Whether by professional vocation or spiritual calling, we are all theologians. As a newly-minted Christian, I was blessed to have an older layman in our congregation take me under his wing. He avidly read new books by prominent evangelical theologians as they came along . He’d then pass them along to me, and we’d share our thoughts. George was not a Theologian by vocation; he was a layperson with an avocation like mine. Theologizer comes to mind as a handy description.
My internet handle is Phronetic Christian, derived from the Greek phronesis, as in Ephesians 1:8 to indicate a follower aspiring to wisdom and understanding, I am a lay theologizer, encouraging others to think critically about evangelical tendencies leading people away from Jesus, rather than towards him. Theology is how we think about our faith. It belongs to the church, and it should be an in-house responsibility.
We are theology with skin on. In our conversations with the Bible, we all do “small – t” theology; it is a work of God’s people. .“Theology,” writes Anthony Robinson, “is a way of seeing life, a way of seeing ourselves, our neighbors, and our world. It is the lens through which we view life and according to which we live life.”[i] Ours is a human-lived hermeneutic, comprising the depth and intentionality of conversations and interactions “ordinary” believers use to work out answers to the down-to-earth questions our faith encounters.
Evangelicalism for many has become an unthinking faith. We have taken for granted that theology is the exclusive domain of professionals called to an academic vocation. This in no measure downplays theology as an academic calling; it is more important than ever. But it must likewise be diligently practiced, both intellectually and spiritually, by its true owner, the local assembly. For over a thousand years, theology was done “in-house,” with the church assuming primary responsibility for in-depth teaching on the Bible, theology, and the Christian traditions.[ii]
I aspire to be a “reflective practitioner”, thinking about and applying my faith to real life experiences. As Paul the Apostle counsels Timothy:. “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of,” We must think through what a Christ-like faith means, and be transformed by Holy Spirit, so that we can act as fuller partakers in the life and mission of the church. Sadly, the rigor of self-reflection has become rare in the life of the local church. For that reason, theology desperately needs to be repatriated back into the midst of the congregation, where many have become “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine”.[iii]
[i] Anthony B. Robinson, Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ., 2008, p. 77.
[ii] Ryan P. Bonfiglio ,“It’s Time To Rethink Our Assumptions About Where Theological Education Happens”, Christian Century, January 31, 2019. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/opinion/it-s-time-rethink-our-assumptions-about-where-theological-education-happens (accessed January 15, 2019).
[iii] Ephesians 4:14 (KJV).