Street level theology – is it possible?

In the past couple of posts I have been reflecting on my theological studies at University. This post moves beyond that and is a rather idealistic discussion of why it might be important to, either be intentional about opening up theological discussions to lay people in our churches or find means by which to guide people through the basics of these areas.
This connects with a conversation I had recently that centred around why the conclusions of top level theological discussions rarely filter down to the Jesus-followers on the ground.
This is a good question and there are no doubt hundreds of reasons why.
What the question delineates, I think, is that there might well be a need for accessible theological discussions on a street-level basis.
I’d be happy to agree with this conclusion if that is an answer people were agreeable with. I do think on some level, every Christian needs to be tuned in to and made aware some basics of Christian theology.
That might sound absurd, maybe it is.
(Thankfully, you might like to know, I’m in no position to attempt to institute this as some sort of universal policy.)
What if we prioritized having street-level discussions of important theological issues? Here are some examples, take, leave or add to them what you will. I mean, what if we discussed that
  • The “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” approach to reading the Bible is wrong headed in all sorts of directions.
  • That heaven is not where our story ends.
  • That the “Kingdom of God” is a reality that manifests itself in our world and that Jesus had a vested interest in it could be significant for understanding faith.
  • That the earth is not 6000 years old and that sensible theology can deal with the threat the theory of evolution poses to the popular interpretations of Genesis.
  • Understanding the type, genre and cultural setting of the books within Scripture matters for how we understand them (especially within our frustrating tendency to talk about books as literal and metaphorical etc.)
  • There are serious and important discussions happening that challenge all kinds of beliefs many hold as a matter of fact; rigid views of God’s sovereignty, monochrome understandings of atonement, hell, inclusivity (or lack thereof) and so on.
All of this and more is challenged, discussed and debated often at academic levels and the chances of anyone on the ground finding out, never mind understanding their significance, is slim.
This stuff is important, dare I say necessary – yet sadly it doesn’t happen very often, if at all, not least because people may not want to hear what has to be said. Not to mention that it is difficult prioritize articulating this stuff in congregational ministry.
Additionally, theology, as I said in the last post, can prove to be, if you aren’t ready for it (and maybe even if you are), very uncomfortable and deconstructive.
At least it was at times for me.
It won’t be comfortable for people to be guided through where theology may well take them but it is important.
Where this takes us is to the place where we have to ask that if we perpetuate a faith that is closed on topics and issues that it simply cannot assume to offer absolutist opinions on, then why do we insist on doing so?
Yet I found that studying theology opened me up to a place where faith was stretched in seeking, asking and knocking and sometimes finding.
I think this invitation is one that should be extended to wider audiences.
We’re not going to get all the answers and we will often discover we are quite out of our depth, struggling with the questions and the few answers we have.
This is where faith finds itself expressed. This is where we discover what it means to hope. This is where we draw the energy to love God and others.
No one has ever had God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and every other thing about them sorted out and understood, so why do we insist on acting like we do?
Have we spent too much time constructing unassailable theological borders on issues we have failed to understand we will never get our head around? Do these borders risk being, to all intents and purposes, an alternate reality openly demonstrating our fear of being unwilling to move, talk and revel in the mystery of our faith?
We have the freedom to do this in Christ.
I am not advocating a “believe whatever you want” kind of deal here. I am simply suggesting that many of us have been brought up to believe absolutes about the Christian faith that are unhelpfully dogmatic and so loaded with constraint that the imagination is stunted into missing the places of glorious uncertainty and ambiguity amongst the very important truths we believe.
Mature, thoughtful, engaged and honest theological reflection has the potential to be one of the most exciting enterprises many Christians will ever participate in. It has the potential to open us all up to the deep mysteries, plans and wisdom of God revealed in Christ. Our theologies have at times been closed, unnecessarily dogmatic and even at times anti-intellectual. There is no need for this.
Truths of immense value are contained in Christianity may we learn to speak about them, not just in academics but in all places in appropriate ways.
[I hope this hasn’t come across like I’m suggesting people think the same things as me or that people all be put through some sort of degree course. They shouldn’t but I would love to see people thinking through these realities in accessible ways. I also apologize for what is no doubt speculative, idealistic chatter – to varying degrees this has simply been a comment on the, what a friend of mine would call, “Biblical literacy” of church goers.]