Part One - A People Without 'Laity and Clergy': Chapter 1 - Doing People Theology
Beyond Academic Theology
The first two sections of this chapter have called for us to move beyond clericalized theology and beyond unapplied theology. In this last section of chapter 1, Stevens focuses his attention on theology's captivity to academia. One of my favorite lines from the book is, "The theological task is not only to exegete Scripture but to exegete life, and to do these together." (17) Stevens quotes Alister McGrath who rather boldly states:
Theology must come down to earth, to serve the church and its mission to the world - and if it will not come down to earth, it must be brought down to earth by so marginalizing academic theology within the life of the church that it ceases to have any relevance to that church, in order that a theology oriented toward the pastoral and missiological needs of the church may develop in its wake. (17)
Many of the early church fathers were non-clerical, non-professional theologians. Steven's lists Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Socrates, and Sozomen as examples. Reformation icon John Calvin was not a professional theologian as was true of other reformers. The Eastern Church has had a far less clericalized history with important theological chairs being held by laymen over the years.
The reality is that as all of us move through our lives, we are repeatedly pressed to reflect upon on questions about identity and about what story we find ourselves living in. People are doing theology every day of their lives but there is a significant chasm between the theology that is done in daily life and theology done in the academy.
Karl Barth claimed that "irregular dogmatics" (dogmatics done in response to a critical issue) has been the norm throughout history. Stevens points to Athanasius and Luther as examples of this, in contrast to Melanthon and Calvin who did "regular dogmatics." In fact, Barth says that the impetus for the complete theology of regular dogmatics always has its origin in the issues raised by irregular dogmatics.
Stevens advocates that theology must be done by the whole people of God as they live out their lives in the congregation, the home, and the marketplace. The primary arena is daily life not "in-house service." Stevens is careful to point out that he sees a critical role for the professional theologian. There can be a tendency for communities to elevate certain aspects of God's work in the world to the exclusion of other aspects. Professional theologians are needed to keep us in touch with the whole story and keep is in dialog with other theological voices present and past. Stevens' primary concern is this this:
In contrast to the dichotomizing of theology and practice in the theological academy today, the New Testament presupposes a community in which every person is a theologian of application, trying to make sense out of his or her life in order to live for the praise of God's glory: Theology of, for and by the whole people of God. (21)
I wonder how Stevens' thoughts here might impact how seminaries work? I wonder how it might affect how theological reflection and education is done in the life our congregations?