Where does one begin when speaking of God? A biography usually starts at the beginning with its subject’s birth and ancestry. But the God of Scripture, unlike the gods of myth, is uncreated and eternal. He has no beginning or point of origin. He has no ancestors. For this reason, God’s account of Himself in Scripture begins not with His creation but with ours. If the Bible is the history of God, it is only a record of recent history.
The other day I was thinking about the stuff Christians hate. In particular, I was thinking about the people Christians like to hate. Well, maybe hate is too strong. Let’s say, the people that Christians like to dislike. Or maybe, the people that Christians like to deplore. I was reviewing an article for a conservative publication which included a quote from a noted theologian whose views have sparked controversy in the past. I wondered if I should mention it to the editor. There was nothing wrong with the quote. But you know how these things go. Sometimes the mere mention of a name is enough to spark outrage among Christians. It’s not what is said that prompts the reaction. It’s the person who said it. We often don’t even understand the nature of the controversy. We just know that someone told us that the author said something somewhere else that was bad.
Concerns about what people have said or written are reasonable,
especially when it comes to the faith. It’s
not so surprising that we don’t understand finer details of such matters. Most
of us rely upon the opinion of others to help discern good teaching from bad. It
isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Bible says that it is the duty of the church’s leaders to warn God’s people about
false doctrine. Even theologians depend upon other theologians for their
I’ve noticed that our tastes in these matters also tend to
be cyclical. That was the question I wrestled with when it came to the quote.
We hated this guy five years ago. But do we still hate him today? Well, maybe
hate is too strong. Let’s say that he
made us uncomfortable. We didn’t doubt that he was a Christian. As far as I know, his Christian walk is
exemplary. But people in my theological
tribe disagreed with his position, some of them
strongly. But after a while, something changes. We feel differently.
Maybe we decide this issue that separated us wasn’t that important after all. Perhaps
we are tired of controversy and decide to
overlook it. Or more likely, some new person or issue captures our attention and pushes our discomfort with the
other guy to the margins.
If we wait long enough our old enemy might even become a new
favorite. It’s like furniture. The ugly furniture my parents used to decorate our
house in the 1950s is now hip. Theology
is like that too. Some of the people we used to decry are now merely thought to
have been misunderstood. When I was in
seminary, my conservative teachers considered Karl Barth to be a liberal. Today
he is insightful.
This doesn’t just
happen with people. When I started to follow Jesus, I smoked a pack and a half
of cigarettes a day. I liked smoking. Well, all except for the cancer part. But
in general, I like the smell and the way I felt when I smoked. I thought it
made me look intellectual. Then an older believer I respected told me that
serious Christians don’t smoke cigarettes, so I quit. It wasn’t easy for me. It
took me a while. It took the grace of
These days, such a warning would be considered legalistic.
Christians don’t hate smoking anymore. Indeed, I know some Christian leaders
who are proud of the fact that they smoke. Of course, it has to be the right
kind of smoke. Cigarettes are still considered gauche among conservatives, but not cigars and pipes. They are a common
accessory with a certain brand of pastor.
He is usually Reformed, young, and bearded. The nagging issue of cancer is
still there. But we won’t think about
that today. We can think about that tomorrow when
the doctor calls with our test results.
The same leaders who don’t hate smoking don’t hate drinking
anymore either. They have cast aside the old misgivings some Christians used to
have about the consumption of alcohol. They consider abstinence to be an
outdated vestige of the sort of legalism that once claimed: “real Christians don’t smoke, drink, or chew or go with
girls who do.” Jesus drank, they point out. He changed water into wine. Paul advised
Timothy to “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake” (1 Tim. 5:23). Not only
does this new order of Christian leader like to drink, but they like to post
selfies of themselves drinking on social media. This practice seems to be a
kind of manifesto, a testimony to Christian liberty.
However, just like smoking, to
be truly acceptable, it must be the right kind of drinking. It has to be craft
beer or at least wine. One can hardly imagine Jesus tipping a can of Bud. In
the interest of fairness, I must confess that I am not a neutral observer on
this issue. Both my parents were addicted to alcohol. I also recognize that,
although the Bible does condemn drunkenness, it doesn’t condemn the consumption
of wine outright. I understand that not everyone who drinks is a drunk. But I
also know that ten percent of drinkers consume
sixty percent of all the alcohol that is sold.
