Thursday, November 08, 2007

[THO] The Role of the Theologian

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.


Anonymous said...

I would say the role and function of realized saints was/is more important than theologians.
Saints being either living or remembered demonstrations of the lived and realized truth of the tradition in which they appear.

The Hindu and Buddhist traditions understand the function and demonstration of realized saints, yogis and sages. They are revered as living links to the Divine Reality, and that is why living saints are always revered WHILE THEY ARE ALIVE. Not after they are long dead, and thus sanitised, as in the Catholic tradition.

Unfortunately realized saints are almost an impossibility within the multifarious Protestant tradition(s).

But even then, when did an Illuminated saint last appear within the Catholic tradition?

It is only when living saints do not appear and/or are not appreciated and revered that theologians (the official "reality" gatekeepers) become seemingly necessary.

One of Freedom said...

That is an interesting perspective. My thoughts came out of a course on mysticism so I think I know where you are coming from, but I disagree on a number of points.

1) The protestant traditions actually have too many "realized" saints. In fact it is a downright cult of personality in some settings. But that is part of what I see is the problem.

2) I'm not sure I'd reduce theologians to "reality" gatekeepers. Another part of the problem is a truncated and alienated (from the community of faith) perception of the theologian.

3) and lastly, and this is an observation as an outsider, when we revere living saints (not that I'm convinced that this is really that healthy a practice, but I'm open to the argument) we shut down modes of divine mediation. Especially the council of the theologians. I haven't seen this functional in Hinduism, maybe a bit better in Buddhims. This is also not helped by the fundamentalism tendencies that affects all the religious traditions you mentioned.

Of course I'm biased as a Christian theologian.

Glad to have your comments.


steven hamilton said...

yes, yes, yes...the theologian is first of all a participant in a community. this may colour their theology, just like we find in scripture with prophets and sages and apostles who lived in community and God spoke to them in community to the community and ever widening concentric circles. i think the 'trusted sage perspective' of a theologian in community is a powerful thing.

awesome thoughts frank!