Theology Is Back

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.

Marshall Shelley

In Atlanta

October 07, 2005

Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

T. M. Fleming

October 25, 2005  1:23pm

G.K. Chesterton said, "Orthodoxy is the romance of the faith." What a great comment! He was right (although he himself departed from it). Theology is the study of God, yes, and it's the study of God, the one true God as revealed in the Scriptures, that shows or reveals who Jesus is. I am a young Pastor (29) and have been serving in some type of ministry for 10 years. I am disgusted with namby pamby spirituality of make it yourself, whatever you want it to be Christianity. That isn't what changes people. God does through His Word and theology is simply the way that we piece together who He is. I am one of those that believe theology is back and I am also one of those that wonder why it left in the first place. Doctrine does divide, yes it's true, but it is also doctrine that unites together. May the church return to doctrine, not as a means of harsh exclusivism, but so as to unite all true believers in the common mission to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

Report Abuse

Paul Long

October 20, 2005  10:17pm

"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" I think it is true and wonderful that theology is back. Systematic theology to me is vital and cannot be on the peripheral. Perhaps traditional systematic theology just needs to add more categories into its traditional framework that it may better address the pressing issues of today (which the "emergent conversation" is doing its best to address).

Report Abuse

Bernie Dehler

October 11, 2005  4:45pm

As I learned in my seminary class "Systematic Theology I," everyone has a theology. Sometimes that "theology" is to have no dogma, which is a dogma in itself. ...Bernie http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/247/

Report Abuse

Rob

October 11, 2005  12:26pm

Good news! I think. Yes, these what-is-God-up-to-in-disasters questions are indeed what people are talking about. But does the "relational" thing mean people don't want "answers" – they just want to talk about it? Does the distaste for systematizing mean people are resisting concrete, Scriptural answers? I wonder. Rob

Report Abuse