Friday, August 26, 2011

Academics doing theology. . .

“Theology may be the only academic pursuit where one can seemingly be considered a theologian without actually having to know the subject matter,” he said. “It would appear at times that a theologian need not actually know God.”  John L. Allen, Jr.  Read more here.

Lamenting upon the damage done by "theologians" to the Church and to the cause of the Kingdom, Mr. Allen has hit upon a point that we often miss -- especially the media when it seeks someone to interview about what is going on in matters of religion or the Church.  We live in a strange time in which many theologians for very many church bodies are academics without any real connection to the Church and without any real connection to the faith.  Some of them are nebulous believers, at best, and others are outright deniers of the very faith of which they claim to be theologians.  They inhabit universities and religion departments of schools that once might have had a tie to the Church but now exist in the same secular, doubting world of science and academics where religion is less about God than about sociology.  Yet their voices are too loud and their doubts and denials are heard way too much by the faithful who do not realize that they stand outside the pale of Christian faith.

I have for many years complained about the so-called historians of the Church like Bart Ehrman who can grab a microphone with the same fierce grasp as Chuck Schumer!  But he is merely one of many.  And the Church (legitimate) suffers under the weight of their spotlight in the media and their many denials and distractions from the Truth.  Allen speaks of the situation among "Catholic" theologians but he could be speaking for us Lutherans as well.  "Much Catholic theology has become “an attempt by reason to pass judgment on the content of the faith as if it were of human origin,” with theologians as “judges who stand above the faith and arbitrate what is to be believed and what is not.”

On another forum we have a Pastor supposedly in good standing with our own church body, the LCMS, who insists that the ordination of women is an open question in the LCMS and who insistently demands that a debate take place for the purpose of allowing this to happen in Missouri.  Nevermind that convention after convention and book after book in the LCMS has said this is a closed question and it is not up for debate.  Nevermind that Missouri's answer is "no" now and forever.  This fellow taunts the church to which he belongs and to a 2,000 year unbroken history (to which Rome and Constantinople and the vast majority of Christians adhere).  But this is only one small case of the same kind of thing at work in many other places within Lutheranism in general and Christianity as a whole. Allen got a good line on it, though, when he said that theology is the one discipline where it seems the practitioners need not know its subject -- God. 

Among other things, however, is the same disconnect between what is taught in the parish and proclaimed from the pulpits of the congregations.  Oversight (the meaning of episcopal or bishop) has been practiced far too loosely over the years and it is made increasingly difficult by the growing isolation of parishes and their Pastors.  As long as they do not make big public waves, they can create all sorts of storms of conflict and dispute, doubt and mayhem.  Under the radar, as long as the checks go into the regional office, they can cripple a church body and destroy the unity and unanimity of the faith that we profess in the creeds.  "In the Church, there has been relatively little exercise of discipline of the Faith in schools and pulpits as far as teaching is concerned, and little oversight in some places for liturgical worship."  Boy, you can say that again!

The voices of the Church's theologians should speak for the faith and not against it, in conjunction with the Church and not in conflict with her.  The individual places where the Church gathers around the Word and Table of the Lord are not independent or free zones to do as you please but the local manifestations of the evangelical and catholic faith.  When at last we remember this, we may find that our voices become the singular voice that speaks with authority, the same authority of the Word of God that the people heard in Jesus and which caused them to marvel.  The voices of doubt and the denials of the faith and truth of Scripture ought to come from outside the Church and not from those who claim to be within.

It all reminds me of that great clip from the old BBC series "Yes, Prime Minister."  "The word modernist is code for non-believer....  when they stop believing in God they call themselves modernists..." Or, perhaps, theologians?


Dixie said...

You point is very well made regarding theologians. I blame scholasticism for sending the message that theology is a matter of education. Evagrius Ponticus wrote "If you are a theologian you truly pray. If you truly pray you are a theologian."

Incidentally, I made the a similar case with The Teaching Company about Ehrman. I complained to that it is impossible for a non-Christian to teach on Christian subjects with any authority. Alas...he still offers many courses through them.

And lastly...hey, I am a "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" fan, too!

Anonymous said...

It is estimated that 90% of the
media is non-Christian, so it is
likely that they will consult
liberal theologians to debunk
Christ on the cover stories of
Time and Newsweek magazines.

One who is usually quoted is John
Dominic Crossan of DePaul University
in Chicago, A Roman Catholic college.
For starters he does not believe in
the resurrected Christ.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

I go through this subject twice a year in every adult Bible class; right before Christmas and right before Easter when my students watch all of the 'real' stories about Jesus/Christmas/Easter etc. on the Discovery channel or TLC. And every time I have to explain that many of those 'experts' and PHD's don't actually believe in God, or are exceptionally liberal.

Sage said...

I had my eyes opened when I was searching for a church after many years of not going. I looked at the Presbyterians, Anglicans, all over the place. One Anglican minister had just wonderful sermon podcasts and I thought this might be the place. He seemed to reverence the Lord and spoke so lovingly and respectfully. Well, turned out he didn't believe in Jesus or anything He had done. I almost fell out of my chair. He told me that the "miracles" Jesus performed were just analogies for overthrowing the Roman's, not real events. That there was no resurrection, that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi and that's about it.

What's really scary, he wasn't the only one that believed that way. Good for me though, I found the Lutheran church due to all this craziness. So, it's not only theologians, there are quite a few ministers who don't buy what they're preaching. Sad.