How Would You Respond to This Pastoral Challenge? Chime in

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?

Notes on A Few New and Forthcoming Books

I was pleased to see another volume in the New Covenant Commentary Series (Wipf & Stock) has been published; this time on 1 Timothy by Aida Spencer (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary). She knows her way around Paul’s letters quite well, and she happens to be a leading scholar on Paul and women, so this should be worth reading. I am currently writing the volume on 1-2 Thessalonians and I am proud to be in this series, one that has a strong focus on how the text transforms our lives and churches today.

Also newly released is a work by Grant Macaskill (St Andrews) called Union with Christ in the New Testament (Oxford Univ. Press). Normally, this is a subject associated with Paul, but Macaskill treats it in view of the whole New Testament – at 368 pp., it is sure to be a substantial discussion. At $112 on Amazon, though, not sure it will get into the hands of very many.

Craig Evans has written a book called From Jesus to the Church: The First Generation (WJK, Feb 2014) which looks at the history of the formation of the church. I look forward to picking this one up.

My buddy Jonathan Moo (Whitworth) has co-authored a book on creation called Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis (IVP, June 2014) – Jonathan is a humble man with incredible talent. This book no doubt represents one of his greatest passions.

Christopher Seitz has a commentary on Colossians coming out soon (April) with Brazos. I know many biblical scholars have had mixed feelings about the Brazos series, but I have really enjoyed the ones I’ve used (Matthew by Hauerwas, Deuteronomy by Telford Work) – it helps me to think of them more as theological reflections on the text, rather than a “commentary” in the traditional sense.

Last but not least, Craig Blomberg has written (what looks like) an apologetics book called Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions (Brazos, coming in April). I had the chance to meet with Craig at SBL for the first time this past year and he is a great representative and leader in evangelicalism – a sharp intellect, a fair critic, and a pastoral heart.