Who Should Lead In Theology?

I was recently engaged in an online conversation with a M.Div. student from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School about who should take the lead in theology:  professors, pastors or laity. The student started the conversation as an informal poll asking the opinions of the readers. 41.5% of them voted in favor of pastors with 30.2% voting for both professors and pastors. Laity only received 9.4% as did professors by themselves.

As normal, my views differ from both the blogger (who is in  favor of pastors and professors) and the majority of the readers. Namely, I argued that all THREE groups should take the “lead” in theology.

The term “theology” simply means the study of God – meaning that every time someone reads a Bible or talks about Jesus, that person is engaging in “theological studies.” The Bible also talks about how everyone is on equal footing before God (Gal 3:28). He pours outs His Spirit upon everyone who trust in Him and follows His voice – male, female, wise, foolish, old, young, Jews, Gentiles, everyone (Acts 2, Joel 2:28-32).

Jesus told His disciples (mostly a bunch of uneducated fishermen) that the Holy Spirit would “teach” them “all things” (John 14:26). Later on Paul reminds the church in Corinth that most of them were not “wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth…. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:26-27).

As such, perhaps we should just let God chose the people who teach us about Himself?

We should be open to allowing ALL people to lead in theology, whether that person is a pastor, academic professor or someone sitting in the pews. To say that any one group is to take the lead, is to replaced the Holy Spirit as the leader and director of theology with a false dichotomy based upon human standards.

Stanley Grenz and John Franke argue (rightly, in my view) in their book “Beyond Foundationalism” that all theology must be done within the community and not on an individual basis. Meaning that the type of theology that is good for one local body of Believers may not be the type needed by another group. This is why we need believers of all types (laity, pastors and professors) theologizing about and for the Lord.

Now, this does not mean that I do not respect or recognize the value given to the church by the scholar. The Bible is a collection of books written over thousands of years to people with totally different culture and worldview. We NEED professors and scholars to research the culture and language of these people so that we can understand the words on the page. However, we must not let this need override the biblical mandate for all Believers to listen to God and tell others about Him (i.e. to theologize).

In “Mere Christianity”, C.S. Lewis (who, we must remember, was a member of the laity and not a theology professor) says that God rejoices when each person serves Him at the fullest of their ability. If one is called by God to be a plumber who occasionally teaches Sunday school, then let that person be the best plumber / theological Sunday school teacher they can be. If the Lord calls someone to be a Bible professor, let that person be the best Bible professor they can be. The same for a pastor….

And may they ALL be active in their community for we, the greater Church, need everyone called by God (1 Cor.12:12-31).

0 thoughts on “Who Should Lead In Theology?”

  1. Josh, I couldn’t agree more. Just today I was confessing to my mentor that I feel insecure in the public eye regarding my lack of seminary training. Our art ministry is attracting national attention and I felt uncomfortable at the thought of having intellectual conversations with theologians.

    As an art minister who began this journey as a volunteer, my secular training in fine art was devoid of religious background. But I have the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, a teachable spirit, a love for broken people, and a passion for Jesus Christ.

    My mentor told me to just be myself around those theologians. He added that seminary training might have taken away my brazen confidence for innovation in ministry. It’s obvious that I step on academic toes in our ministry’s approach (we’re about as non-institutionalized as you can get), but with Jesus being our center, this layperson is seeing some fantastic fruit in people’s lives. Now I think I’ll view theological conversations as a chance to share inspiration and ask lots of questions.

    1. I agree with your mentor – seminary training is not all that it is crack up to be! Which is the reason I like VLI or other such programs, they allow one to gain knowledge while applying it directly to ministry. Of course, there is also the method of just reading a lot – or, like you are currently doing, the method of just follow Jesus and loving people. 😀

  2. That’s great Josh. I guess I would be more interested not in who we think should lead theology, but in who actually is leading in our theological constructs. Who, or what, is the main contributing forces in the lives of the church in the area of theology? T.V, pastors, profs, etc. That study would be very beneficial for those of us who actually believe we are vibrant contributers to people’s theological journey. We might rank ourselves as being “very” important in this area, but we might be surprised to find out pop culture influences theology a bit more than my latest sermon.

    1. It would be very interesting to see a study on who or what are the most contributing forces in a person’s life. Makes me wonder if there isn’t a graduate level paper out there somewhere talking about this… 😕

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