For a fantastic quotation from A. H. N. Green-Armytage about “the world of biblical scholars” in contrast to the rest of the world, I encourage you to jump over to Eric Ortlund’s blog.
But lest I become a bit too smug or look too far down my nose at the biblical scholars, I admit that there is significant parallel to what could be said about theologians as well. Though I’m not entirely sure how to represent the perspective of “the rest of the world” in contrast to the theologians’ world, I do sometimes feel similar frustrations, as a theologian, with the “theologians’ world” in which I find myself living. For example:
- In our theologians’ world, precision over the meaning of a word means life and death, salvation or damnation. In the rest of the world, everyday synonyms and roughly equivalent ideas work just fine in daily conversation and in living the Christian life.
- In our theologians’ world, we are apt to evaluate an idea on the basis of its theological provenance, designating an idea flawed (or even heretical) if it even it only remotely smacks of in similarity to our perceived theological enemies. (“It is clear you have been unduly influenced by Origen/Schleiermacher/Hegel/Calvin/Barth/Augustine/Luther/[insert one’s own theological enemy here]”!) In the rest of the world, ideas are rarely accepted or rejected with such a critical eye on their origin.
- In our theologians’ world, we are ever mindful of being the ones who carefully traverse the blessed middle way (precipice?) between those fundamentalist radicals over there vs. the dangerous liberals over there. (I’m convinced that all of us assume that our theology is a perfect middle way between those on our right and left. For a recent example of this tiresome “via media” approach, see here. )
- In our theologians’ world, we tend to worry a whole lot more about what 10 or 20 other theologians might think of what we say or write than making sure that the 3 or 4 people in our family, or the 50, 100 or 200 people in our congregation have a better knowledge of the God whom they serve.
Don’t hear me wrongly: Professional theologians (and biblical scholars) are required, and ought to, worry about theological issues in ways that ‘everyone else’ doesn’t have to. My point isn’t to denigrate the work of theologians (I am one, after all!), but simply to remind us (and my theological students and colleagues) not to be surprised when the average Christian raises a suspicious eyebrow about what it is that we do! (If that is your concern, then I recommend one of John Stackhouse’s recent posts entitled, “What good are theologians?”)