Maybe alcohol isn’t as hip as we thought.
The list of things we used to
hate is growing, but that doesn’t mean we hate fewer things, it just means we
have exchanged the items on the old list for new things. There is still
plenty of stuff for Christians to hate. For example, we hate to sit down while
singing in church. We hate to go to church on Sunday night. We hate to go to
church on Sunday. Some of us hate to go to church, period. We hate one another’s
politics. We hate the music in church if
it’s not ours. Sometimes we even hate each other.
It’s a challenge to hate the right things. We often fail to
get it right. Some of us don’t want to hate anything. Others hate everything. We
seem to have a penchant foolish alliances, like Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah. I sometimes wonder if the
prophet would say to us what he said to him: “Should you help the wicked and
love those who hate the Lord?” In the end, our real problem it isn’t about what
we hate at all. It’s about what we love.
Once upon a time there was a young girl who lived in a small village. She was poor but virtuous. One day, shortly before her marriage was to take place, she was startled by an unexpected visitor. “Do not be afraid,” the visitor said. “I have good news for you. You are going to have a child. He will be a great king.”
Sound familiar? This could be the beginning of any number of stories. But it is the beginning of one particular story. None of the Gospels opens by saying, “Once upon a time….” Yet when we read them, we get the feeling that they might have. The mysteries and wonders they describe are the sort one reads about in fairy tales. A peasant girl gives birth to a miraculous child. A star appears in the heavens and announces his birth. Magi travel from a distant land to pay homage to him. The hero descends to the realm of the dead and returns.
This is the stuff of myth and fantasy, except the Bible does not call it by either of those names. The Bible does not even call it a story. Not really. According to the Scriptures it is truth. It is “good news.” The Gospels do not spin tales, they bear witness. Yet the Gospels’ embodied and historical nature does not negate the mythical quality of the real events they describe.
In an essay entitled “Myth Became Fact,” C. S. Lewis described myth as “the isthmus which connects the peninsular world of thought with the vast continent we really belong to.” Myth in this sense not a fanciful story although, as Lewis observed in An Experiment in Criticism, myth always deals with the fantastic. It is an account which connects our experience with a realm of truth that would otherwise be out of our reach.
But the historical events the Gospel’s describe go beyond myth. “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact” Lewis explains. “The Old Myth of the dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history.” In the fantastic but true account of Christ’s birth we meet the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. Although He is “not far from each one of us,” without the Gospel record of these events He would be forever beyond our reach. No wonder the ancient church sang:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.
At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!
Newsweek’s cover story last week asked the question, “Is heaven real?” Inside, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander describes the near-death experience that convinced him the answer must be yes. I could not help being interested in Dr. Alexander’s account. I’ve been thinking a lot about heaven lately—ever since the doctor told me I had prostate cancer.
After the doctor gave me the diagnosis, he went on for several minutes describing various treatment options. I nodded my head to signal that I understood. But not much of what he said actually registered. I was too busy thinking about death. Samuel Johnson once said, “Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.” My diagnosis had the same effect. In the weeks that followed I thought about death a lot. As I wrestled with my fears, I concluded that the best remedy was to think about something else. I determined instead to focus on heaven.
It was harder than I expected. Heaven as we have traditionally pictured it is an uninspiring place, a subject of clichés and the butt of jokes. Heaven is the green space where our loved ones go after they die, not unlike the cemetery itself. It is a quiet and comfortable spot from which our deceased parents and grandparents view significant events like graduations, weddings, family reunions, and presumably their own funerals. Like spectators on a hill who watch from a great distance, they “look down upon us” but cannot do much else.
Such affairs are tedious enough for the living. One can only wonder what they would be like for souls who were permitted to watch but not participate. Would they find our small talk about yesterday’s game or our employer’s irritating behavior to be interesting? Would they enjoy knowing that we miss them? Would they be distressed at the sight of our troubles? If this is heaven, then its inhabitants are more like Marley’s ghost than the angels. They might seek to interfere for good, but lack the power to do so.
