We had a really excellent discussion in Prof. Martinez de Pison's class regarding the role of the theologian in the Church. It really helped me to put some language around stuff I've been living for a while.
The Theologian is Part of the Community
This was the insight from class, and as a pastor who happens to study at the same time, this really helps me name why I find the whole process of studying so satisfying. Gerald McDermott brings up this point as well, we need to realize where we belong to know who we are. I think that we have no real sense of identity in a lot of our communities, and this is too our detriment. What I love about the Emerging Conversation is that the folks that take part of it are from all sorts of contexts, and their desire isn't to leave their denominational homes, but to bring a gift to their denominations by stepping outside the box and reaching this generation with something really good. So the theologian is first of all a participating member of a community of faith. Yes, this colours their theology, but if we honest about it that shouldn't be a problem. This has too benefits: 1) the theologian knows where she belongs, this is her family and 2) the community knows the theologian and trusts the theologian.
The Theologian Helps the Community Understand their Experience
Because the theologian is a trusted member of the community, they take up the primary task of helping the community reflect upon their corporate history with God. So this would involve helping to articulate faith and also to challenge the notions of faith in light of the shared experience of the group. We see this in one of our kinships as the group becomes more ecologically aware it is my role, as a theologian, to help shape the conversation so that we can effectively and uniquely respond to what God is putting in our hearts.
The Theologian Interfaces Beyond the Community
Beyond the community, the theologian is equipped to draw from the deep resources that exists already. Helping to provide an interface between these disparate sources and the community. We have seen this in action as we've adopted and adapted liturgical practices from various streams within the Church. Without that serious reflection, the role of the theologian, the community risks chasing after fads or living completely in isolation, constantly re-inventing the proverbial wheel.
This is also why I think that the theologian needs to be active in acadamia. How else will she become exposed to alternate views? How will he be able to communicate the relevant insights to the community?
What we have though, is theologians distanced from the community of faith. We often talk about the ivory towers of theology, and it is true that much of what happens never amounts to much more than words on shelves. Some great ideas and profound challenges never make it to the Church. That is a shame, but more than that it is a disfunctionality.
The Eastern Christians have a saying, the theologian is the one who prays. I would encourage us to take a cue from that. Without the theologians the Church is left only with its unreflected experiences (these vary every week which is why we have so many denominations!), and without the community of faith the theologian is irrelevant. We need each other.