Academic theology is dry, irrelevant to the rhythms of everyday life, and even potentially detrimental for those seeking to pursue a life of deep discipleship. These kinds of charges might strike some as strange, but in the first chapter of Theology as Discipleship, Keith L. Johnson notes that, unfortunately, they are surprisingly common in the contemporary Church. “In fact, many smart and faithful Christians cringe when they hear the word theology due to the negative connotations the discipline carries” (p.20).
For Johnson, the fact that these charges are plausible in the eyes of so many suggests that, sadly, a perceived divide has developed between the world of academic theology and the everyday practices of Christian life (p.11). He acknowledges that:
It is possible for a Christian to participate in the church for years and never engage in disciplined theological thinking about core Christian doctrines or the history of the church’s debates about them. It is also possible for academic theologians to devote their entire careers to the discipline and never be asked to translate or apply the content of their scholarship to the concrete realities that shape the daily life of the church. (p.12)
*A version of this essay previously appeared at Theologues.com (RIP)
In much of Christian culture, a lot of attention gets paid to the need for people to reach a moment of decision and place their faith in Jesus, to be “born again.” This isn’t surprising. After all, beginnings matter, and birth is essential. Jesus Himself used birth as a metaphor during his conversation with Nicodemus early on in John’s Gospel. Jesus told him that in order to see the kingdom of God he needed to be “born from above” (NRSV) or “born again” (NIV). Later on in the same chapter, Jesus also (famously) told him that, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16 NRSV).
So yes, repentance and initial belief in Christ are important, and I don’t want to minimize that. However, I also don’t want to end with that part of the story. New birth in Christ is supposed to lead into the long, painful, and beautiful process of growing up. In his 2010 book, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing up in Christ, Eugene Peterson notes that the twin metaphors of spiritual birth and growth aren’t meant to stand apart; one is supposed to flow into the other (p.3). However it seems that, in some quarters at least, so much emphasis gets put on making sure people get “saved” that the task of walking with them as they grow to maturity in Christ can be treated like something of an afterthought, and that isn’t healthy. Continue reading