Every human thinks a different thought when he or she hears the word, “theology.” Some may consider theology to be an archaic series of thoughts and words that describe God. Others immediately default toward thinking of their religious context and experience. Many desire to engage in a “theological” conversation to help them think differently about God. Typically, theology involves a lot of words and ideas that construct a quasi-foreign language. Those who observe confusing and generally dull, uninteresting, and monotonous, theological discourse find themselves unengaged, confused, and needing to confront arrogant claims on authority. The vocational assignment of the missional leader is to deconstruct distorted understandings of theology and initiate an active, embodied theology.
Any of those who might be bored with required religion classes at liberal arts universities would be refreshed by the liveliness of theology when it is understood within its original context and applied within our current cultural reality. Modernism has crafted the definition of “logos” into “word,” “description,” or “study of.” It is very mechanical and symptomatic of our post-enlightenment era. Contrastingly, for the Hebrews, the word “logos” was understood with greater depth than our modern interpretation. “Logos” was equated with the “expression of the wisdom of God.” Johanian literature’s language about the person of Jesus as “logos,” reveals that God’s expression of wisdom is self-disclosed through the incarnation. Theology is something that is something that is alive and active in our world as demonstrated through the life of Jesus.
Though some may think that theology is “not for them,” all Christians must seek to understand their place and responsibility for enacting theology. Every person possesses the theological sources of formative life experiences and tradition that are informed by human reason. For Christians, Scripture also serves as a resource for developing one’s perspective. Throughout much of modernity, the use and primacy of Scripture formed an appeal toward rational and quantifiable structures. Author Philip Clayton points out the shift within post-modernity stating, “Christians are not particularly interested in exact lists of doctrines. They do not think that there is a universal right answer for how Christians should act in all cultural situations and at all times. They do go back again and again to the life and teachings of Jesus, since these continue to be the model for Christian practice and belief.” It may be a daunting task to transpose Jesus’ life to our postmodern context but such a task remains accessible and manageable for those who have not been formally trained at universities and seminaries on complex “theology.”
The theological change that is upon us is one that is hopeful. It may be met with resistance but requires an embrace of moving forward with innovation and creativity. As a young and motivated leader in the church, I have had moments of feeling stifled and discouraged from exploring new ways of enacting theology and being the church. In the midst of the obstacles I have faced, it has been a tempting option to “give up on the church.” Sometimes it doesn’t feel worth the fight when hoping to move away from stagnant and failing structures that no longer impact our culture. I have sought to run away from the pews and the buildings that continue to contain and restrain the church from being a missional community. My struggle is not only continuing to progressively move in a different direction but also moving in a capacity that invites and leads the church into participation without leaving people behind.
I don’t want to get caught in the trap of continuing to be overly concerned with the church and finding myself and others living stagnantly without actually enacting theology. Just as the battles between the conservative evangelical and liberal camps need to cease, so does the tension between progressive postmodern followers of Jesus and old-fashioned, modern Christians. I may possess a certain level of idealism but recognize the importance of ecumenism and unification when hoping to enact the kingdom of God. A reinvented church with a redefined mission would provide a story that mimics the resurrected Christ. As Clayton describes, “We have to learn to tell our story as individuals and as communities, together with Jesus’ stories.” In order to tell Jesus’ stories we must look through the same lens mentioned previously – a framework that moves beyond spoken words to an enacted theology.
Transformed theology is a socially active response to the love of God observed in the person of Jesus. It is important to note that Jesus did not operate by himself. He called a community of people around him to work together for the salvation of the world. Missional leaders must take theology seriously and thereby extend an invitation to others to look beyond the shallow confines of religious discourse and construct an alternative reality that involves action. Theology that is otherwise a series of convoluted words and simplistic explanations is simply not theology.