Thursday, 30 October 2008

Theologian In Residence

I want to suggest that you change what you call your minister. No, not their name, there’s no need to look
up the number of the UK deed poll service. What I have in mind is a change of title, how you describe her and what she does.

There’s already a wide range of labels in use: pastor, minister of the gospel, full time elder, pastoral leader, minister of the word/word and sacrament. I reckon, if pushed I could make a case each one of those. What I’d rather do though is recommend a new option.

I’ve just finished reading Ann Carter Florence’s recent book, Preaching As Testimony. Florence suggests that we should think of our ministers as Theologians In Residence.

What do you reckon? No? Somehow I didn’t think you’d like it. It’s hard to get excited about theologians isn’t it? Theology is one of those perfectly serviceable words that seems to have gotten into trouble of late.

You know the kind of words I mean: preaching – “don’t preach at me!”; missionary - cultural imperialism, colonial expansion and bad dress sense; evangelism – overbearing and insensitive attempts to foist religious views upon the unwilling; membership – a pointless institutional formality that bears no relationship to the reality of one’s commitment to Christ.

And theology? Well doesn’t that make you think dry, remote, irrelevant, tedious? Thought so. Who in their right mind wants their minister to be first and foremost a theologian? No we’d rather have a dynamic leader or a caring pastor. But getting things done or being cared for is not really what its all about, is it?

And any way who says theology has to be remote, speculative or arid? At heart theology is about knowing, thinking and speaking about God and doing so well, appropriately, faithfully. Isn’t that what we are meant to be about? Don’t we want to set aside people to help us to get a handle on what it means to live as if the God we see in Christ is quite simply the most wonderful, important and urgent of all realities?

In a pluralistic country where the church no longer calls the shots for the rest of society and where identity is likely to be shaped by whoever shouts loudest, isn’t it of the utmost importance that we don’t forget who we are, who we are called to be? Don’t we need people well-schooled in our story, the story of Abraham and Sarah, Rahab and Joshua, Priscilla and Aquilla, Julian and Spurgeon to help us work out what it might mean for us to continue that story here and now, faithfully to act out the episode in which we have been cast?

That’s what being a theologian is meant to be about. You see theology at its best is theology done with the world in your face. Theology like Paul did it and Luther and Bonhoeffer. That’s what we try to help our students to do.

I reckon Theologian In Residence is a good title. I reckon we need people who know, think and speak about God while residing in a particular place as part of a particular community seeking to engage with a particular bit of God’s world. I reckon we should reclaim the word Theology. I reckon we should learn to love the word Theologian – and then stick it our minister’s door.

My turn to do a month's worth of comment pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm posting my BT article here. This is the last of the current series. To check out the Baptist times as a whole click here.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen but then who is going to write the weekly sheet, do the agendas and miniutes of meetings(even ones they are not present at), move the chairs, do the photocopying, sort the roofers and plumbers and clean the loos?

Glen Marshall said...

Somebody else, or no one. Stuff might not run as well but, hey.

CG said...

Just best not to use that description on your profile though...

revjev said...

Love the idea. But half of some congregations think they are Theologians in residence the way they can critique a sermon.

Glen Marshall said...

rejev,

I think they ARE theologians in residence. Those of us who have been reved up just happen to be trained theologians. I believe int he the theologianhood of all believers. Some theologians have expertise that comes from education/training/formation others and expertise that comes from thinking and speaking about God form the perspecitve of their bit of the the world.

Thank God they bother to critique sermons. Unless of course you are being polite and you really mean slag off.

Angela said...

Great Idea - in fact I may go and make a sign right now and stick it on the door of the pastor's study!

Craig said...

Within the reformed tradition there is the idea of the Teaching Elder - and that is how I've always regarded myself, I was ordained an Elder before I was ordained a Minister W&S - was theologically trained and returned to an Elders' Meeting, to be the teacher/theologian in their midst. I still chair business meetings, write notices, fix light bulbs but every now and then I get the chance to encourage Elders & congregation to think theologically.

Glen Marshall said...

Craig

I like the notion of teaching elder and I recognise that the reformed tradition has much to offer the rest of the church here. I do have one or two reservations though: as I have experienced them in some reformed churches there can be a hierarchical, monological and overly didactic approach to teaching which runs the risk of being disempowering. If we can blend the reformed respect for a learned ministry with the old baptist / annabaptist emphasis on eaualtiy and mutuality in way respects the variety of different expertises present in a congregation then I think we would be on to winner.

craig said...

I agree with you Glen (although I would argue that equality & mutuality is as much part of the reformed tradition as baptist/anabaptist - at the end of the day it always comes down to people, and however much our ideal stresses all these things - it only needs a Minister or a Deacon or an Elder or a Treasurer or ......[fill in your gap] who likes to assert their own power and boost their own status and we fail to practice what we preach (not a new problem as yesterdays lectionary gospel, Matt 23:1-12, reminded those of us using it)

Jody Gabriel said...

At Stone Soup (WBC's Wed night service thing) Mel lead us through the story of Jacob marrying Leah and Rachel and having lots of kids by them and the servants. She did it using some ideas from Godly Play training. After the story with lots of visual props we were all encouraged to make a creative response using clay or pictures or words. Digory aged 4 built lots of houses and thought about where they should all live. Isaac aged 8? spent a lot of time being disgusted that Jacob slept with so many different women. I aged 36 made a clay spiral and thought about how earthy the stories were and how the themes are repeated with God's promise running through. Somebody else journalled and was able to make links between the story and her story. Nobody was comfortable with the story but everyone engaged, and as a family we were all able to do it together which was fantastic. We were all doing theology as you described. It is like finding the Holy Grail for me, though it was a one off. I hope we can make it work like that again. I'll let you know. (is this a bit too long for a comment?)

Glen Marshall said...

Jody - sounds great. I've been meaning to come along the Wed service - didn't know it was called stone soup - for a while now to just to learn from what you are all up to. Hope to see you there.

Phil B said...

"as I have experienced them in some reformed churches there can be a hierarchical, monological and overly didactic approach to teaching"

What's wrong with that? God gave some to be pastor-teachers.

Glen Marshall said...

Nothing wrong with being a teacher or being a pastor teacher - it's how you go about it.

I believe pastors but also in the pastorhood of all believers, I believe in prophets but also in the prophethood of all believers. Just because one person is called teacher doesn't mean that others have nothing to contribute to the learning process. In some churches ministers act as if they are the only ones able to shape the church's theological understanding. And that's a no no.