Every Christian a Theologian

Over the last 30 years, and seemingly more so in the past decade, the volume of Christian books and journal articles decrying the ills of Western Christian spiritual immaturity and biblical ignorance has been on an alarming ascent. From works like Richard Foster's "modern classic", The Celebration of Discipline and various titles by Bill Hull, Keith Phillips, Win and Charles Arn, and Robert Coleman to more recent books by Dallas Willard, Bruce Demarest, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun and Larry Crabb, increasing numbers of authors have heard the sobs of our Father over the spiritual and intellectual apathy of Western churches and their individual members. Their hearts have been moved as well, and they have been compelled to put in writing and go on speaking tours sounding the alarms and awakening the Church (or at least those who would listen) to the pressing need to repent and return to a life of whole-minded, whole-hearted devotion to Christ.

Have you been listening? If not, perhaps this is your opportunity to tune in.
While many church leaders and college and seminary professors have heard and begun to respond to these alarms, the reverberations apparently have yet to reach the laity in large measure. Even in Christian universities, Bible schools, and seminaries across the United States, a consistent, comprehensive, and effective (key point there) plan of spiritual formation remains to be found. What is encouraging, however, is the fact that virtually all of the intellectual resources needed for such a solution are currently on the table, and an inexhaustible supply exists in the treasure troves of Church history. What we need is to excavate, compile, and implement the best tools from the annals of history and the proven methods of present, while keeping our spiritual thinking caps on for the future.

Now I should warn you that this 'paper' is a work in progress. It is a rough sketch, drawn almost exclusively from memory, and makes no attempts at citing specific references for certain ideas. While I am certain that my discipleship plan will not come anywhere close to plagiarizing another person's work, I can guarantee that "there is nothing new under the sun," i.e. that no newfangled theology or ministry concept is genuinely new. Rather, we pass such truths down from generation to generation, as we are exhorted to do in the Apostle Paul's second letter to Timothy, chapter 2 verse 2. That said, I felt that, in the nature of postmodern Christian spiritual discipline, I ought to share the bare framework of what I discerned the Spirit of God revealing to me just moments before dinner tonight--raw, uncut, and undeveloped.

Stated simply, the idea that overcame me as I was immersed in the study of Hebrew syntax and translation, was this: Every Christian ought to be a theologian. That is, every local community of Christian disciples operating under the banner of "church" ought to have within it an educational framework that provides maximum opportunity and quality of developmentally appropriate, Biblical study for all people of all ages (within the bounds of individual capability). In principle, this sounds like the goal of every "Christian education" department, the aim of every Christian Education Director in every church. But is it a realistic goal, given the current priority of serious Bible study and spiritual formation in churches nationwide, and is it being achieved? By and large, across the board, there's a fair amount of consensus that the answer is, "No".

This brings up deeper, larger questions such as, "What is hindering consistently positive results?" and "What kind of results are we looking for, specifically?" Those questions will be addressed in future posts (and someday in the completed paper) more thoroughly, but for now the following should suffice. My general answer to the first question is this:

a) Attitudes: Leaders in the Church are largely unaware, unambitious, underprepared, and/or unconcerned with regard to the spiritual and biblical literacy amongst the average American who calls him or herself Christian--those under their care.

b) Methods: Historically-proven methods of spiritual, biblical, and theological formation have long been forgotten, and leaders are drowning in the sea of modernist, business-emulating strategies which have "McDonaldized" (and thus shortchanged) spiritual formation.

c) Socioeconomic demands: The fiscal, material, vocational, and sociocultural demands on individuals and families in particular have rendered them helpless against forces which keep them enslaved to their goals and priorities--at the utter neglect of the goals and priorities of the Kingdom of God as revealed in His Word.

My answer to the second question, also vague yet telling, is this:

a) Attitude: People who think, reason, will, and act as having the mind of Christ, whose lives are characterized by an extraordinary preoccupation with and surrender to Kingdom priorities (maintaining a devout relationship with Christ, sacrificially loving one's neighbors, making progressively maturing disciples).

b) Discipline: People who maintain a consistent, vibrant devotional life, including daily feasting (not just reading or listening to) the revealed Word of God, communing with Christ through spoken, written, contemplative, and/or sung prayer, meditating on the wonders of God in silence, and regularly serving others who are unable to return the favors.

c) Knowledge: People who are constantly gaining a broader and deeper comprehension of the content, theology, and personal and ecclesiastical implications of Scripture, resulting in a level of competence sufficient to consistently and 'institutionally' impart significant knowledge to others younger and less mature than themselves.

In other words, the goal is Christian disciples who are consistently maturing in Christ-likeness through their lives, and who are able and active in training up the following generation of disciples who then are equipped to do likewise, and so on.

Now for the moment you've all been waiting for: the how. But I'm afraid you'll have to wait. It's my bed-time, and rather than make a really long blog entry out of this, I'm going to post this and return to the "how" at a later point (but soon). But you already have my thesis in the title, so that should give you enough to chew on for now. I can't express how enthusiastically I am anticipating sharing this with you all. Grace and peace, until next time.

Popular Posts