For my “Teaching Doctrine in the Church” course I am working on, we will begin the class by talking about why Scripture needs “doctrine,” and why churches and Christians need theology. I am going to put forward this hypothetical pastoral situation to my students – how would you respond?
Suppose you, Jane or Joe Pastor, make it a point to chat with a particular church attendee after the service. He has been going to your church for a couple of years and you know him to be a Christian who participates in a Bible study and has friends in the church. After a few minutes of chit-chat you ask, “Hey Bob, we have a membership class next week and I think you would really enjoy it and we would love to have you officially join. We will talk about many things, but especially the theology of our church and the doctrines of the Apostles’ Creed.”
Bob, with a confused look on his face, responds quite matter-of-factly: “Pastor, I have a Bible and I read it everyday. Why do I need to learn your ‘theology’ if the Bible tells me what to believe and can answer my questions?”
How would you respond? Remember, this is not just a hit-this-guy-over-the-head-with-a-tack-hammer-and-say-“what’s-wrong-with-you” situation. It is a pastoral moment – how do you shepherd him towards a healthy attitude towards theology and doctrine?
By the way, this challenge is quite prevalent from my experiences. In fact, my home church discouraged me from going to seminary. Essentially, a pastor (ordained, but not seminary trained) told me, “just get a couple of ministry and leadership classes under your belt, and then learn the rest on the job. You can find an older pastor to mentor you along the way.” In his view (representative of far too many churches and leaders) theology is (at best) interesting, but (at bottom) not very useful or necessary for ministry or life. Also, think about what “Christian books” are flying off the shelves at Christian book stores – “Christian living.” People want to know how to love Jesus and follow him. To most of these folks, doctrine and theology are cerebral exercises, mostly unrelated to spiritual disciplines. The disinterest in “theology” (or even sometimes distaste) is systemic in American Christian culture (and also many places elsewhere).
So, again, how would you respond to our little scenario pastorally?