I just started reading through a book that my friend Dave recommended called Scripture & Discernment: Decision Making in the Church by New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson. A few chapters in, it’s a pretty interesting read dealing with how the Scriptures can be used faithfully to make decisions.
Johnson argues that theology is a task of and for the church, and therefore locates the work of theology within the body of the church. A theologian, in Johnson’s definition, does not have to be a professional academic, but instead is one who “articulates for all what has first been experienced by everyone who believes” (28). Here are a couple of interesting (and rather long) thoughts/paragraphs that I’ve come across so far, both dealing with the role of the theologian in a congregational setting.
For now, I simply state my conviction that one of the tasks of theology is to help the church both hear and then tell its story. The theologian therefore need to interpret both parts of the story: that which has already been told and that which is being spoken. The theologian seeks to make explicit the shape of God’s Word being spoken to the church in the present circumstances, and how the church’s decisions might continue the story of God’s people. To do this, the theologian must listen to the narratives of those who believe – including the theologian’s own story. The theologian also needs to interpret the story which has gone before: How has God worked among the people in the past? By what means can we recognize, if not God’s face, then the trail of God’s mercy and justice as they grace and frighten us? Without the means of perception given us by the story of our past history with God, we shall not be able to discern God’s Word being spoken now. (30)
As one who articulates the faith of the church, the theologian asserts this authoritative function of the Scripture in the life of the community, and in the reach of decisions. It is not the theologian’s role to decide how texts are to be normative. The theologian serves the church by allowing the text from the past and the text of the present to enter mutual interpretation. The theologian thereby helps provide the context for the discernment of God’s Word now by allowing that Word to be shaped and questioned by God’s Word in the Scripture. When that Word is brought into conversation with the present, it also becomes reread and reinterpreted because of God’s continuing revelation in the stories of the people. The theologian does not interpret the Scripture alone, any more than the theologian interprets the moment alone. The church discerns and decides on behalf of God. The theologian helps this happen by allowing the Scripture to speak to life, and the word of life to speak to the Scripture, and this within the assembly of God’s people. (32)
Thoughts from any of you theologians or non-theologians out there? Anything you like or dislike? Anything that scares or excites you?