August 28, 2007

Response to “Blue Collar Theology 5: Dangers of Theological Study”

The following is a response to: Blue Collar Theology 5: Dangers of Theological Study

Good points – I committed myself to a deeper study of the Word and theology about 5 years ago and have begun to answer the call to go back to school to lay the academic groundwork for entry into seminary, but it has caused me to see the world through different eyes in more then one way. I am constantly reminded to walk in humility and have a keen understanding of the brutal force that pride asserts itself with because I have seen it in the eyes of many “theological literates” and have followed some of them long enough to see the scattered brokenness in their lives that was resultant. I feel like I know what it is like to have opened a door that I cannot close, and to have entered into a place that I cannot leave – and to have learned a language that I cannot always communicate to others in; but the moment that I give myself any glory for that then I am farther behind then I would have ever been prior.

There is a tension between two opposites that we have a degree of disregard for; and that is that theology needs to be practical and applicable to the people of the church – but at the same time there is a bit of self-contradiction in the term “armchair theologians;” there has been historically and there should be today an emphasis on the study of theology as more then just a hobby but a lifetime commitment – in that if you are a theologian you have to look past the “ivory tower” accusations and commit yourself to studying Greek when everybody else is watching football. I wonder if the modern church is suffering from some form of an intellectual shallowness resultant from a shift towards seeing the office of a theologian as strictly emanating from the pastor’s desk. I think many great theologians started as pastors (Barth, Schliermacher) and many great theologians either reluctantly or engagingly became pastors later – but there should be a reverential hierarchy of sorts; in that the theologian is seen as not just an advisor to the parishioner as by pastoral position but that that individual is a pastor to pastors themselves. I have a concern that so many pastors want to shape the content and form of theology today that there is merely a cacophonous roar that in the end winds up with a populist, simplistic and potentially Manichean in nature and culturally-driven/defined/orientated theology, vs. a biblical one.

I also have a concern that the rise of the amateur theologian combined with the office of a theologian also being generally oriented pastorally in an exclusive sense has also contributed to a merging of the idea of what it means to be offended by another person’s liberty in Christ (speaking of Paul’s ‘deference of his offense;’ “I shall eat no meat lest my weaker brother I offend.”) and what it means to be offended by the Word (“others came challenging the liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, and these we did not countenance for an hour” – Paul). Pastors always have the weight of their support around them and their popularity and denominational/organizational concerns/oversight; which are good things – but have the potential to limit what a pastor might want to speak. If a Southern Baptist pastor was reading a biography of Luther and read a letter of his where he was extolling his wife’s beer making skills or where Calvin was asking to be paid in wine, or that the Moravians (precursors to the Puritans) brewed and sold beer to support their missionaries; and if that same pastor suddenly and with great clarity realized that the scripture indeed taught moderation and not prohibition; he would not be able to present those certain history lessons/that certain biblical truth to his parishioners that Sunday morning. He would no doubt formulate a seemingly cogent response that he as a pastor must defer his own offense towards himself and not offend his congregation in meat and drink issues; when in reality he is by nature of such a decision vacating his responsibilities to teach and preach the Word regardless of fear, favor or offense or what this or that currently popular culturally-mediated theological assertion might have to say about what he wants to speak in regards to. To me a truly great theologian should in some level live under the influence but not under the attachments of the rigor of a theological structure; as he must not just allow it to speak to him – but he must speak to it – for this is, after all, what defines a true theologian, as he or she is more then just someone who sits around debating points for the fun of it, but he is engaged in the sober task of contenting with and reforming the brokenness and affirming and strengthening the wholeness and truth of the theologian community that he or she is a part of – and it is crucial and necessary that such work be conducted either to the dismay or joy of those in his company. There is a danger in an individual having such power and influence – as the potential of disruption or reformation is greater with the greater the power in such an individual; but nobody ever said this whole business was safe to begin with – and that is also why we are warned that “teachers” will be held to a higher standard. Once we reassert this weighty responsibility towards what we teach but also in the outworking of how the teachings of a theologian are asserted in both welcomed and unwelcome environments, then the glory and allure of being a theologian is greatly diminished.

In today’s purple embroidered, HD televised, feel good, theology; everyone wants to call himself or herself a Prophet or a Theologian. If they realized the responsibility that it entailed, the potential for alienation and financial and relational impoverishment that will almost always at times accompany those who are used those ways – they’d pick another title and profession, rather then risk getting sawed apart in a log, living in a cave, and being despised and hated by everybody. And that just might not be all that bad a thing.