Respond to Grenz & Olson’s Who Needs Theology

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A Paper

Presented to

Dr. Glenn R. Kreider

Dallas Theological Seminary

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In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for the Course

ST101 Theological Method And Bibliology

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by

Ken Suanjong Yeo

February 2020

Respond to grenz & olson’s who needs theology

Definitions of Theological Terms

I will define the following theological terms with my own words based on my understanding after watching professor Kreider’s lectures, as well as reading Who Needs Theology by Grenz and Olson, and Exploring Christian Theology by Holsteen and Svigel. Biblical theology, historical theology, and systematic theology all are branches within Christian theology, they share the same ultimate goal with Christian theology, which is so that Christians may know the God that save us and that God may be glorified in our life.

Theology

Generally, theology is a human discipline that studies the divine being. Specifically, Christian theology is a discipline carried out by the followers of Jesus Christ that studies the characters, the creation and the redemption work of the triune God based on God’s revelations in order that God may be glorified in the life of Christians.

Biblical Theology

Biblical theology is a type of Christian theology that focuses on using inductive method to study and then to explain a book, or a set of books with commonalities in the bible, with emphasis on progressive revelation in the history of the bible.

Historical Theology

Historical theology is a type of Christian Theology that studies the doctrinal development of the church throughout history.

Systematic Theology

Systematic theology is a type of Christian theology that systematically studies all God’s revelations (especially the bible) as well as the historical development of the understanding of these revelations and organize them into various topics in the context of the culture of the world, with the ultimate goal that God be glorified in the life of the followers of Jesus Christ.

Interaction with the content of the book

In my church’s subculture, the words theologian and theology often carry negative connotation, it is not uncommon for bible teachers in my church circle[1] to imply or sometimes to explicitly state that most if not all theologians are liberal. It is a common believe that those who venture into theology studies will often times become confused with his faith and ended up as an unbeliever. Therefore, I took a fairly big step of faith when I enrolled myself into the “Theology” of Master (Th.M.) program at Dallas “Theological” Seminary (DTS).

I have great expectations to embark into this journey of discovery and learning of the discipline of theology, I am excited to begin my journey in ST101. I feel that “Who Needs Theology?” is an excellence introduction book into the discipline. For this paper, I will interact with the book on a chapter by chapter basis.

Everyone Is a Theologian

My impression of a theologian is someone who has a PhD in Theology, who writes theological books and lectures at seminaries. The idea that everyone is a theologian has never occurred to me. When theology is defined as “any reflection on the ultimate questions of life that point toward God”[2], it makes sense to think that everyone is a theologian. The key point of this chapter is every Christian is lay theologian, because every Christian reflects on God, especially how God relates to mankind. This concept makes theology less intimating and more approachable, even for a seminary student.

The concept of “faith seeking understanding”[3] is very profound and helpful to me as a principle to study theology. Christian theology is seeking to understand what the heart already believes instead of seeking to understand in order to believe. To a certain degree, I understand and practice this in my study and teaching of the bible, however I have not come across such a concise and clear articulation of what theology is.

However, I like to attempt to add to the concept of “faith seeking understanding”. I think the more we understand who God is, the more our faith toward God will grow, which will drive us to have greater desire to seek to understand God. It is like a circle, the circle starts with faith, faith drives us to want to understand more about the God we believe, and in turn the understanding will increase our knowledge on God and His will on our life, which will change our behavior as followers of Jesus Christ in this fallen world. The more we understand and experience God in our life, the more our faith in Him will grow. The life of Abraham is a good example of what faith is. The faith of Abraham at Genesis chapter 22, when he was in obedience to God in sacrificing his beloved son Isaac, is a greater faith compares to his faith at Genesis chapter 12, when he responded to God’s calling to go to the promised land.

Not All Theologies Are Equal

Before I read this book, I did not have a clear picture of the various kind of theologies. While I was aware of the existence of liberal and conservative theologians, I did not distinguish the professional from the academic theology. I found that the five categories of theology give me the vocabularies to articulate different kind of theologies to others, and hopefully will help in clearing some misunderstandings. As I am reading this chapter, I thought of putting myself into one of these categories. I consider myself stands somewhere between the layman and the ministerial theology categories and like to be equipped at DTS to do ministerial theology well.

Defending Theology

I used to think that objections to theology were not a common phenomenon within the church, so I am surprised after reading this chapter, that objections are more widespread than I thought. The major objective in my church culture is the killjoy objection. Most Christians just accept the negative teaching on theology from the influential teachers, without examining theological books themselves. I hope God will open up doors for me to change some of that misunderstandings, so that the church community that I serve will grow more in their understanding of God and be more effectively in their ministry.

Theology’s Tasks & Traditions

I found that this chapter gives a very strong argument for the critical task of theology by using the New Testament epistles that were written to dispute and correct the false teachings in the 1st century churches.

The three main categories of Christians beliefs: dogma, doctrine and opinion are a very helpful tool to categorize Christians’ beliefs. The challenge though, is for two disagreeing groups to agree on what kind of beliefs are considered in each category.

