Thursday, October 26, 2006

what is theology?

I am currently enjoy Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice by Graham Ward, in preparation for teaching my 2007 Masters course: Critical Missional Issues and the Emerging Church. He defines theology as having three functions:

“First, with respect to interpreting the Scriptures; secondly with respect to the teaching of the Church; and thirdly, with a discernment of the contemporary work of Christ in the context of any activity undertaken.”

All 3 are distinct. All 3 are important.

Today on the way in the car, one of my daughters entered an existing conversation late. She had been reading her book, and popped her head up. Her entry into the conversation simply blurred, and confused us all.

I wonder how many confusions and arguments about the emerging church occur because conversational categories simply get blurred. For instance; is there not a blurring when:
Steve Chalk’s writing on Christ and our contemporary context is butted hard against Carson’s way of interpreting Scriptures; or
Reformed theology (a historic and contextual teaching of the Church) is butted against the 7 Jesus’s as McLaren tries to make sense of Christ in our contemporary context.

I found Ward’s categories helpful and it left me wondering what would happen if these 3 categories were used to guide our conversations?

Posted by steve at 09:08 PM


  1. thanks for this useful pointer 🙂

    Comment by Sivin — October 26, 2006 @ 9:43 pm

  2. you also might find this resource helpful. i’ve only just started it, but a good friend in the usa pointed me to it. its called, constants in context – a theology of mission for today, by bevans and schroeder
    they say, ‘christian mission is both anchored in fidelity to the past and challenged to fidelity in the present. it must preserve, defend and proclaim the constants of the church’s traditions; at the same time it must respond creatively and boldly to the contexts in which it finds itself.’
    especially interesting are the 6 constants of mission they develop, according to the threefold typology of justo gonzalez and dorothy solle. i’m just working through this part at the moment, and am looking forward to the end section that looks at the development of ‘prophetic dialogue’.
    my mate says this book is the next big thing after bosch.
    thought you might be interested…

    Comment by revtc — October 27, 2006 @ 2:16 am

  3. What exactly do you mean about “contemporary context”?

    Comment by Andrew — October 27, 2006 @ 8:03 am

  4. Revtc – i have that book “constants in context” but have not read it; thanks for the reminder.

    Andrew – contemporary context = the world you live in … and different people live in different worlds …

    Comment by steve — October 27, 2006 @ 7:37 pm

  5. How very Anglican – Anglican “theology” has always taken its base theological themes as being “scripture + tradition + reason” and historically of course the debate was whether there was a primacy (ie over-ruling)in favour of scripture. I guess the current worldwide debates are now focussed on what is meant by “reason”- with the west and anglo-catholic africa taking a contextual view while the evangelical south and muslim-dominant african churches taking a literalist interpretation.It is the failure of the latter to accept that their interpretation of scripture is contextually created that is causing the current divisions within the Anglican Communion. To that extent reason/context are currently the dominant theme of the three.

    Comment by Tom Allen — October 28, 2006 @ 12:36 am

  6. that’s fascinating tom, cos I read Ward as being quite Baptistic; that 3rd category – discerning Christ in the present slots beautifully with a missional theology (what is God doing), with appreciating the priesthood of all believers as the body of Christ as the living presence of God.

    really interesting,


    Comment by steve — October 28, 2006 @ 8:18 am

  7. Steve,
    Just a suggestion here’; as I understand Ward’s quote you have the Scripture, the Church, and the world, but what about the reader himself? It seems that theology not only expresses a particular reading on scripture in relation to the teaching of the Church with a mind to the contemporary context, but also theology is a conversation between the reader and his own hermeneutical horizon that is in turn shaped by the scripture, the church, and the world.

    Just a thought, but a hermeneutical spiral needs to be present in a full theology; if its not we end up denying our creatureliness as well as our sinful and broken existence that both play parts in the spiral.

    Good stuff, I hope the class goes well. You might want to look at some of the notes from Franke’s lecture at Westminster last weekend on ‘Theology as Mission’, I think they could help your class.


    Comment by Anthony Stiff — October 31, 2006 @ 9:52 am

  8. Anthony, I think Ward would involve the reader in all 3 (Scripture, tradition, contemporary context).

    A query about your comment; when you use “his” I read that as referring to men ie I read it that you are limiting theology to men. Is that the case?


    Comment by steve — October 31, 2006 @ 10:12 am

  9. Steve,
    Thanks for the clarifying point about Ward’s view. When I used ‘his’ above I did have the reader in particular focus, not because I don’t think God has a hermeneutical horizon, just that the two comments I made that filled out ‘his’ hermeneutical horizon wouldn’t fit with God.

    It sounds like you’ve been weighing your sources carefully, thanks for the questions.


    Comment by Anthony Stiff — October 31, 2006 @ 11:01 am

  10. Thanks Anthony. So the question still remains: does calling the reader “his” make women feel excluded from doing theology?


    Comment by steve — November 1, 2006 @ 10:32 am

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