December 22, 2010
Why Theology Doesn’t Matter
Karl Barth said that theology is crucial for the church, but not necessarily for the individual. What he meant was that every Christian does not have to be a theologian. He or she does not have to read academic books on topics like “the Atonement” or ”Hermeneutics” to really be a Christian. This is because our faith is ultimately personal and it comes about through a personal experience without regard to someone’s level of education or desire to spend hours reading books.
You can experience the truth and power of Christ without understanding everything about it. In the same way you can drive a car without knowing what is under the hood. A common mistake among theology enthusiasts is to act like every true Christian must also be interested in the specialized questions of theology. Not so. Everyone can drive a car.
But the analogy begs a question towards the second part of Barth’s saying, which is that the church as a whole absolutely needs theology. You may be ok with being an agnostic about what’s under the hood of your car, but boy are you glad that someone knew how to engineer that marvel and that someone also knows how to fix it when it breaks down. The church needs theology because there is a definite shape to our faith. It is one thing and not another (there is a car, with an engine and it has parts that work together). Theology gives definition to everything that the church is an should be. It also explains what it has been and what it shouldn’t be. Another way of saying this is that every Christian enjoys the fruits of theology, whether they know it or not. Theology is the task of defining and refining who we are as Christians.