When we are in the middle of planning camps, scheduling meetings, and organizing our weekly programs, it is easy to forget that our service in our ministry is actually a theological enterprise. We are not serving a calendar or even our students, but we are serving our God who created us and called us specifically to this task. I find at times that I need to be reminded of this truth.
In this theological task, our theology plays an important role whether we are conscience of it or not. Everyone thinks theologically, even if they do not call it thinking theologically. When we talk or think about God or about what the Bible teaches, we are exercising our theology. The fact that discussing theology has become something reserved for seminarians and professors troubles me. The issue that I see is not that people need to understand every theological concept in order to be saved, but I feel that having a better understanding of theology would result in having a better understanding of God and the faith that we profess.
In order to teach theologically or doctrinally, we need to understand our own understanding of our faith. The best place to start that process is to think about how we approach the theological task. What I mean by this is that we need to be aware of the lens that we look through when we seek to understand the Christian faith. Let’s look at four common starting points of that frame our approach to theology and the exercise of our faith.
A theology that is seen from the frame of creation is one that focuses on a big picture view of God’s redemptive plan for mankind and all of creation. The motivating idea is that God created the world, the world fell into sin, God has a plan to put it back together, Christ was that plan, and now we are moving to a place where God will restore everything. The focus here is that God still loves all that He created even though it has become corrupted.
Many Christians identify strongly with the fact that Christ became a man and lived among other men. The lens becomes a way to approach life in light of the fact that Jesus provides an example of how we might approach life. Christ experienced many of the same things we do. He suffered and laughed. This view tends to provide assurance that God knows all that you go through in life and brings comfort that God would be so loving as to have that experience.
With the crucifixion as a starting point there is a desire to identify and understand the suffering that Jesus underwent for our sakes. The crucifixion is seen as the ultimate act of sacrifice and our lives are called to mirror that sacrificial love. In this frame there is a tendency to feel a deeper regret for sins and have a great appreciation for forgiveness.
There are Christians who focus a great deal on being prepared for the time when we will enter the heavenly realm. This could be a focus on eschatology (end times) or a focus on the judgment that the Bible speaks of that all mankind will experience. The emphasis becomes one of living a life that is more good than evil.
While all of these starting points are valid ways to approach our understanding of the Christian faith, each can be errant when taken to an extreme. For example, an overemphasis of the crucifixion can lead believers to live with guilt and pain when grace is not also emphasized. Likewise, a faith lived out focused on judgment can become one of legalism and striving when grace is not included.
If we are to truly teach theologically, we must first work out our theological understandings and what we believe. We must also know our tendencies when discussing the Christian life and how it is to be lived. As we become better theologians ourselves, we will become better at introducing people to a deeper understanding of what it means to live as a Christian.