Trends in Theology, Pt. 1

By Joe LaGuardia

Over the next few weeks, I would like for you to journey with me into a field that we rarely explore in the everyday interactions of church life: the discipline of theology.  Theology is often neglected because we think it is a topic that is too esoteric or cerebral to confront; however, I believe that theology is something that we do all the time.

Whenever we reflect on our faith or figure out how our faith applies to our daily living, we are doing theology.

I know that when we speak of theology, it is hard to not feel intimidated and overwhelmed by the tidal wave of history and heritage that gets pulled into perspective from over two millennia of Christian tradition.  Theology is a fluid and evolving discipline.

And there have been those who have tried to control theology and turn it into a scientific equation in which all the pieces fit into a perfect jig-saw puzzle; even systematic theology has shown the wear of time as Modernity fades into human history.

Writing about theological trends, therefore, requires a great amount of humility and an even greater amount of skepticism.  When all things are said and done, establishing trends is like trying to swat a fly–God always seems to elude us at the last minute, right when we think we have Him figured out!

The future of Christianity and of theology is changing as more voices clash for publicity rights and audiences, tenures and lectureships.  Nevertheless, over the next several weeks, I would like to take a stab at what I think the future holds when it comes to Christian theology and the Church.

I should define theology before I continue: Theology is a conversation with the Trinity in which humans try to catch a glimpse of how God is at work in their personal lives, in the world, and in all of history.

With that said, trends in theology are shifting from a science-based approach (systematic theology) to a global approach, letting in perspectives from a vast amount of church traditions and regional contexts.  The first trend I would like to explore in this article starts from the broad perspective of globalism:

Theology is taking on a global phenomenon in which the West (Europe and North America) is no longer determining what the purpose of Christ’s Church is for the rest of the world.  In The Next Christendom, author Philip Jenkins argues that the southern, global hemisphere is becoming a hotbed for Christian growth, evangelism, and (naturally) theology and ecclesiology.

The epicenter of Christian thought is moving from the cathedrals of Europe to the village churches of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

In addition, Christians in North America are catching on to a global worldview.  Ecological, humanitarian, and economic concerns are striking the hearts and imagination of Christians who are hungry to change the world.  Rick Warren, as one example of a global-bound Christian, is leading a whole new generation of socially-conscious Christians into places like Africa to help the most impoverished and marginalized of people.

Christians are also heading to China, Japan, and India to live among people that have the potential to know Christ through a stranger.  Theology will take on a global hue as cultural diffusion continues to shape the “melting pot” of an increasingly mobile world.

In our community we can see how globalism is shaping society.  We are a multiethnic and multihued society that makes room for various perspectives and approaches to worship, church life, culture, ethics and social justice.  The internet is also making the world a smaller, more connected place.

Many people fear globalism, but my deepest conviction is that globalism will be an asset in the larger vision of evangelism and missions when it comes to spreading the Gospel.

You are “fearfully” made!

By Joe LaGuardia

Several weeks ago one of my daughter’s classmates called her a name.  When my daughter started crying, her teacher bent down, leaned in and said with all confidence, “Dear, you are perfect—God’s child—fearfully and wonderfully made.”

When I heard this story I was thankful that my daughter’s teacher was in tune to the situation and that she affirmed my daughter’s unique charm with scripture.  I was touched by her response, causing me to think more carefully about Psalm 139.    My daughter, like all of us, is “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Are there not places in the Bible that tell us to “fear God?”  In fact, there is a myriad of scriptures that tell us just that.  In contrast, Psalm 139 turns that word, “fear,” on us.  While much of the Bible commands us to fear God, it also reveals that in making us, God feared us!

“Fear” is one of those King James words that can get lost in translation.  When we hear it, we think of horror films or the cringing feeling we get when we see a certain insect, snake, or wild beast.  It is a negative term that conjures a frigid nagging emotion that we rarely enjoy.

In the biblical sense, fear is synonymous with reverence.  According to Johannes Louw, it “involves worshipping the Lord with deep respect and devotion” in an attitude of loyalty, love, trust, presence, and passion.  It is worship that inspires trembling, awe, and wonder.

There is something to be said, then, if God “fearfully” made each one of us.  God is devoted to our well-being, loyal to His creation, and loves us deeply.  God trusts in us, is present with us, and is passionate about us.  While making us, it is as if God was worshipping because we are worthy of His full attention.  How else can we respond to this truth other than shout with the poet of Psalm 139 and say, “I praise you!” (v. 14)?

Looking more closely, we can glimpse the implications of this truth.  For one, God created us to be intimately related to Him.  We are not islands unto ourselves, but beings created for the purpose of “loving God and enjoying Him forever.”

Yet, we do not go it alone; when God calls us into a relationship with Him, he calls us into a relationship with one another.  We are to see ourselves as intricately entangled beings connected in a community of creation, not individual automatons simply pursuing our own private desires and fantasies.

This truth also implies that our identity stems from our very existence in God.  Many scholars will tell you that Psalm 139 is about God’s presence in light of God’s participation in the making of every stage of our life cycles.  If this is the case, then God intended for our identities to echo His own character and being.  We are not our own, and our thoughts and actions must reflect God’s ownership of us.

Lastly, that God “fearfully” made us invokes a certain trust and belief on God’s part.  God created each and every one of us because He trusts that we have something to offer to creation.  God believes in us even when we falter and fail in our endeavors.

Stephen King once wrote that he rarely believes in himself despite his fame and that when his self-esteem wavers, he looks to his wife for support: “Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference,” King wrote, “They don’t have to make speeches.  Just believing is usually enough.”  God’s belief in us, when realized, can be an amazing source of hope.

As God’s creation, we are to “fear and tremble before God;” but, in light of this command, we can know that God has “fearfully” made us and expects us to live by that truth daily.