinking. And no one has challenged me on this either.

    Evangelical churches have for so long run on populism and anti-intellectualism that, although they tell people not to check their brains at the door, what they set forth just about requires it for credibility. And I’m not talking about doing a leftward drift to fix this either; the left is, if anything, worse. Recently I attempted to engage a well-known anti-fundamentalist in dialogue, and he responded by booting me off of his own blog and refusing to answer.

    If we really believe what we say is true, then we should have a well thought out rationale for it. Having such makes it easier to think through challenges better and come up with workable solutions rather than fighting battles we can’t or shouldn’t win.

    But, if you haven’t afforded yourself the opportunity to think something out up front, then chances are you won’t be able to think it through down the road when it matters. And that’s where too many of our people are today.

  2. Russell Roberts
    December 10, 2008

    Johnathan,

    I challenge you to live up to this statement…

    “Since you will do theology whether you want to or not, why not choose to do it well?”

    by considering N.T. Wright’s take on the meaning of justification in contrast to what Martin Luther THOUGHT it meant. It will rock your theological world brother.

    Be blessed.

  3. mike mcmullin
    February 24, 2009

    where are you? have you forsaken us?

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This entry was posted on October 18, 2008 by in faith, theology, vision and tagged .
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