Review of Who Needs Theology by Grenz and Olson

July 25, 2013

Occasionally I discuss theology on this blog because it helps us understand the topic of leadership. In today’s post I’m sharing a review of Stanley Grenz and Roger Olsen‘s book, Who Needs Theology?, as a way to help you see how theology is relevant to everyone (yes, even those who do not believe in God).

Who Needs Theology by Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson

The book, Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God, is an introductory text to the topic of theology. I have learned two lessons from it:

  1. Everyone is a theologian; and
  2. That there are three main tools to use to construct theology.

I. Everyone is a Theologian

The first lesson I learned from Who Needs Theology? is that everyone is a theologian, and because everyone is a theologian there are different levels of theology. Grenz and Olsen explain six different types of theology:

  1. Folk Theology is based on blind, unsophisticated faith and has little or no reflectiveness as part of it.
  2. Lay Theology occurs when ordinary Christians begin to ask questions about what they believe and why they believe it without the use of other tools for developing theologies.
  3. Ministerial Theology is a result of some type of formal coursework which includes a working knowledge of the biblical languages, commentaries, and an understanding of historical theology.
  4. Professional Theology refers to people who teach historical theology, biblical languages, and how to use commentaries to pastors in seminaries or church-related higher education institutions.
  5. Academic Theology is highly speculative and mostly directed towards other theologians with little connection to the church and concrete Christian living.

These are the various levels of theologies of theologians. Knowing about these theologies has helped me see that I want to be in the ministerial theology category. I want to understand the biblical languages, use commentaries, and have knowledge about historical (and traditional) theology so that I can practice theology within the culture I live.

II. The 3 Main Tools to Construct Theology

The second thing I have learned from Who Needs Theology? is from the chapter, “The Theologian’s Tools.” Learning about the various “tools” that should be used to construct theology has helped me to see how I can be a theologian.

Now I know that Scripture is the primary tool I use to construct and practice theology. One of theology’s questions is, “what must we be, say and do?” and the main tool I use to start answering this question is the Bible.

The second tool Grenz and Olson explain is necessary for constructing theology is the theological heritage of the church. Heritage is important because it provides examples of how theologians of our past have attempted to understand Scripture in their context. Knowing how past theologians have interpreted Scripture is helpful as it yields insights into Scripture’s meaning and how it should be lived out.

The final tool Grenz and Olson provide for being a theologian is the “thought-forms of contemporary culture.”  This is the tool I am supposed to use to make theology understandable to the culture I live in  and relevant to my cultures’ problems  while also evaluating contemporary insights into various human learning situations or disciplines. Actively using these three tools will be very helpful in my future endeavors attempting to construct theology.

Grenz and Olson’s book, Who Needs Theology? has helped me to see the benefits of me becoming a ministerial theologian through the use of their three tools.

Question: In your opinion, who needs theology?

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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