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WHO NEEDS THEOLOGY?

BY GRENZ AND OLSEN: A REVIEW

In the book Who Needs Theology?, authors Grenz and Olson, make the case that every Christian needs to be theologically literate, even that every Christian should become, at some reflective level, a theologian; that is, a person of faith beyond mere folk theology (which they define as childish, simplistic clichs and legends p 29). They write:

Because Christians are people who believe in God and also believe that God relates to them in special ways (through Gods Word, grace, faith, prayer, and so on), they would do well to explore the meaning of God and try to get to know God as thoroughly as possible with their whole beingmind as well as heart (p 20).

Taking up their challenge, what might stand in my way in this endeavour? The book suggests obstacles that fall into three categories: some may arise in dealing with other people, others in dealing with the theological process, and still others in dealing with ones inner motivations.

A. Dealing with Other People The endeavour to be theologically rigorous may be met with antagonism, such as the claim that scholarly theology is hostile to spiritual zeal and depth, and works against knowing God personally (pp 12, 27). The authors offer the obvious encouragement that there is morethere must be moreto a satisfying faith in Christ, than emotion and feelings (p 56). Opposition may arise in the claim that theology amounts to questioning God and doubting the authority of the Scriptures, and is therefore the opposite of faith (p 18). The appropriate response to such is for the would-be theologian to be genuinely (and perhaps, noticeably) fervent in heart as well as being intellectually sound. It may be that people see theologians as being out of touch with the common man, lost in a foggy, cerebral world of their own (p 13). They protest that the Bible speaks plainly and

straightforwardly to them, and that theologians only obfuscate matters (p 23). A good theologian would discourage this impression, by (unless appropriate) avoiding technical jargon and using practical, everyday language (a theologian unable to do so probably does not understand his/her subject anyway.) Others may assert that this constant examination of God robs faith of life and the reading of the Bible of joy (p 55). The theologians defence is that God calls people not to simplistic, childish faith, but to simple, child-like faith (p 58). Another accusation levelled at theology is that it divides Christians (p 59), whereas Jesus called for oneness among his followers. However, it is also true that Jesus divides (Mt 10:34) and that theology does sometimes unite (p 61). And in any case, theologys primary purpose is to discern the truth, which must stand as a higher goal than unity for its own sake (p 61). Some make the accusation that the task is arrogantly ambitious: God and his ways are ultimately an unfathomable mystery; study only gives rise to incomprehensible speculation (p 61). Here the only defence is to be vigilant against such excess. Finally, the authors raise the possible contention that the discipline of theology made no substantive advancement after about 300 AD (p 63). This is, in fact, true, but it needs also to be asserted that, given the many theological divisions in Christendom, progress could not be any other than slow (p 674).

B. Dealing with the Theological Process Theologians must be possessed of, in the authors phrase, a certain critical consciousness (p 32). Theology is not simply a superficial comparing and contrasting of passages from disparate parts of the Bible; there needs be the willingness to discover the subtle nuances of word meanings in the original Biblical languages and to elucidate the cultural and religious background against which words are used (p 23). Theologians must be prepared to grapple with lifes most perplexing questions, for theology ought to assist Christians by helping them establish their lives in the truth in Christ (pp 13, 39). Theologians must be prepared for hard mental work, but this has its rewards: it is pleasing to God and can prepare Gods people for worship as a whole-of-life activity (pp 39, 49). The authors summarise the work of a theologian in this way (p 80): 1. Theologys critical task: i. ii. examining and evaluating Christian beliefs; categorising valid Christian beliefs as dogma, doctrine, opinion.

2. Theologys constructive task: i. ii. constructing unified models of diverse biblical teachings; relating those models to contemporary culture.

The goal of this process is to state Christian belief in such a way that it assists people in being faithful disciples in their own culture and circumstances (p 108). Theologians must study the Scriptures to discern answers relevant to the questions and longings of the day, reaching conclusions that are true to the Scriptures, to the consensus of the settled teaching of the church over the ages, and applicable to people where they are (pp 111,115). Beyond a growing knowledge of Scripture and of the doctrines developed by Christian thinkers that have gone before, the theologian must be willing to take up the discipline of listening to cultureby observing people, listening to their conversations, keeping up with the news, becoming aware of cultural

expressions of a deeper spiritual quest, following intellectual developments, and even, possibly, studying philosophy (p 110).

C. Dealing with the Ones Inner Motivations Professional theologians exist to serve the community of faith, by helping people think like Christabout themselves and the world in which they live (p 14). But not so as to lord it over them; rather to be watchful of the temptation to be disdainful of the questions and concerns of ordinary Christians, and to be of a humble and cautious demeanour (pp 33, 34, 90). A theologian must engage in deep study, but avoid falling into the trap of making complete understanding a precursor to belief, and of being more interested in his/her own thoughts about God than in God himself (pp 33, 59). The authors final warning nicely summarises the whole matter: a person should engage in theology, not merely to amass knowledge, but to gain wisdom for Christian living, for, as they express it, good theology always moves from the head to the heart and finally to the hand (pp 43, 46).

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