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Friday, January 25, 2013

The Weight of Theology

I was at church once (a Sunday, if you’re wondering), when the preacher said something that caught my ear. He said, “Today, we’re going to do a little theology.” Normally, this is the kind of statement that perks me up, invigorates me, gets my brain running a little higher than usual. I love theology. In fact, the subheadings for both the blogs I run indicate their abiding interest in all things theological. One of my favorite things to do with people is sit down and discuss theology, even if (sometimes especially if) the people there have no “official” training in the area. I enjoy the exchange of ideas, sharing stuff I’ve learned or am learning in school, and engaging my mental capacities for the sake of the church.

But on that Sunday, when the preacher said, “Today, we’re going to do a little theology,” it was not so invigorating. He made this statement with something like regret or apology, almost like he prefaced it with, “It kind of sucks that we have to go through this, but…” And when he said it, there was an audible groan in the congregation. Granted, that groan came from a friend of mine who was sitting next to me, and he was doing it to be funny. I did not find this out until a while later, but I was not mistaken in the expressions on the people’s faces. You know the look of a teenager who is told to clean her room, and her reaction is something like, “But that’s so unfair!”? That’s how it felt. And there’s a problem here.

I don’t know where I got it, but I feel like I was trained growing up that theology, really deep Bible-study, was for pastors and ministers. Where I grew up, it was really only the preaching minister who was supposed to filled this role. My dad, who was the youth minister at the time (it’s officially out in the open; I’m a minister’s kid!), sought to go deeper, but often was not supported in this because “that’s not something youth ministers are supposed to do.” I get the feeling that there is some element of this in the congregation I attend now, but it feels true to a lesser degree than at my original church home. This could be because the elders (at least those I know personally) actually study the Bible, teach classes, and engage with all kinds of people in a great number of circumstances. This is a wonderful undertaking, in my opinion.

My problem is that we have tended to think theology is for theologians. I’m an aspiring theologian (though I’m uncertain at what point I can actually say, “Hi, I’m Reed, and I’m a theologian,” at the Theologians Anonymous meetings), but I truly enjoy talking to people who would never use that title for themselves. An extension of the problem is this: we think theology is for theologians, but have forgotten that theology is for the church. Theology and church have an intricate relationship with one another. If theology is done primarily in community rather than by scholars sitting in corners with ancient texts (which I am finding more and more true all the time), then in what community does it happen?

Though many have found theology oppressive, or have been abused by it or those misusing its power, it is within the church and the people who exist within it that theology is created. It is a burden that falls not just on the shoulders of those who have degrees, but on the everyday people and situation where God is at work. For those keeping a running count, that was the first time I’d mentioned him in this post. But I would like to deal more with God’s role in theology in the next post. For now, let me suffice it to repeat that theology is for the church. Theology is not a dirty word. But let’s not avoid bad theology by avoiding theology altogether. Either we’re all in, or there’s not much of a point to it.

And, for your consideration, a bit of satire called "Shallow Small Group Bible Study." Enjoy.

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