If heaven is only a distant gallery from which the departed observe affairs as they unfold on earth, then it is a dull place indeed. It is more like that boring relative’s house your parents forced you to visit when you were a kid—the one without Nintendo or any children your own age—than the place where God’s throne dwells. This popular view of heaven pictures a realm so removed that our voice will not carry to its shores. It is close enough for the departed to watch us but too far away to have any real effect on earth. It is too removed from our present experience to sustain our interest and too far in the future to be of help in the present. We are afraid that when we finally arrive on its shores, it will be less than we had expected.
In Heaven as It Is on Earth
John Lennon sang, “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.” Although there is little in his song that agrees with what the Bible has to say about heaven, Lennon got it right on one point. It is easier to imagine that heaven does not exist than it is to imagine heaven as it does exist. There are many good reasons we find it difficult to “get a handle” on heaven.
For one thing, heaven is hard to put into words. It contains that which no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived (1 Cor. 2:9). Earth is the only frame of reference we have this side of eternity. If we cannot understand heaven in terms of earth then we cannot understand it at all. It is not surprising, then, that we would try to imagine heaven in earthly terms. What is more, there is some biblical warrant for doing so. The Bible itself often uses earthly analogies to describe heavenly realities. The old clichés which characterize heaven as a place where the streets are paved with gold and the city walls are made of jewels come from biblical descriptions of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10–21).
There are good theological reasons for seeing heaven through the lens of earth. Heaven is not the earth, but there is continuity between the two. Jesus distinguished heaven from earth when he taught the church to pray for God’s will to be done in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:10). At the same time, his petition clearly acknowledges that both heaven and earth are the rightful domain of God. To use the imagery of Scripture, heaven is where God’s “throne” is and the earth is his “footstool” (Ps. 123:1; Isa. 66:1).
Does this mean that there is literally a chair in heaven where God sits? This may actually be true for Christ, who now resides in bodily form in heaven. But in general, it seems better to understand such language as a reference to divine power and authority rather than a description of the furniture of heaven. We certainly do not believe that Isaiah was being literal when he spoke of the earth as God’s footstool. God is not floating on a cloud and resting his feet on our planet.
Heaven Is a Wonderful Place
However, if we take the Bible’s language at face value when it speaks of heaven, we must also acknowledge that heaven is a real place. Heaven does not appear on any map. It cannot be seen with our most powerful telescopes. But it is a true location. The Bible may sometimes use metaphors and similes to describe what heaven is like, but heaven itself is not merely a figure of speech, spiritual concept, or state of mind. The Bible describes heaven as a location. God speaks “from heaven” (Gen. 21:17; 22:11, 15; Ex. 20:22; Deut. 4:36; 2 Sam. 22:14; Neh. 9:13). He also hears prayer “from heaven,” which is his “dwelling place” (1 Kings 8:34, 36, 39, 43, 45, 49; Neh. 9:27). Angels come “from heaven” (Dan. 4:13, 23; cf. Rev. 18:1). Jesus said he was the one who had “come down from heaven” to do the Father’s will (John 6:38). He told Nicodemus: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” (John 3:13).
At the same time, the Bible’s use of directional language when speaking of heaven should not be taken too literally. When the Bible speaks of Jesus or the angels “going up” or “coming down” from heaven, we should not think that the writer is attempting to describe heaven’s location in geographic terms. If God is omnipresent, he is no farther from earth than he is from heaven.
But if heaven is not, as an old Sunday school song told us, “somewhere in outer space,” why does the Bible use language that sounds both directional and spatial to describe it? The answer is that such language is not meant to plot heaven’s position relative to the points on a compass (or on an altimeter); it is intended to orient heaven and earth in terms of their relationship to one another and to God.
