Monday, February 18, 2013

Sophisticated and Popular Theology

I just finished Mark Saucy's The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus: In 20th Century Theology. There is a small section on evangelicals outlining significant shifts in our thinking about eschatology. He mentions the Vineyard (p.304ff) as a new location of theological thinking on the subject of the Kingdom as Already/Not Yet. His comments are dated, he lists Jack Deere and Wayne Grudem as Vineyard theologians, Grudem is not very pro-Vineyard and I've not heard anything from/about Deere in ages. What got me thinking, and this was brought up in a conversation on Facebook as well, is where Saucy laments that the Vineyard's theology happens in a "popular context and [lacks] theological sophistication in general." (p.306). Is this still true? Is this actually a bad thing? I want to explore those two questions here and invite you to weigh in with your thoughts.

Is Saucy Still Right About Vineyard Theology?

When Doug Erickson brought this up he and I wondered if Saucy's complaint was answered sufficiently by the works of  Peter Davids, Derek Morphew, Alexander Venter, J. P. Moreland, and a host of up and coming Society of Vineyard Scholars theologians who are starting to publish. Saucy's book came out in 1997, about three years before I started formal theological training. During my studies I've watched Pentecostal scholarship blossom into maturity and I'm convinced we are seeing that happen in the Vineyard as well. I think Doug is right that it is time for our systematic theologians to step up, but the Biblical foundation for our eschatologically rooted theology is quite well established. And with the renewed efforts to ensure that our theological base is understood by the local church, I think we are in good shape.

What about Popular Theology?

Here is where I would take Saucy to task. All evangelical theologies have their basis in the popular context. That is because we are pragmatically oriented towards our priorities concerning evangelism. This is both an advantage and a problem for evangelicals. The advantage is that theology works its way up from the roots rather than down from the structures. That means there is a greater buy in for evangelical theologies because they emerge not from sustained thought in ivory towers but in real life application in the lives of pastors and congregants. On the problematic side, however, this means that theologies emerge more often through personalities than through careful exegesis and theological reflection. This is why it is important to recognize the work of our Biblical scholars in understanding what is happening kingdomwise in our local churches. I'm convinced that the local context is indispensable, but also that it necessitates the effort to bring sophisticated theological reflection into dialogue with local church activity.

The reality is that God rarely waits for us to get it all right before God moves in the lives of people. But that doesn't mean God doesn't want us to keep digging, reflecting and gaining a better understanding of what it means to be a people of the Already/Not Yet Kingdom. If nothing else it will help us to correct the imbalances that creep into our interpretations of our experiences which only limit our ability to see the greatness of all God calls us into. It also keeps us humble before God.

So what do you think? How have you been impacted by Vineyard theology? What has been your experience in popular settings? What has been your experience with our theologians?

Frank Emanuel - Ontario Region

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