Bringing Theology Back to the People

It’s been many months since I read Philip Clayton’s ‘Transforming Christian Theology’. I noted down some of his thoughts that I found really illuminating and wanted to blog about it. I guess I’m too lazy now and I’ll just post them down wholesale (in blue) with minimal commentary!

The Internet and other new technologies have democratized theology in a way that no one could have imagined just a generation ago.

How true! The popularity of blogs and other social media is returning the task of theological reflection back to the churches and ordinary people like me. Instead of being confined to the hallowed walls of academia, amateur theologians and believers on the ground (where all the action is) are forming their own ideas and sharing them with the rest of the world. Just look at how Christians in Malaysia wrestled with their beliefs and convictions through the entire ‘Bersih’ fiasco through posts on facebook and blogs!

Doing theology is just thinking about your faith. Theology therefore belongs to everyone who is drawn to Jesus and wants to figure out what it means to be identified with him in this imensely complex, twenty-first-century world.

It’s a revolutionary move. Who knows what ordinary Christians might do if given permission to think deeply about what their faith implies for themselves, for their local churches, and for all other roles that they play in society?

Everyone has a theology – whether they are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, or even atheist. What we believe, what we think, what we do, expresses a theology, in other words, a worldview or metanarrative. Most of the time, they are unconscious and we don’t give much thought to them. There is a reason why we wake up to go to work in the morning. There is a reason why we get angry over some news we hear on the radio. There is a reason why we give some spare change to a homeless man we pass by.

The goal, is to lift our implicit beliefs about God above the threshold of consciousness, so that they become explicit and intentional. Only then can we examine our beliefs to see which ones actually stand up to scrutiny.

In 1 Peter 3:15, Paul exhorts his hearers to ‘Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.‘ We often assume that this passage applies only to the task of convincing others about our faith. But maybe it needs to be applied to our own faith as well, to make sure that our own beliefs hold water, make sense; and that we ourselves are convinced!

We need to provide space for folks, not just for ‘seekers’ but also for believers, to wrestle with what they believe and why. Then each of us needs to have the courage to work out what we really think – even if its not the politically correct answer in our particular context. Remember: you can’t satisfy everyone. There will always be people on both sides who think you are [‘too fundamentalist or too liberal’]. At the end of the day,you just have to work out the best answer you can give, whether others like it or not, and tell people honestly what you think.

Instead of abstract formulations, this new theology of the people must be a theology of stories. Stories are simple, but important because when we reflect on our own story – start thinking about why we did what we did, and why things happened that way – our theologies start to come into play, come to the fore, in interpreting those stories, and in motivating our decisions.

According to Clayton, ‘You are not a theologian until you have written a Christology.‘ But Who do YOU say that I am?

The key questions that we have to answer as Christians:

Theology – Who God is and what is his relation to the world

Christology – The person and teachings of Jesus as well as his relationship to God

Pneumatology – The relationship of the Spirit with God, Jesus and the world

Anthropology – What it means to be human

Soteriology – What salvation is; the solution to sin and the problems of the world

Ecclesiology – What the purpose and mission of the church is

Eschatology – The last things – the fate of humanity, the world and the universe

While these questions may appear to be of little consequence to some, there is no doubt that they will influence how we live our lives as Christians, be it consciously or unconsciously. Why bother about climate change if we believe that God will destroy the Earth as some Christians do?

Begin from where you live. If you are called to ministry with youth or with Twelve Step programs, or with migrant workers, or with mixed-race congregations, or with the aging, you should bring the context and concerns of your ministry to your emerging theology. If you are nursing a sick relative, or had a parent die, or have gone through a divorce, or lost your job, that context should play a role in how you answer the seven core Christian Questions. If you are a professional scientist, you will have different concerns from those of a business woman, a school teacher, a denominational administrator, or a church musician.

Perhaps, when I have the time, I shall write my own responses to these 7 key questions about what I believe…

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