When the Bible speaks of heaven as God’s throne and the earth as his footstool, it describes earth in relation to divine authority. Heaven is the realm where divine authority reigns supreme. It is the place where the Father’s “will” is always done and where his authority goes unchallenged. Earth is also the Father’s domain, but because of the entrance of sin into this realm, it is a place where God’s authority is challenged. It is on earth that “[t]he kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One” (Ps. 2:2). Earth is the dominion of Christ as much as is heaven, but it is a realm where we do not presently “see everything subject to him.” Heaven, on the other hand, is the realm where Jesus is “now crowned with glory and honor” (Heb. 2:9).
Our Father in Heaven
When the Bible uses spatial language to speak of heaven, it also emphasizes the proximity of heaven and earth. Earth is not heaven. But the earth upon which we live and worship is never beyond heaven’s view nor is it ever out of heaven’s view. When Jesus taught us to pray to “our Father in heaven,” he used a form of address which implicitly promised that we would be seen and heard by the one to whom we pray. The Father who sees all that occurs knows what is done in secret (Matt. 6:4, 6). He hears our every word and knows what we need even before we ask (Matt. 6:8). We live constantly within his sight and are always within earshot.
What is more, because of Christ’s victory over sin, we also live under the authority of heaven. This is the gospel of the kingdom. It is the good news that through Christ, the Father has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col. 1:13). We are under new management and are subject to a greater power than the power of sin that once ruled our thoughts and actions. This new state of affairs was anticipated by Christ in the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, which says: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
The kingdom petition looks forward to the day when “the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev. 11:15). But it also asks the Father to act in the present. The request for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven has as much immediate significance as the petitions for daily bread, forgiveness, protection from temptation, and deliverance from evil.
Living in Between
Despite Jesus’ encouragement to pray these words, the kingdom does not seem to “stick.” It is all too apparent that the earth is not magically transformed into heaven because we utter these words. We see the proof all around us. Nation rises against nation as famines, pestilences, and earthquakes stalk their inhabitants. Jesus warned that these were merely “the beginnings of sorrows” (Matt. 24:8; Mark 13:8). Beyond these great events are all the little tidal waves that wash over our personal lives and scatter our hopes. Our marriage falters. The child we nurtured to adulthood treats us like a stranger. We lose our job. We agonize over our continuing personal struggle with sin. The doctor diagnoses us with cancer.
Experiences like these serve as blunt reminders that for now we must inhabit these two realms simultaneously. For a time we must live in a world that continues to be scarred by the collateral damage of sin. It is a world that “groans” as it waits for liberation from its bondage to decay (Rom. 8:21–22). On the other hand, the Scriptures also assure us that we have been mysteriously moved into the kingdom of the Father’s beloved son (Col. 1:13). We live “on earth” but we are also seated in the heavenly realms by virtue of being “in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). We live at the intersection of two distinct but related kingdoms. One is a kingdom of entropy and the other of eternity. One is perpetually winding down and in a state of decay. The other is continually renewed. One is a kingdom of dusk and growing darkness. The other is a kingdom of approaching dawn and eternal light.
On this side of eternity we must live with the tension between these two realms, proclaiming the gospel of grace and announcing the approach of Christ and his kingdom. This involves both action and waiting. As we act on Christ’s behalf, we announce the good news of forgiveness through Christ and pray for him to reveal the reality of his dominion in our daily experience. These prayers combined with our own Spirit-empowered effort create points of entry where our experience on earth correlates with the order of heaven. God’s will is done in us and around us. But this good effort does not and cannot fundamentally change the nature of the fallen world. We are not trying to draw heaven down to earth by sheer effort. Nor are we attempting to renovate the earth and turn it into heaven. Redemption is not merely rehabilitation. Jesus meant it when he told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). The world as we know it is passing away and will one day dissolve in fire and heat (1 John 2:17; 2 Pet. 3:10–12). We are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:13).
The Marriage of Heaven and Earth
Here, then, is the ultimate remedy for my fear. The Bible promises that one day the division between heaven and earth will finally be removed. The result will not be the elimination of one or the other but a marriage between the two. The book of Revelation pictures a day when heaven and earth will be made new and the city of God will descend from heaven “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev. 21:1–2).