The Theologian’s Tools

The idea that theology is a never-ending enterprise[4] because theology is done by men within their context in culture is completely new to me. I used to think theology equals to truth, which never change. It makes sense to me to distinguish the two, the truth of God, and the interpretation of the truth from men. This distinction is missing in many Christians groups, as a result, many Christians think their theology is the truth, and all other interpretations that deviate from his theology is false.

Professor Kreider’s lectures and this book put great emphasis on culture influences on theology, culture as a source for theology is a new concept to me. Because 1 John 3:15 teaches us not to love the world, my church teaching to believers is to separate from the world culture as far as possible. We emphasize the bible as the only source of theology[5], and have never considered the culture of this world as a source of theology. I think this is one of the reasons why many of the churches in my church circle are facing the challenge of losing younger generations of believers, who grow up in a different culture than their parents, because the way we convey the truth is not relevant to them.

Therefore, it is eye opening for me to listen to professor Kreider and the book to talk about having multiple sources for theology. The book talks about three sources: the bible, church history and the culture, with the bible being the primary source. I think it is a healthy way to do theology. In my culture, we do not study much about the history of the church. We mainly talk about a branch within the church, and study very little on the history of the rest of the church. The most influential theologian in my church circle is Watchman Nee[6]. His books have great influences in my church circle. His teaching is considered the gold standard, any interpretation that is different than his normally faces great resistance from Christians within this community. Brother Watchman Nee is a giant of faith, he was imprisoned for over 20 years in China and die in the prison, all because he refused to compromise church’s matter to the communist government.

My point is, my church circle talks about the bible as the only source of theology, however in practice, our history and the culture do affect our theology, without us acknowledging it. This book and this course, together with my own experience, has convinced me that there is great value for Christians to learn the history of the church, and to observe our cultures, when we do theology, in order that our theology is “truly scriptural, completely Christian and totally relevant”[7].

Constructing Theology in Context

 This chapter again emphasized that, our theology must be contextualized to our time. Before I read this book, I could not articular why churches have different ways in ministering to people. After reading this book and listening to professor Kreider’s lecture, I think the reason has to do with the church’s leaders view on how God, the bible, and the church should relate to the culture. Take Chinese speaking churches in American as an example. Many of these churches cannot keep the young adults in the church, because the church’s theology does not consider the culture of the second generation Chinese believers who grow up in United States, as a result, the church’s culture, language, sermons, illustrations, and fellowships are not speaking to the second generation Chinese believers. This generation frequently leave the church of their parents and choose to have fellowship in a church that can speak into their culture.

Many leaders of Chinese churches in my church circle think that being cultural relevant is a sign of compromise of our Christian’s belief. I believe one of the reasons why they think this way is due to a reaction to the growth of liberalism in churches in America in the last century.

As with many seminary students, I am seeking the Lord’s will for me in ministry. After reading this book and hearing professor Kreider’s lectures, I have the thought of my potential contribution to the church, which could be to bridge the gaps of Chinese speaking churches in American and the Chinese people who grow up and live in America. I am walking in faith, praying that the Lord will mold and shape my theology for His service.

Bringing Theology into Life

After reading all the chapters on culture as a source of theology, I am happy to read that “the ultimate goal of theology is not an exercise in intellectual acumen designed to expand our minds, but its final goal is life.”[8]. My worried that I may be walking a step toward liberalism is vanished when I read this: “We don’t merely want to peer at the world with Christians eyes; we desire to be in the world and to conduct ourselves in a manner that arises from, is consistent with and even lives out the Christian worldview.”[9]

An Invitation to Engage in Theology

The chapter talks about reward and risk. I want to acknowledge that “the potential loss of your current church affiliation” is very true for me. As mentioned earlier in this paper, virtually no teachers and preachers in my church circle used the world “theology” in a positive manner. Despite the risk, I decided to enroll into DTS to further pursue God. ST101 is one of my first courses, this book gives me a good reason why I want to learn more about Theology. Maybe God’s plan for me is to bring some of the richness of theology into my church circle, so that these churches can be more effectively in ministering to the people God has put into our community.

More importantly, my primary motivation to pursue theology is a more enriched and enhanced Christian life, as a follower of my Lord Jesus Christ in this generation, so that God is glorified in my life.

Bibliography

Grenz, Stanley. Olson, Roger. Who Needs Theology? Downers Grow: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Holsteen, Nathan. Svigel, Michael. Exploring Christian Theology. Bloomington: Bethany House Publishers, 2014.

Kreider, Glenn. “ST101 Video Lectures”. Dallas Theological Seminary. Spring Semester, 2020.


[1] I use the word church circle because we do not consider ourselves as a denomination. Denomination carries negative connotation in my church circle.

[2] Stanley Grenz, Roger Olson. Who Needs Theology? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 13.

[3] Stanley Grenz, Roger Olson. Who Needs Theology? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 16.

[4] Stanley Grenz, Roger Olson. Who Needs Theology? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 91.

[5] although in practice we use many commentaries as a source of theology

[6] Although he and others do not call himself a theologian, his role is in effective one of the most influential theologians in my church cycle, and in Chinese churches as a whole.

[7] Stanley Grenz, Roger Olson. Who Needs Theology? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 102.

[8] Stanley Grenz, Roger Olson. Who Needs Theology? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 118.

[9] Stanley Grenz, Roger Olson. Who Needs Theology? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 125.

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