Follow by Email

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Practicing Gospel

Most of us think of "theology" as an academic discipline (often with a philosophical bent) that belongs in the hallowed halls of universities, divinity schools, and seminaries but not in the day-to-day life of the church. As theologian Edward Farley has noted
[Theology] refers to something that has to do with the head not the heart, with philosophy not scripture, schools not churches, books rather than life. Even when theology is not a pejorative term, it suggest something on the margin of life, ministry, and congregation ("Practicing Gospel: Unconventional Thoughts on the Church's Ministry," p. 4).
According to Farley, however, it was not always this way. In the early Church, theology was the domain of all believers, but over time its domain has narrowed so that it is now only "practiced" by professional theologians, those who have a PhD in theology or a closely-related discipline, such as theological ethics or philosophy.

Farley laments this narrowing because Christian theological reflection, in its most practical sense, is simply the interpretation of situations in light of the Gospel (i.e., the interpretation of situations in light of Jesus' life, ministry, death, and resurrection). As he notes the question isn't whether we will interpret situations or not. Rather, the question is whether we'll interpret them in light of the Gospel or some other ideology (secular or otherwise).

This's why Farley is so adamant that theological education belongs at the congregational level. Some will (or at least should) occur through worship and the listening to sermons, but that is often not enough. Instead, what's needed are robust educational programs (for adults, youth, and children) that equip Christians with the tools necessary to interpret what happens around them and in the world in light of the Gospel. Otherwise, we could interpret them in terms of the latest ideological or social scientific fad (not that all ideologies or social scientific theories are fads -- but many are).

Of course, Farley's argument applies to other faith traditions as well. Muslims should be equipped with the tools to interpret situations in light of Islamic theology, Jews in light of Jewish theology, Buddhists in light of Buddhist philosophy/theology (some Buddhists embrace a notion of god, some don't), and so on. But this is unlikely to happen if faith communities continue to treat theology as something that exists on the margins of their life and ministry.

No comments:

Post a Comment