While seated on an hour-long flight, I could not help but overhear a nearby conversation between a young woman and an older man that lasted the entire duration of the flight. The respect she had for him became apparent as I observed her attentively paying attention to everything he said. Their conversation dealt with a variety of spiritual themes; and undoubtedly she was a willing student, desiring to soak in the wisdom he was sharing. She would usually start with the words “What do you think about . . . ?” He would then respond, “Well, I believe . . .” They were engaged in what I have often referred to as performing the theological task.
At its core, theology is the study of God. But in developing that definition, I describe the pursuit of the aforementioned task as one in which a person attempts to understand who God is, how He relates to His creation (especially His created beings), what His expectations of us are, and what His short-term and long-term plans are for each of us as well as humanity and His church as a whole.
We all do theology. I recall my daughter, only three years old at the time, asking her mother and me one Sabbath afternoon as I was driving home from church, “Does God love the devil?” Another example, during my younger years, was a time when I, like others, questioned the logic espoused that if people were to enter a movie theater, the angels would not accompany them; rather, the angels would remain outside until the people came out. Such questions beg a solid theological explanation. We were “theologians” seeking answers to what were, for us, the big questions of life.
And this is where pastors (and let me add elders, youth leaders, and others with spiritual influence) enter the picture. We are the resident theologians in whatever setting the Holy Spirit has placed us. And performing this responsibility should not be limited to the preaching event. More often than not, it involves the often unexpected one-on-one encounter with church members who approach us with their recent musings—desiring solid biblical guidance so they can make sense of their own personal world.
Pastors live in three worlds: the Bible, the congregations they serve, and the communities in which the church buildings stand. We interact with Scriptures on a daily basis for our own spiritual growth and daily living; but in so doing, God may also use that interaction to speak to others through us. We relate to and with our church members and communities to better understand their worldview and then assist them in interpreting Scripture for themselves. A primary role we operate within consists of aiding them in responsibly performing the theological task and equipping them to properly think through the ramifications of God’s Word to and for them without engaging in eisegesis. I can personally attest to the reality that I did my best theology—both for myself and others—during my years of congregational ministry; for it was there where I faced the harshest realities of the great controversy between Christ and Satan both personally and professionally.
This issue of Ministry contains several articles that ask a number of questions—again, responsible theology applies a hermeneutical rigor to the Scriptures as the inquirer analyzes the meaning(s) therein. In the lead article, Nancy Vyhmeister asks the question Who was Junia? After answering it, we then should want to know, What difference does it make for me in my life and ministry? In the ministry of the church? Sigve Tonstad, in examining John 4, asks the question, Why did Jesus have to go through Samaria? That He chose to travel a noncircuitous route must say something to us. Skip Bell examines the necessity of performing theology in the parish rather than treating it merely as a “scholarly enterprise.” He argues that pastors should be “interpretive theologians.” But beware! Performing such theology can be uncomfortable. This could create a significant degree of critical thinking that shakes people out of their status quo—their “this is the way we’ve always done things” approach to life.
I challenge each of us to be the theologians within and among our circles of influence that God has called us to be. Far from destroying our faith and the faith of others, this will build us into what Christ calls us to be: a people who “correctly handle” the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 2:15, NIV).