Lay Theologians

As part of an assignment for my Christian counseling course I am reading “The Other Six Days: Work, Vocation and Ministry in Biblical Perspective” by R. Paul Stevens and I am enjoying it immensely. This morning I was helpfully reminded that the following people were all non-clerical, non-professional theologians: Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Socrates of Constantinople, Sozomen, John Calvin and C. S. Lewis. Nice to be reminded I’m amongst good company.

8 thoughts on “Lay Theologians

  1. Actually I am finding it a very helpful and hope-filled book. One of the important reminders in the book is that anyone who is thinking about God is doing theo-logy, so the choise for us isn’t between presumptuously doing theology as laity vs humbly leaving theology to clergy, but between doing good theology as laity vs doing poor theology as laity (actually the author takes a big stick to the words laity and clergy too but I’ll leave the for another day). We should certainly listen to what professional theologians have to say but to think we can just leave it to them is a serious mistake. Likewise it is a serious mistake for professional theologians to think they can do practical theology without engaging everyday Christians to road test it in everyday life. Good theology engages the whole people of God.

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  2. I think the most important thing is that we are truly responsible for our theology. For me, that means listening to a wide range of perspectives, seeking out those things I don’t understand, being tentative in my conclusions, and having the humility to change my doctrine if the evidence and arguments show that I need to. It also means my theology must be practical and articulated in language that others can readily understand. It must sit will with my conscience, because God gave me that too.

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  3. I’m not sure if the following questions are being entertained here, but here goes.
    Should there even be such a distinction – clergly/laity – in the Kingdom?
    Isn’t the doctrine of clergy/laity what Jesus abhorred? Won’t such a system create classes in Christianity – first and second class citizenry?

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  4. Oh, such questions are certainly entertained here!
    I find Stevens makes a useful distinction between clericalism, anti-clericalism and a-clericalism.
    Clericalism is the norm we inherited from Christendom; anti-clericalism is the counter-reaction which often births a cult of the amature where knowledge and experience is disrespected; a-clericalism is different again, and is what Stevens himself advocates. A-clericalism involes a recognition that there is no biblical warrant for a two tier system where higher status is conferred by ordination, but that there is nevertheless biblical warrant for servant leadership, for recognizing giftedness for the building up of the whole body of Christ. He points out that the Greek word for laity was originally used to designate the whole people of God, including leaders, and that the Greek word for cleric was never used for a special leadership class in the New Testament and that, instead, the whole people were affirmed as exercising a priestly function. So in effect, all Christians are laity, all are clergy, and if some are gifted in leadership, great, let them equip us by leading by example. I have always thought the best leader is the one who makes himself / herself redundant, who does such a great job empowering people that their legacy outlives their involvement in a project or community. That’s the sort of leader I would aspire to be.
    So bringing this back to thinking about theology, if you accept Steven’s position, leaders should not be viewed as having a monopoly on theology but neither should the experience and education of leaders be spurned. I reject any notion that I should be quiet just because I am not ordained but I equally reject the notion us bloggers should not be unaccountable to a broader community. But that only raises the question of what sort of accountability structures would actually work on the web. It’s a new medium. I think we have work to do.

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  5. Nice balanced commentary Matt. I hope to do some preaching moving foward…being discipled and mentored by my more fomally trained leaders though to make sure what I have to say stacks up. This is one of the benefits of a smaller church I am finding…the opportunity to serve in capacities like this.

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