In this new creation the old distinction between heaven and earth will no longer be meaningful. Earth will be the dwelling place of God as much as is heaven. Intimacy with God, which was previously only symbolized in the tabernacle and later embodied in the incarnation of our Savior, will be experienced by all who dwell there. God will be “with us” and will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:3–4). What will this experience be like? The information which the Bible provides is not specific enough to paint a picture in detail. Yet we do know some things.
We know that our experience will be an embodied one (Job 19:26; 1 Cor. 15:42–49; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2). We will not float about like ghosts. Our experience will also be personal and relational. We will not lose our identity or be absorbed into a divine “Other,” but each of us will continue to possess our individual consciousness and soul. If the scenes described in the early chapters of the book of Revelation are any indication, we will recall our past experience and will worship in community with other believers (Rev. 6:9–10; 7:9–10).
Out of the ashes of the old world a new and better paradise will be created. It will have some of the features of the old. For example, the tree of life will be there (Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14). But there will also be significant differences. There will no longer be any night. The light of the sun will not be necessary in this new world. God’s servants will reign forever (Rev. 22:5). Our relationships will continue but they will change, since we will no longer marry “but will be like the angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). Beyond this, relatively little is known. We can guess, perhaps, but we cannot know for certain what our experience will be like.
However, if heavenly experience surpasses earthly, as Jesus implied in his remark to Nicodemus in John 3:12, then we can be certain that it will be far better than anything we can hope or dream. If “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18), then neither are our present joys or pleasures.
Note: This post was originally published on ChristianityToday.com on October 18, 2012
The furor over Rob Bell’s book Love Wins seems to have died down. The book is out and Rob has clarified his position. Those who loved Rob before the book still love him and those who don’t… Well, you know how these things go.
The rumblings from this controversy have uncovered the fault lines in contemporary evangelical theology. Or at least they have revealed some of the cracks in our façade. The discussion has unmasked the functional universalism that characterizes many modern evangelicals. More importantly, this dispute has shown how many feel an aversion for anything that smells like dogma. This antipathy is most in evidence in the flippant tone of those who wondered why Rob was criticized in the first place. Their disdain is the antiphonal reply offered to those who have accused Bell of being a “heretic” (more on that in a later blog post).
Donald Miller’s hilarious book review posted on April 1 (note the date–it is a clue) is a good example. I could not help laughing at Miller’s post. But I also had to wonder at the tone (which was mirrored in the comments of his readers). The general message seemed to be that anyone who would be disturbed by possibility that Rob Bell denies the literal nature of hell must have too much time on his hands. Don’t Jesus’ followers have better things to do than to dispute such things?
While it must be granted that some moved too quickly to apply the “h” word to Bell, it was entirely appropriate for them to be concerned. I understand why Rob Bell might not enjoy their scrutiny but he should not have been surprised. Nor should he disdain their concern. Bell is wrong when he implies that it was un-Christian to question his views on this subject. The Scriptures command Christ’s followers to guard their doctrine as well as their way of life (1 Tim. 4:16). In the Christian life doctrine is as important as character. In fact, according to Scripture the two are related. Slovenly doctrine leads to poor character And yes, the Bible really does make that connection (1 Tim. 1:10).What is more, those who oppose sound doctrine are to be “refuted” (Titus 1:9).
I know. It sounds “old school.” It seems “ungenerous.” But what can I say. It’s what the Bible says. Unpleasant as it sounds, doctrine does matter. And no, we really don’t have better things to do.
The church’s suspicion of the practical value of theology, though misguided, is not without some basis in experience. Helmut Thielicke’s humorous portrait of the young theological student who comes home from seminary and unleashes his learning on an unsuspecting church reflects the perception of many laypeople when it comes to theology: “Under a considerable display of the apparatus of exegetical science and surrounded by the air of the initiated, he produces paralyzing and unhappy trivialities, and the inner muscular strength of a lively young Christian is horribly squeezed to death in a formal armor of abstract ideas.”
In its healthy form the speculative nature of theology can enable us to uncover hidden depths of God’s revealed truth. It is the role of theology to help us probe questions we have not thought to ask. But theology can also take unhealthy forms. It may elevate small points and magnify textual obscurities to the degree where all that the theologian has to offer the church are “paralyzing and unhappy trivialities.”
