In the book “Who Needs Theology?” Grenz and Olson provide a helpful little spectrum of 5 kinds of theology: Folk, Lay, Pastoral, Professional, and Academic.  I have pastored for over 15 years and have always considered myself a Pastoral Theologian.

Over the last 5 years I have been transitioning toward more of a Professional and Academic location. This is not as simple as it might appear. It is complicated by the presence of two variables:

  1. I continue to be a pastor while I am in the Doctoral program. The church and the academy do not always communicate that well, are not always focused on the same things, and have developed a level of distrust/suspicion at points.
  2. My field in the academy is Practical Theology. This discipline is primarily focused on the activity of the local congregation-community and so even my academic pursuit is church oriented.

The result of this is that I seem to have the same two conversations on a fairly predictable monthly loop. One conversation is with my former congregants who knew me as only a pastor. The second conversation is with my fellow students who are pursuing an interest in one of the “Big 4” Theological disciplines (Philosophical, Historic, Systematic, or Biblical).

The first conversation with former congregants who are suspicious or or unaware of theology usually finds me trying to explain that “theology is a 2nd order reflection – or a 2nd tier discipline – that as a practical theologian I recognize is not the main event (1st order) but an examination OF  that main event.”  I compare it to being in the balcony  watching those who are in the auditorium who are watching what is happening on stage.   I am concerned with the interaction between the stage and the auditorium. I am not focused on the stage primarily. I am analyzing and describing, from a 2nd tier position, the dynamic that is at work and its effect.

The second conversation is usually with people much further into theology than I am. I am continuously explaining that I am not looking for a system to buy into wholesale or a framework that accounts for everything in a totalizing way. I am simply looking for conversation partners.

  • I am intrigued by Liberation Theology by am not (as of yet) convinced of God’s preferential concern for the poor. I want to hear what Gutierrez and Boff have to say.
  • I am not a Whitehead-ian (yet) but love John Cobb and the host of other Process thinkers (Epperly, Suchoki, etc.)
  • I am not Catholic but get so much from Elizabeth Johnson, John Caputo, Karl Rahner and Joseph Bracken.
  • I think that George Linbeck and Hans Frei are really onto something about theology and scripture, but I am certainly no Wittgensteinian.
  • I am fascinated by Paul Knitter and John Hick but have no interest in trying to defend a Kantian dualism in order to explain how a Barth style-Protestant might access the noumenal real (an actual challenge I received when quoting Paul Knitter).

Admittedly, I don’t understand the “guilty by association” Lord of the Flies atmosphere that seems to previal in many post-Barth theological conversations. I am simply looking for dialogue partners. This fits my field, as Practical Theology is an inter-disciplinary endeavor.

Unfortunately, I get accused of being a “cafeteria Christian” – picking and choosing what I will take from each discipline or tradition. I am accused of theological “Bricolage”…  I choose to call it Mosaic thinking – piecing together the little elements that present a fuller picture of the whole.

On one hand I get why people are repelled by the lingering attitude of “total buy in”. On the other hand, I simply embrace that this is the atmosphere under which I am transitioning toward being a theologian.

I would love your thoughts.