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.