The use of academic language when discussing theology is only one of the factors which contributes to this. The root problem is the theologian’s aim. The goal of most theological writing today is not to theologize the church. The real prize is the recognition and respect of those in the guild and the best way to obtain these is by doing battle. Consequently, the theologian does not approach his subject like a shepherd who is concerned for the well being of the flock but like a knight arrayed for battle. Theological discussion is a jousting match with other members of the guild.
Furthermore, theology’s preoccupation with the interests of the guild breeds an air of condescension, if not outright contempt, towards those who are not members. The average church member senses this and concludes that the task of theological reflection is beyond his grasp. In this way the guild mentality actually fosters the very theological ignorance it condemns. Since the guild is made up primarily of academics, the perspective of the majority of pastors is excluded from the conversation. As a result, pastors read theology for their own personal benefit but do not know how to draw the congregation into the discussion.
Preaching and theology were lovers once. Though inseparable and mutually devoted to one another at the beginning of their relationship, in these latter days they have become estranged. They are not exactly enemies, but they are hardly friends any more and they are certainly no longer partners.
As is so often the case in these matters, each is inclined to blame the other for the separation. And as is also so often the case, there is some truth in the complaint that they make. Both are guilty of mutual neglect. And both, sad to say, have at times been unfaithful to the other.
Still it must be recognized that if preaching and theology have since found more interesting companions, it was not their original intent. They began their relationship with a common sense of purpose, supported by vows of mutual fidelity. In order to better accomplish their goals, they decided to divide the work between them. Theology was to focus its attention on the higher matters of God, creation and redemption, while preaching would devote itself to the “lower” but equally important concerns of the flock. They did not at first see these tasks as being mutually exclusive. Indeed, they believed that they contributed to one another.
Yet in time the two “grew apart.” The noble questions which first occupied the attention of theology have given way to more obscure matters, many of which prove to be at odds with the bread and butter interests of preaching. Theology prefers the thin air and heady conversation of the classroom and the philosopher’s salon to the dishrag speech and knee scrape anxieties which so often seem to occupy the attention of preaching. Preaching, for its part, has grown impatient with the endless speculation and impractical theorizing that theology loves so much. Preaching criticizes theology for being too detached. Theology accuses preaching of being too parochial.
The sad truth is that neither is very far off the mark.
I have often heard the church criticized for its lack of interest in theology. The church, we are told, is theologically illiterate, more interested in entertainment than in doctrine. But if there is any truth in this complaint, I do not think the church is entirely at fault. I hold the church’s theologians at least partially responsible.
In his book A Theology of Preaching: The Dynamics of the Gospel, Richard Lischer quotes from an article by Walter Wink that was published in The Christian Century over thirty years ago. In the article, Wink criticizes the theological scholarship of his day saying, “The American scholarly scene is one of frenetic decadence with the publication of vast numbers of articles and books which fewer and fewer people read. Most scholars no longer address the lived experience of actual people in churches or society. Instead they address the current questions of their peers in the professional guild.”
After thirty years, this tendency has not diminished. If you doubt this, simply scan the topics scheduled to be presented at any meeting where professional theologians gather. If the average church member is disinterested in theology, it is partly due to the fact that the church’s theologians are mostly in conversation with themselves. Indeed, it has been my experience that many church members are interested in theology but don’t label it as such. They are asking fundamental and profound questions about the nature of God’s relationship with humanity, the origin of evil, and about their own personal significance. Meanwhile, the church’s theologians, who have been reflecting on these questions for over two millennia, are talking among themselves.
Nowhere is this more evident to me than in our seminaries and Bible colleges, where practical theology is treated as a “soft-science” and preaching is seen as primarily the domain of those who intend to be pastors. Most of the theology majors I meet aspire to be professors rather than pastors. They are not terribly interested in preaching. Yet most church members get their theology from the pulpit. It is in the home and the workplace not the academy that the battle lines of theological controversy are drawn. Those who step into the pulpit are the church’s first line of defense.