Total Church 19: Theology

This is part 19 of our series Total Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester. Blame and credit for these posts must be shared by the Wednesday morning Total Church reading group:

The basic thesis of this chapter is like that of the entire book.

Theology must be:

Word centred:

“All theology must be the fruit of serious engagement with the Bible. Theology, properly understood, is an encounter with the living God in his word.” (p150)

Mission centred:

“Theology is also the task of the church because the only theology that matters and is worthy of the name is practical theology. Theology is a service of worship that extends over the whole of life … Meaningful theology needs to take place primarily in the routine life of the people of God.” (p151)

“Theology must be in the service of the church and its mission.  Authentic theology must be shaped by what we might call a missionary hermeneutic.  Theology divorced from this context is essentially barren, self referential and indulgent.” (p152)

Community centred:

This is what the Anabaptists would have called a “community hermeneutic”.  Remembering that most of the NT was written to communities, not individuals.  And the OT is effectively the product of a community identity.

“The Christian community is the context in which commitment to obedience is nurtured and maintained, and so it is the context in which theology must be done” (p155)

Following this then is a brief discussion about “Theology of the academy and theology of the Church”

In the NT the church leaders were the “theologians in residence” guarding the community from error.  But we have moved this function into the academy which is a dangerous place for it to be.  As a result theology has often become abstract from mission, self-referential, insecure, needing to justify its existence in an academic environment and sadly run by people who make no pretence of being Christian.

“If true theology is the fruit of engagement with the Bible set in the context of the local church, them much of what passes for theology is not theology at all.  Why do we allow such people to set the agenda?” (p156)

Thoughts: (this is a mixture of my thoughts, my reading group’s and the authors’ thoughts)

1) Commentaries, journals etc are regarded as key in my circles for our understanding of the Bible and preparation of sermons, Bible studies etc.  And I love reading them and interacting with them.

But how many of these resources are driven by self-referential (other theologians) questions that have little or no impact on the life of the local church and its mission to the world?  Now I am not saying that these self-referential questions are wrong, but just that resources are severely unbalanced.

How often do they answer the missional questions?  Raise issues that their interactions with unbelievers or skeptics has forced them to meditate on?  How often have I come to a commentary looking to get some insight into an issue which the text obviously raises for the life of my local community only to find no pointers or thoughts on this but plenty on a textual variant or interaction with Rudolph Bultmann.

2) “We are in need of a missiological agenda for theology rather than just a theological agenda for missiology…” David Bosch (quoted on p152).

Mission is the centre of theology not as in the classical divisions of systematic theology a subset of church.

Why are we discipling or training people – to equip them for mission!  Often we give the impression that the goal is YOU and your personal walk with the Lord.  This is just not biblical.

3) Whose questions is our theology answering? “Mission sets the theological agenda.” (p153) “The job of theology pick up those questions and provide reflection on them.” (p153)

4) What about the missional aspect of preaching?  How well do we actually teach the Bible, no matter how we pride ourselves on “getting it right” – because the Bible is missional in nature.  If there is not a missional outcome or application from our teaching have we actually got the heart of the message?

5) We must tackle and put to rest this myth of “me and my Bible”.  I am sure I was never taught this explicitly but certainly the culture was imbibed, namely “if you do not have a quiet time/personal Bible reading time then you have not read your Bible today and been faithful”.

Still today I feel guilty if I ONLY went to church or Bible study that day.  or only read my Bible with my wife/friend/student/colleague and did not have my “Quiet Time”.

Actually the times I often grow more, am encouraged more and am challenged more are those when I do my hermeneutics in community.

But I understand the heart and the values behind the personal Quiet time drive so don’t worry I will continue to have as a high value my “personal” Bible reading, just without the guilt and a little more balance.

6) Are good hermeneutics enough?

“The main thing that prevents us understanding the Bible aright is not a lack of hermeneutical skills, but our sin.  Our sin warps our understanding because we all tend towards self-justification.  Studying the text with other people reduces the impact of sin on our thinking.” (p155)

~ by John on November 26, 2008.

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