The other day I saw this twitter comment about the place, or more accurately, absence of theology in the local church.
There was also this additional commentary from Marcus Honeysett.
I believe that the local church is the context where theology should primarily happen. There are a few reasons for this but it boils down to my understanding of what theology is really all about. The tagline for faithroot.com is that “What we believe affects how we live.” It is my view that too often we think of “Theology” in general and “Systematic Theology” or Doctrine in particular as being a dull, academic subject.
Theology is at its core simply about knowing God (theos = God, logos = word – so Theology is about the study of God and the revelation of God). Therefore, if we want to know how to live, how to worship and honour God with our whole lives, then we need to be getting to know him better. Good theology is at its heart about applying everything we know about God from the Bible after we’ve done a bit of work of structuring, summarizing and wrestling with that revelation.
I also believe that where possible, it is best that church elders, leaders and paid workers including pastors should, ideally in many cases be trained in the local church. Therefore, you want the church to be a place where they can engage with theology. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on how we can engage with theology as local churches.
In our preaching: I believe in expository preaching and primarily that should be book by book, chapter by chapter. However, I don’t think this should limit our opportunities for theological input. First of all, I believe that there is space for us to interweave thematic and topical teaching series along with book studies. For example, I’ve preaches series on The Trinity and on The Doctrine of the Atonement. Christmas also gives us opportunity to preach on The Incarnation which is a theological theme in its own right.
Furthermore, application, especially if we are seeking to encourage people to glorify God and enjoy him should be more than a handful of tips about how to get through the next week. Doctrine is itself a legitimate application. It is okay to say after preaching on Romans 4 “The big take home today is that you are justified by faith alone.” Your application then will be the Doctrine of Justification.
However, if we are dependent upon 20-40 minute sermons for all teaching in church, then we will struggle to cover everything we would like to cover. That’s actually the original reason why I set up faithroot.com. One way in which we can encourage our congregations to engage with theology is by thinking about what we offer in terms of blogs, podcasts and videos.
We may also want to put on additional in person events for people in the church as well. At our last church I organised a quarterly “teach in” day or Faithroots Live. We would take a Saturday morning, start with breakfast and then unpack a theme with lots of opportunities for interaction, discussion and questioning.
Some churches are experimenting with weekly breakfasts before the Sunday service or lunches after the service to engage with theology. Some use evening services to revisit these themes. It may also be that you want to use a Home Group evening to look at a theological issue arising out of the Sunday teaching.
Part of our theological engagement includes knowledge of church history and the particular debates that have shaped the church as it is today. One summer, we took a break from our usual Home Groups and through July/August I ran a series of lectures/seminars introducing the church to people such as Athanasius, Hilary, Augustine, Calvin, Luther and Wesley.
Some churches have book clubs where they pick a book and read it together, meeting to chat about what they are discovering and what they think of the book. Why not pick up a more theological book from time to time. Some churches have worked through Grudem’s Systematic Theology in such a setting. Why not have a look at some of the free books here. Perhaps start with:
The important thing is not to treat Theology as something for an academic elite or a luxury. Keep it practical and keep it focused on glorifying God.