“Theology is not a private subject for theologians only. Nor is it a private subject for professors. Fortunately, there have always been pastors who have understood more about theology than most professors. Nor is theology a private subject for pastors.
Fortunately, there have repeatedly been congregation members, and often whole congregations, who have purused theology energenically while their pastors were theological infants or barbarians. Theology is a matter for the Church.”
– Karl Barth
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the need for churches, and especially leaders of churches, to be theologically literate – or better – theologically wise. More and more, I encounter pastors that are earnestly trying to serve God and fulfill their calling, but they are being impeded by congregational leaders who lack a theological understanding of, and vision for, the church. There are many reasons for this, some of which include a lack of understanding of what theology is and why it matters for the church, a lack of historical consciousness and rootedness concerning where our beliefs have come from and how they developed (especially in evangelicalism), and the problems associated with a widespread and naive biblicism – again especially in evangelicalism (see Christian Smith’s book, The Bible Made Impossible). As Barth’s quote indicates, pastors themselves can be part of the problem too. In our pragmatic, consumeristic age, it is all too easy to forgoe the hard work of theological study and the patient endurance of practising the spiritual disciplines and cultivating spiritual discernment (things that don’t have a quick payoff in terms of direct cause and effect) in favour of focusing on the “real world” and the pragmatics of running the church corporation. It seems more expedient to lead people (it doesn’t really matter where as long as the pastor is a ‘strong leader’) than to form them deeply – theologically, spiritually, missionally.
More on this theme to come . . .