When I was about to start my journey of theological training, one of the most common refrains that I heard was—“why”? Why do you want to join a seminary or a Bible college to do ministry? People who go for theological training often lose the passion they have for ministry, for people—most of them said. When I decided to go for higher theological education, the voices only became shriller. Oh, you will be one of those ivory-tower theologians who have no interest in people or public ministry, who are happy in their secluded bubbles without any outside engagement, who are out of touch with reality and context. In many ways, it was a fair reflection of what happens in many cases. This article, however, is not to defend or ruminate on that aspect of theological training. In this article, we are looking at the importance of theological education and training, however cloistered it seems at times and in certain cases, from the perspective of two events that happened recently in two far corners of this world.
Our Christian culture today, in almost all its popular expressions and flavours, emphasises emotion over truth, heart over the head.
These two events, that sent shockwaves of sorts throughout the Christian world, happened in two different places, in the context of two different theological and denominational backgrounds, for two different reasons and yet have a connecting strand. Firstly, in the month of July, author of the bestselling book I Kissed Dating Goodbye and former pastor, Joshua Harris announced through an Instagram post—along with other things related to sexual preferences, sexual purity and his regret for condemning the practices of people who follow alternative sexual lifestyles—that “by all the measurements I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.” This news came as a shocker to many, especially those who faithfully followed the purity practices laid out in his book and looked up to it to guide them through the troubled waters of teenage years.
The news had barely sunk when, in August, Marty Samson—former worship leader, singer and songwriter at the popular Pentecostal denomination Hillsong Church in Australia—announced in a now-deleted Instagram post that he is “genuinely losing his faith”. Sampson later deleted that post and put up a post in which he announced that he hasn’t “renounced” Christianity, but is on “incredibly shaky ground”. Sampson’s announcement was based on his perception that there are too many “contradictions” in the Bible to ignore and that no one is talking about what he sees as the triumph of scientific discoveries, rendering the Biblical truths and tenets obsolete. This announcement prompted a slew of responses from Christian leaders around the world, including one from the lead member of the popular Christian rock band Skillet—John Cooper. In his Facebook post titled ‘What in God’s Name is Happening in Christianity?’, Cooper expresses his astonishment on such public and celebratory announcements of leaving the Christian faith (which he sees as an attempt to lead the followers into their newfound ideas or lifestyle) and urges Christians to learn “who God is” from “the teachings of the Word” rather than solely depend on “modern praise songs” and to “value… truth over emotion”.
Both these announcements, based on two different issues, highlight a common feature which was pointed out by William Lane Craig, prominent Christian apologist, in his podcast on reasonablefaith.org titled ‘A Musician Struggles with His Faith’. Talking about Marty Sampson’s deleted post, he says, “Over and over again he said nobody’s talking about it. And as you and I know, people are talking about this all the time! These questions are commonly discussed. But I think what it illustrates is that within the circles that Marty Sampson runs in, nobody’s talking about it. But outside of those circles of his personal acquaintances, these questions are discussed by Christian academics and scholars. The unfortunate thing is that the church is so largely unaware of that part of the body of Christ which is its thinkers and academics. So they get the impression that these questions are not being addressed.
It’s imperative that the Christians in the marketplace and the public square have access to some form of theological training in a way that equips, empowers and enriches them in their workplace and living spaces.
Taking John Cooper’s and William Lane Craig’s responses together, at least two problems become clear. Firstly, our Christian culture today, in almost all its popular expressions and flavours, emphasises emotion over truth, heart over the head, so to speak, leading to a state and time “when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Timothy 4:3 NASB). Secondly, it’s sad that a vast portion of the Christian community across the globe is actually unaware of the theological and apologetical discussions that pertain to their faith, and the roots of it. What’s even sadder is that they are being increasingly insulated from these aspects of the faith by the popular culture—the Christian popular culture they live and breathe in.
So does theological training or education lead to an aloofness from public ministry? In some cases, it may be argued, yes! But it doesn’t have to be so, especially when on the other side, proper theological training leads to a strong and rooted faith which, inarguably, is the need of the hour—any hour. The middle ground here is to reach out to the church at large and make theology and theologians accessible, while inviting them to partake in the process of theological discourse. It’s imperative that the Christians in the marketplace and the public square have access to some form of theological training in a way that equips, empowers and enriches them in their workplace and living spaces. Also, for those who are engaged in theological training at any level, it’s important to think of all aspects of theology—God, mankind, redemption and practical Christian living—in terms of relationships rather than just propositional truths. Theologians of the postmodern era such as Kevin Vanhoozer, Stanley Grenz, Hans Boersma, and Miroslav Volf (not to be confused with postmodern theologians), provide exceptional discourses that naturally lead to public engagement. It is essential for Christian theology and theologians to find a way into the hearts and minds of the church at large. It’s equally essential for the church to recognise the importance of the same.