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June 03, 2007


Jason Goroncy

Jim. I love this encouraging and challenging post. It is great to be reminded that theology is neither the trust of individuals or of the academy (Lord, forgive us!) but of the Church itself ... and of the Church not as some abstract idealistic thing 'out there' but of the 'ordinary' folk who come together because they love the Lord who has called them and gathered them to himself and to each other, and desires to speak (of himself) to and through a particular part of his body. Oh that the theological task and responsibility might rest afresh on the local church and under its authority as it finds its own legitimate and quickening authority under that one gospel which created the Church catholic and all its parts.

Jason Goroncy

'Theology is under the Church's protection because what safeguards theology's truthfulness is not the exercise of critical scruple but the fear of the one who is the Church's Lord.' John Webster, Holiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 3.

Jason Goroncy

Another wee point: For all of Forsyth's insistence that ministers undergo rigorous theological training, and that the local church has a responsibility to 'do' theology, both ministers and the local church are to consciously 'do' theology out of a humble and exciting awareness that the theological task is one that the whole church (and not merely its 'professional' theologians) is to be engaged in. The local church exists therefore under a an imperative to 'do theology' not merely for its own life and witness, but also for that of the wider Christian community: 'Theology ... does not belong to the individual but to something more universal, to the Church. It is not the product or the property of any single person, nor even of any single sect or communion. It belongs to the Church as a whole, and for that Church it is a necessity. It is the intelligent counterpart of its practical organization. It is a living product of the corporate self–consciousness of the whole community of Christian faith. A divided Church will always have a theology weak enough to justify even its own neglect of it–a neglect none the less fatal because just. As to individuals, it does not matter much what their form of theology is. With private members of a Church it does not much matter whether they have a theology or not, so long as they are respectful to those who do. It does not matter whether Messrs. X, Y, or Z have a theology or not–except in so far as they may cease to be merely Messrs. X, Y, or Z, and become teachers of the Church, use its prestige, and voice its Gospel. It is a matter that concerns the Church as a whole, and by consequence the public representatives and teachers of the Church in the degree in which they are its representative teachers, and not freelances tilting amid spectators, or amateurs indulging a taste. A great theology is the rational and necessary expression of the spiritual content of a great Church. Without it the Church has no spiritual volume, whatever be the piety of individuals. And such a Church can make no spiritual impression on a whole age. Contempt for theology is the badge of a limited culture. And not only so; its real source is poverty of religion; and within the Church it may indicate more spiritual fluency than Christian faith'. - Principle of Authority, 214-5.

Jason Goroncy

Jim. Just wondering what suggestions you might offer for how church leaders might encourage/facilitate such theologising. In other words, what might the role of the 'community theologian' look like in specifics?

Rebecca Maccini

Great post, Jim. For our state conference this month, we are required to read a book entitled "Unbinding the Gospel." The author, Martha Reese, studied evangelism in mainline churches in the USA. She found that the strongest, most vital churches were ones that were creative and complex, messy, not over sentimental but also not 'damn the torpedoes--full steam ahead.' I read between the lines in her interviews with lay people but it seemed obvious that people in these church communities were thinking theologically in their daily lives, and as a corporate body.

jim gordon

Jason, this is P T Forsyth at his astringent best. Thanks for the quote, part of which I repeat for emphasis!!!
"A great theology is the rational and necessary expression of the spiritual content of a great Church. Without it the Church has no spiritual volume, whatever be the piety of individuals. And such a Church can make no spiritual impression on a whole age. Contempt for theology is the badge of a limited culture."
As to how the community theologian encourages and models theological reflection so that the community is given confidence in its own experience of Christ and the theological expression of its life, I want to think on that a bit longer. I think words like mutual, one another, reciprocal, are important; as are phrases like 'a heart with a gift for listening','vulnerable openness', and not pushing it too far but I think kenosis in the sense of being willing to have personal opinion and insight, give way to give space to the words, thoughts, prayers and insights of others. And then to translate these to the rest of the community.
Hi Becky - good to hear from you and glad you are still monitoring the meanderings of this Scottish blogger!

Jason Goroncy

Jim. I think the answer must include the kinds of words you note, but must extend further less the theological conversation and attendant 'discoveries' or, better yet 'revelations' become reduced to no more than a life-sapping circularity in which the belief and practises of the particular community are only ever affirmed and never really challenged - leaving that local body unreformable and closed off to the prophetic and corrective word of Scripture and unaccountable to the wider body whose tradition and future it shares. Great challenges though, and worthy of life-long pursuit for any community of faith.

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