I am currently working on the next book in my “Plain English Series,” Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English. I expect it to be available within a few months. While I was doing some research I came across an illuminating quote I wanted to also share here.
This comes from Moltmann’s methodological book, Experiences in Theology. Here he argues that theology is the business of all God’s people, including both the trained and the untrained, but also of both men and women. It is not a pursuit restricted to specialists in the academy or to the ecclesiastical leadership. In truth, theology is centered around the congregation and is shared in the life of all believers. Moltmann writes:
Theology is the business of all God’s people. It is not just the affair of the theological faculties, and not just the concern of the church’s colleges and seminaries. The faith of the whole body of Christians on earth seeks to know and understand. If it doesn’t, it isn’t Christian faith. This means that the foundation for every theological specialization is the general theology of all believers, which corresponds to the Reformation’s thesis about the universal ‘priesthood of all believers’. All Christians who believe and who think about what they believe are theologians, whether they are young or old, women or men. […]
I should not like to let this universalization of the priesthood and of theology stand in such general terms, and so I would prefer to talk about ‘the shared priesthood’ and therefore about the shared theology of all believers too. On this common ground, not everyone has to do and think the same thing. The fellowship of all believers requires that differentiation of assignments and functions which corresponds to the multicoloured diversity of the Spirit’s gifts, or charismata. Even in the shared theology of all believers there are particular commissions and delegations. Academic theology is one of them. But the community of Christians must be able to identify with its delegations. Otherwise alienations arise which have an oppressive rather than a helpful effect. 1
Academic theology is nothing other than the scholarly penetration and illumination by mind and spirit of what Christians in the congregations think when they believe in God and live in the fellowship of Christ. By scholarly I mean that the theology is methodologically verifiable and comprehensible. Good scholarly theology is therefore basically simple, because it is clear. Only cloudy theology is complicated and difficult. Whether it be Athanasius or Augustine, Aquinas or Calvin, Schleiermacher or Barth—the fundamental ideas of every good theological system can be presented on a single page. It is true that Barth needed more than 8,000 pages for his Church Dogmatics, and even then they were still unfinished, so that kindly disposed critics said, ‘surely truth can’t be as long as that’. But as we know, theological praise of the eternally bounteous God is never-ending. So the length of a work does not necessarily detract from the simple truth of what it says. 2
While not everyone will become professors, write theology books, or even study the most challenging theological systems of the Church, every believer is a theologian the moment they begin to think seriously about their faith. This is a helpful insight, especially in the Church today which has often been dumbed-down by reductionistic answers and unchallenging sermons. The need for theological education in the Church (not merely somewhere else in the academy) is great, because average Church members often struggle with difficult theological questions but are seldom given permission to ask them freely in an educational setting. In this regard, the task of academic theology is only as a service to the Church, to help facilitate and encourage the theology of all believers. Highly specialized academic work is necessary, but we should no longer think that this is the only, or even the primary, expression of theology. Theology is the shared task of all believers, not merely the specialists.
(For a list of books written by and on Jürgen Moltmann, see my newly updated list of recommended reading)
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- Experiences in Theology, 11-2 ↩
- Experiences in Theology, 13-4 ↩