Sunday, July 18, 2010

Everyone Is A Theologian-In-Residence

Many people have talked about the importance of empowering lay people to be theologians. In other words, making sure that theology is something that everyone does. And that sounds good. Every person should be encouraged to think about God and Scripture - and reflect on how God and Scripture matter to daily life. That's what theology is. It's not some esoteric, heady thing that only monks, pastors, and professors do. Theology is what every person of faith is called to do. Every time we think about how Scripture applies to our lives or we think about how God might be acting in our lives, we're doing theology. It's that simple.

The problem comes when vocational pastors and professional theologians claim the title "Theologian-In-Residence." This title dis-empowers others (especially the laity) by claiming that only special people are the true or good theologians. It seems to me that this antiquated title needs to be retired. All people who think about God's activity and vision for the world are theologians. All people who think about how Scripture applies to daily life are theologians. Since every person of faith does this, then every person of faith is a "Theologian-In-Residence." A pastor can't claim that title any more than the elderly lady who has been coming to the same church for 80 years. A professor can't claim that title any more than a young man who picks up a Bible for the first time and wonders "What if?" A person with an advanced degree in theology can't claim the title any more than the quilters group or grounds crew in a congregation. Everyone is a "Theologian-In-Residence."

The role of vocational pastors or professional theologians should be to "equip the saints for the work of ministry" (Ephesians 4:12). This means they should be empowering others to think theologically for themselves. Pastors and professors should be hosts of conversation, facilitators of dialogue, encouragers of growth, etc. Their work is equipping others. The hope is that every person can contribute to the collective wisdom of the community because every person is a true "Theologian-In-Residence." Enacting this idea can be done through dialogical sermons, conversational Bible studies, lay-led book studies, shared ministry, etc. The important thing is making the space for all people in a community to safely and effectively share their own theological gifts and perspectives. Admittedly, it's more messy. A nurse, lawyer, teacher, bus driver, martial artist, etc. will all bring different perspectives. As will a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, etc. Everyone will have a different perspective. But it's the diversity of perspectives that helps to grow the collective wisdom of a community.

Do you agree that everyone is a "Theologian-In-Residence"? If so, how can pastors and professors more effectively encourage all people (including "regular" people) to be theologians? Please feel free to add add your voice and perspective in the comments section.

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