Monday, August 14, 2006

"We Need 'Apostolic' Theologians"

I finished reading Robert Banks's Redeeming the Routines: Bringing Theology to Life last night. (OK, everything except the appendix.) As I noted last week, the premise of the book is that theology and theological education are in need of being reconceptualized so as to address the daily pressures, responsibilities, and activities that form the patterns of our lives. This is necessary to foster holistic living contrary to the inclination to divvy up our lives into two realms: the spiritually significant that consists of overtly "religious" activity and everything else with which most of our waking hours are spent but about which there is little theological reflection. Some of the things that fall into this category are sleep, work, leisure, popular attitudes and values, communicating and relating, and social rituals and activities.

I think that for many believers God only seems real when they are engaged in explicitly Christian pursuits (e.g., Bible study, devotions, worship, evangelism, etc.). The project Banks contends for is remedial. He is right to stress the necessity of vocation-specific discipleship. Each of us is called to follow Jesus in the midst of specific regularities of life and we need to help each other think about and live out what faithfulness looks like in those contexts.

For years I've had one foot in the world of academic theology and the other in pastoral ministry. Each has elements that delight and frustrate me. I've sat in lectures wondering what relevance the subject matter at hand had for people in my church and how I would begin to convey its importance and application to them. Banks, a theologian himself, says that he has found the work of systematic theologians to be as much frustrating as helpful because: "Once it ranges beyond central doctrinal concerns which, though they could be, are not frequently linked to everyday issues, it tends to focus on philosophical or broader social or cultural issues." Banks properly notes that such theorizing is often necessary and helpful for addressing everyday but laments that such connections are infrequently made.

If theological education and literature can err on the side of being too abstract and conceptual, pastoral and church ministry can make the opposite error of focusing so much on immediate practicality that critical reflection is considered a waste of time that stands in the way of the urgent work of the kingdom.

I would very much like to invest my life in being a small bridge between these two subcultures in the community of faith so I was encouraged and challenged by Banks's call for what he calls "apostolic" theologians:
We need "apostolic" theologians who will leave their desk and lectern for a more down-to-earth kind of life. While there are few theologians who do not practice what they preach in some measure, there are very few who are engaged in similar work, say, to someone like Paul. That is, in apologetic and evangelistic work, in church-planting and pastoring, in pioneering new models of education and training. The apostolic theologian, of which Paul was the first great exponent, places mission first and largely allows theological reflection to be generated by that. Learning goes on as people associate with him or her in that activity-observing, questioning, and imitating. There is no reason why many Christians cannot be involved with such a person and why many of their concerns cannot be dealt with in this setting. The trouble is that taking up the "apostolic" theological life entails a large drop in status and high degree of risk.


read with open eyes said...

I would like to invite you to expand on this concept in light of someone like St. Patrick, who wrote prayers for all aspects of people's common life (e.g., plowing and planting), not merely for the sanctuary. Patrick was criticized in his day for not sticking with the "system" and the correct date for Easter. One of the other churches in our town has an annual Sunday for blessing the animals, when people are encouraged to bring their pets to church for God's blessing. Is this the area for today's theologians to explore?

Ben Bush Jr said...

You're absolutely right! Most, especially men (husbands & fathers), are not willing to suffer the loss of esteem in the eyes of others in order to give their family what God requires. They tend to be so busy following God's calling that they fail to realize that their families are their first calling. It is the basis for determining whether they are fit to exercise a broader position of authority within the local congregation. They also don't realize that by learning to minister to their family, they learn to take the broad and deep issue of theology and break them down into suitable bits to be fed to their children. Systematic theology that is not practical is useless. And that is exactly what many systems are, useless because many men are acqainted with God and His Word, but they know neither on an intimate basis. As a result, life very easily gets out of hand and control is lost. Ministry becomes nothing more than a job.

KP said...


I'm not very well versed in the theology of St. Patrick but from your description I like the fact that he sought to help believers acknowledge God's presence and activity in the routines of their lives.

I'm not at the point that I can advocate bringing pets into the church to be blessed but I do think that exploring areas such as relationships between humans and animals whether as domestic pets, livestock, or experimental subjects is worthwhile not only for professional theologians but for the whole church.

What Banks is advocating is not simply a program for academic theologians but for the whole people of God. He sees a place for academic theologians (being one himself) but thinks that what is needed is for them to encourage and facilitate theological reflection among Christians from all walks of life, helping them to see and live out the implications of the biblical story in the course of their daily routines.

jpcarson said...

Hi Jerry Plummer,

I am seeking a few theologians, for a variety of Christian traditions, to help me address question "should Christian engineers, to any degree, collectively and intentionally influence their profession?"

There is no money to pay them at this point, but they can, as far as I am concerned, "state their terms" for whatever compensation or other consideration they may wish to obtain if and when a viable Affiliation of Christian Engineers exists - obviously they do not have accept any money at any time, or it could be donated to a cause of their choosing, etc.

If the organization proves viable, I anticipate it would have 500,000+ members, worldwide, by 2010 with a gross revenue of 15 million USD/year and net of 5 million USD/year (based on $15 USD/year dues for those who can pay that much, anyone could request a waiver for any/all of that amount). It's a non-profit, but not a charity - member dues are not tax-deductible, it is intended to become a significant funding source for charities/ministries. Given that, I think it appropriate to compensate the theologians who make essential contributions to the group's formation.

If a few theologians, from various Christian faith traditions, reach a consensus that yes, Christian engineers should, at least to some degree, collectively and intentionally influence their profession, everything else will fall into place, I think rather quickly. I have been pushing this project for a number of years, I think I am competent to make this diagnosis/prediction.

If you know of any theologians who might be interested, I would much appreciate being put in touch with them.

Joe Carson, P.E.
Knoxville, TN