Down to Earth Theology
Reading the biblioblogs recently -- about which there is so often nothing worthy to comment -- reminded me of the distinction John Stott once made between an ivory tower and a balcony. An ivory tower, he said, was a place of escape in which one is removed from the harsh realities of life. A balcony, on the other hand, is not quite so distant as an ivory tower. From a balcony one can at least observe what is going on, even if one is not always personally involved.
One of the main dangers to which bibliobloggers are exposed is the tendency to distance oneself from the world, to forget that theology is not primarily a way of thinking but a way of living. "Blogging in isolation," Stott might have called it. In his book Enigma of the Cross (p. 174), Alister McGrath says it more eloquently than I ever could:
Mission and theology are so clearly interrelated that they cannot be permitted to become divorced in the manner which western academic theologians have become accustomed. After all, in Jesus Christ God himself came down to earth, down to the level of us mortals, and it ought not to be beyond the capacities of theologians to do the same. Theology must come down to earth, to serve the church and its mission in the world -- and if it will not come down to earth, it must be brought down to earth by so marginalising academic theology within the life of the church that it ceases to have relevance to that church, in order that a theological orientation towards the pastoral and missiological needs of the church may develop in its wake.
Contextual theology -- this has become my passion for a good many years now, for sadly the church (and its academics, including teachers and bloggers like me) have too often overemphasized justification at the expense of sanctification, and redemption at the expense of creation. Such contextualized theology takes seriously the Great Commission of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It has a missional emphasis and focus, even as it pursues deep questions of doctrine.
It is, then, no longer possible (if it ever was) to assume that theology can operate apart from service to the world. The more we understand the Scriptures, the more we understand our responsibility to submit our lives and our futures to its radical teachings. Once this is recognized, then global missions will truly be an apostolic focus of the church's apostolic function. Instead of doing theology for theology's sake, we will choose to bear witness to the Gospel in both word and deed, by both lip and life. We will, perhaps, also do less pontificating from our ivory towers high up in the blogosphere and descend to the balcony, and maybe even to the ground floor.
Should that, by the grace of God, ever happen, the nations would witness theology come down to earth, where it truly belongs.
December 7, 2010
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.