Theology is the knowledge of how to live in the presence of God.” In a foreword to The Pastor Theologian by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, theologian Timothy George calls this quote the best definition of theology he’s ever found. It was written by Puritan cleric William Ames in his 1623 Latin tome, The Marrow of Theology. George explains that Ames’s definition gives sacred knowledge a “divinely intended purpose”—to enable the pursuit of joy and holy living in the presence of the living God.
One reason why we take theology seriously is because of the difference it makes in how we live, how we relate to God, and how we think and reflect on our faith. This understanding was shared by John Wesley, whose chief interest was in establishing holy people who experience and embody an ever-deepening love of God and neighbor.
Wesley saw theology as vital to every dimension of the pastor’s calling and the church’s ministry. As Jeren Rowell reinforces in his book, Thinking, Listening, Being: A Wesleyan Pastoral Theology, “Every pastor should recognize and embrace the idea that an essential component of pastoral calling is to be a practical theologian: one who does the practical work of ministry in theologically reflective and purposeful ways.” The health and vitality of the church depends on ministers who preach, teach, and lead as thoughtful, faithful theologians. The study of theology and thinking theologically are life-long commitments for clergy who seek to help people answer their deepest questions and give direction to their deepest longings.
Sometimes, clergy struggle with the various ways in which laity think—and vice-versa. As Free Methodist theologian Howard Snyder says, “Theologians think differently not only in content but also in styles of thought.” This explains why some people gravitate toward the writings of Martin Luther or Karl Barth, while others find value in C. S. Lewis, N. T. Wright, or Jürgen Moltmann. Snyder says theology is shaped not just by its raw materials—like Scripture and tradition—but also by how we think. He identifies three principal ways we do this: logical (using reason, or left brain functions), analogical (using stories or imagination, like in art or poetry, which rely on right brain functions), and psychological (using intuition and emotion, which also involve right brain functions). People employ all three means as they approach their faith and the world, but one method usually predominates. As Snyder says, “We need all three in the Christian life, in the church, and in our biblical interpretation.” Pastors should be familiar with their own primary mode of thinking, but be conversant in all three, allowing them to nurture a broader range of persons.
THEOLOGY IS THE KNOWLEDGE OF HOW TO LIVE IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD.
Sometimes, the church can create an unnecessary fault line by elevating one mode of theological thinking over another. Nazarene theologian Thomas A. Noble says one of the reasons he values Mildred Bangs Wynkoop’s A Theology of Love is her belief that there is more than one way to consider Wesleyan-Holiness theology—an affirmation that came at a critical time in his educational journey. While Wynkoop’s theological perspective was not everyone’s cup of tea, her work demonstrated that the WesleyanHoliness tradition was robust enough to handle different ways to define holiness.
As pastors seek to relate to those inside and outside the church, having a broad theological vocabulary is critical. Describing theological concepts to secular-minded and sacred-minded people requires a vigorous, thoughtful vocabulary that can unpack important concepts like creation, the fall, justification, the incarnation, the Trinity, sanctification, and more. Earlier in Nazarene history, the theological vocabulary of the camp meeting movement enabled Nazarenes to speak effectively about salvation, sanctification, and eschatology. The need remains in a new century. As the Church of the Nazarene continues to expand across the globe, it is important to develop and use theological concepts that speak meaningfully and contextually to diverse races and societies.
We err when we fail to think and preach theologically, for it is this foundation that not only enables the church to unlock the deeper riches of faith, but to dialogue with Christianity’s neglectors and detractors. Pastors who take their roles as theologians seriously will be more effective at equipping the church to function as God’s holy people as they find new clarity for their faith and renewal in their own spirits.