Why Theology? A Question for Disciples of Christ
|Pulpit and Table at Cane Ridge Meeting House|
A friend and I, both of whom are Disciples of Christ ministers (and now both of us having Ph.D.s), have had conversations over the past few years about the need for ways of encouraging Disciples to engage in serious conversations about theology. We've talked about the need for resources that can be used in congregations. That's one reason why I decided to put together me brief book on the Trinity (The Triune Nature of God), which is a topic that many Disciples steer clear of (often claiming support from Barton Stone, who famously denied being a Trinitarian, though he also denied being a Unitarian, Socinian, or an Arian, all of which he had been accused of).. I understand why Stone felt the way he did, but my hope is that my contribution will stimulate some conversation.
From conversations over the years, and from watching social media more recently, I have discerned a reticence to have deep theological conversations. Maybe it's because we're non-creedal, which means that we don't have official positions on matters of theology, that we feel anxious about going deep into theological conversations. Best to leave people alone. The problem is that if we don't have these conversations, especially we who are theologically trained (which is at least in part why we who are clergy go to seminary, is it not?), then the people in our congregations will be left to their own devices. That can lead to bad theology, which in turn leads to bad results. I'm not suggesting that Disciples take their congregations through Barth's Church Dogmatics (or a systematic theology series of your choice). One place to start is with Scripture.
Our Disciples forebears eschewed creeds, insisting instead that our statements of faith should be grounded in the New Testament. As Alexander Campbell declared: "The Bible, or the Old and New Testament, in Hebrew and Greek, contains a full and perfect revelation of God and his will adapted to man as he now is." (Christian System). Now my conception of and ways of interpreting of Scripture are not exactly the same as those suggested by Campbell, but I think the point that should be taken is that when we do theology, we start with Scripture, understanding that to interpret it we will need to listen to Tradition, Reason, and Experience.
Disciples have produced some solid theologians over the years, and it appears a whole new generation is emerging, many of them not sharing my white, male, straight identity. The emphasis probably is on my whiteness. So, let's have some conversations. Let's talk about the Trinity. Christology, Pneumatology. Eschatology. We don't have to agree on every point. Disciples rarely have agreed on every point. Campbell and Stone didn't agree on points, but they affirmed each other. Rather than rallying behind one founder or the other, might we learn from them all -- as well as others down through the ages. Perhaps others will join me in creating resources that will stimulate that conversation. I will add one other resource that I've written for Disciples that might help move the conversation forward. That is my book Freedom in Covenant: Reflections on the Distinctive Values and Practices of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
May the conversation begin!