The following article comes from my Sunday night (August 12) sermon manuscript. I’ve been encouraged to reproduce the sermon text in some form, so I use this forum because the sermon was not recorded on a video or audio device.
The title of the message is: “You Might Be a Theologian If…” based on an approach to ministry and Scripture that regards the priesthood of all believers as a privilege and a responsibility. In other words, all Christians are called to ministry—and thoughtful ministry at that. The article and sermon are based on Acts 17:10-15.
“You might be a theologian if….” There are three traits of a theologian on my list based on this text. First: You might be a theologian if you approach life, Scripture, and theology with an open mind. That statement appears simplistic, but it is not. For instance, a few years ago I was had a fruitful conversation with a friend of mine, a religion professor out at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas. We discussed the differences between the generations in churches and how we’re supposed to get along with one another in spite of some marked differences. My friend made a statement that has stuck with me for quite some time. It was a sharp and cutting statement, although he did not talk “down” to me. In fact, I was going to be leading a Bible study and using some quotes from Christians who lived in the third century, twelfth century, and so on. My friend, then, said: “We’ve got to remember (and you’re generation has got to remember) that Christianity didn’t begin when you were born.
That statement clarifies what I mean by the term “open-minded,” the fact that there have been people struggling and thinking through theological issues for centuries before we came on the scene. Accordingly, I rather like the fact that we’re steadily moving away in time (hopefully) from the big Baptist fight of the past years. For instance, I was born in 1978. I have only known the struggle against fundamentalism in my church experience, so I’m glad to know that we’re now a generation removed from that battle, and hopefully there are people out there who are beginning to say, “There were people thinking about Baptist life (and the Christian life) before 1978. Some of you are in this room tonight and have such an opportunity to minister to new generations about reading the Bible and helping other believers without suspicion, without fear, without separatism—by being truly a moderate Baptist church.
In fact, let me challenge you to do something: would you begin to define the term “moderate Baptist” for our community? If you do, our church will grow. Why is that? Let me put it like this: the quicker we can move away from terms like “fundamentalist” or “liberal,” the better off our church will be for a number of reasons. For one, I’ve found that terms like “fundamentalist” and “liberal” are so relative that it is almost impossible to pigeon hole someone completely. For example, I’m relative “conservative” when it comes to Bible interpretation (i.e. I believe in the Virgin Birth, that the miracles of Jesus actually happened, that the resurrection was an actual event and not a figurative writing, that people have free will, and that we are saved by God’s grace), but I’m more progressive on some social type issues at times.
In other words, whether or not you choose to embrace or boycott Chick-Fil-A—that really doesn’t bother me. I’m still going to eat my chicken nuggets regardless, and I’m going to watch Disney movies with my daughter. I’m saying, then, that most of us may be more of a mixture of conservative and even (dare I say it in a Texas church) “liberal” on some other things. I think we can even borrow a good phrase from John Wesley. He said, “Think, and let think.” That’s the idea. If we are going to be a democratic, congregational church, we can do no other, for it seems that the ultimate litmus test of our lives is actually not how much we watch or agree with either Fox news or MSNBC. It is that we have chosen to follow Jesus by faith and that we are bearing the fruit of the Spirit.
Second, you might be a theologian if you (as Luke said in 17:11) “rush forward” to receive the word. What does that mean? Basically it means that we vigorously address and articulate Christian belief in the contemporary world. That’s “high,” churchy language, but basically there is an eagerness here to know the truth. I studied under a professor at seminary who called the Bible the “norming norm” for our lives. That’s the idea—we ought to be eager to read the Bible and take note of how life and theology are interconnected in our daily experience. So, are we rushing forward to receive God’s word (or the gospel), or is Scripture just another tool—like a map, that we pick up every now and then? Or is Scripture just a rulebook full of the right prescriptions for me? I would suggest to you that part of the reason why the Bereans were so receptive in this instance (Acts 17) is based on the fact that they rushed forward to see what kind of relevance God’s Word had for their daily lives. Are we doing that?
Here’s the third idea: “You might be a theologian if you think for yourself instead of taking someone’s word for it.” I said it just a moment ago—the Bible is the norming norm. It is foundational, but I hope that you and I can also function much in the way that these Bereans did so many years ago. They examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. The word “examined” actually can be translated “sifted.” They sifted through the Scripture.
You probably knew it was coming, but I just have to ask: how many of you examine the Bible daily? How many of us are being stretched in our approach to the Bible? In fact, let me just share something with you that absolutely changed my entire focus of ministry a long time ago. I found out that the Bible was less organized than I once thought. What does that mean? It means that I no longer just pop it open to find the answer. In fact, when I preach, it usually takes me hours upon hours to study ideas carefully. It doesn’t just come to me. I wish it were that easy, and if it is that easy for some other preachers out there, it may be time for them to reexamine their hermeneutical approach. At the same time, I like the way that God planned this all out. It’s not A,B,C—1, 2, 3. It is a book full of teachings, stories of regular (messed-up) people. It’s the story of redemption. My goodness, there’s even quite a bit of poetry in the Bible! It all speaks to who we are. So, if we’re trying to examine the Scriptures just to hear the systematic guideline of the day, or if we just want to leave all of this up to the experts (“The preacher will tell me what to do”), then we’re missing it.
I highly recommend a book called Who Needs Theology? by Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson (Truett Seminary). In that book they told of an old “Peanuts” cartoon. Lucy and Linus were staring out a window. It was dark and raining. It was actually raining quite heavily. Lucy said, “Linus, look at that rain. What if it floods the whole world?”
Linus said, “It will never do that. In Genesis 9, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of that promise is the rainbow.
Well, Lucy got a look of relief on her face and said, “Phew. That takes a big load off of my mind.”
Linus then replied, “Sound theology has a way of doing that.”
Are you a theologian?