Leadership editor Marshall Shelley offers this report on his conversations with young leaders at Catalyst.
"It's funny. It's like theology is back," said Rusty, who is planting a Methodist church near Auburn University in Alabama. The church is meeting in a skate park, mirror ball on the ceiling and all.
Rusty put his finger on a reality that many at the 2005 Catalyst Conference identified with. Theology and a skate park don't seem like a matched set, but theology is increasingly a subject of great interest to younger leaders, in fact, it's of great interest to younger people in general.
My colleagues Eric and Carol and I were talking with several young leaders about the place of theology in their ministries. Surprisingly, theology isn't something they have to apologize for - it's of great interest to their youthful congregations.
"We're dealing with a new breed of college students coming in with a lot of questions. And they're theological questions," said Rusty. "They're looking not so much for answers, but for discussion, for acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the questions." Questions such as: Where is God? Is a tsunami an act of God? Was Katrina a random consequence of weather patterns or an intentional judgment by God - and if so, what exactly was he judging? Why is my sister dying and I'm not?
These questions are unlike the theological questions of a generation ago (Is the Bible best described as ?human' or ?divine', or by the term ?authoritative,' ?infallible,' or ?inerrant'?) Many of the theological questions a generation ago proved divisive, separating Christians into competing camps.
Today's questions are about understanding the nature and character of God, and how we as human beings stand in relation to this world and where God is in relation to the world.
"Theology is back," agreed Jason, who's planting a church in Florida, "but the theology is on a missional level. Our people want to know God, but they aren't interested in systematizing things. It's more relational. My generation and younger is sick of systematizing. How can you love or relate to a God that you only know in a systematized way?"
Much of God is a mystery - and today's young lay theologians are okay with that. They want to search that and ask the questions, and get to know God along the way.