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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Do we need theologians?

This is an interesting question. I guess you could answer it easily with either a yes or a no, and I suppose being a budding theologian myself you could easily guess my own answer. Perhaps the next question is the important one... Why? Well my answer to that question is best given by means of a personal illustration. I am diabetic, and have been for almost 9 years now. There are a number of people directly involved in the management of this permanent disease. Firstly me, who takes ultimate responsibility for understanding as much as I can about the disease - its effects, how to check my blood sugar levels, self inject insulin and what to do in the event of a "hypo" or "hyperglycaemic" occurrence. My family also need to be aware of these things as well and play an active role in my ongoing treatment. There's also my GP who provides immediate, but generalised advice for me when other illness occurs, or just for general ongoing health concerns. Another part of my management team is my Diabetes Educator. She gives specific training in regards to the "how to" of daily needs of a diabetic lifestyle. How to operate the BSL monitor, or insulin pump, or advice for family members. She can also provide advice on other services available for me as a diabetic. Then there's my specialist endocrinologist. This is the doctor who reviews my regular blood tests and advises on and prescribes specific treatments for me. How much insulin to take and when. Other factors that may be a consideration, such as a related illness. As it happens I'm also a coeliac, and my thyroid is questionable. My specialist helps me understand the relationship between these other diseases and my diabetes and refers me to other specialists as needed. By now your probably thinking firstly that my body is falling apart, and secondly that my medical bills must be astronomical. Whilst the first may appear true, the second is not a concern thanks to Australia's very helpful medical system. I haven't even mentioned other medical professionals I see from time to time too; dietitians, Opthamologists, podiatrists, and the list continues... A many sided team that I have both regular and irregular contact with to assist in my treatment. But I've forgotten another team of people... It's those people sitting over test tubes and microscopes, or pouring through medical journals researching into cures and better treatments for this currently incurable disease. Do I know these people? No. Will I ever? Probably not. Do I value their contribution to medical knowledge? You bet! I am so grateful that there are people in this world with the intelligence, patience and determination to study for lengthy periods of time, sometimes with no apparent "wins" along the way, in order to extend our collective understanding of a disease that is increasingly affecting more and more people throughout the world. Can you see where I'm heading? So let me ask the question again. Do we need theologians? Yes, but I would like to qualify that statement. I think we need theologians who are prepared to actively communicate with the "real world". Now that does not necessarily mean that they must always and only be out of the seminary or the library, out on the streets treading the pavement learning and observing from the front lines. It may in fact mean that, but there are others in the body of Christ whose calling and ministry that belongs to. No, what I mean by "communication" is an active engagement with Christian practitioners. Talking with ministers, preachers and teachers about their experiences at the frontline, or with the people in their care. At the same time theologians need to be feeding their research and learning back into the practitioners. We need theologians to be who God has made them and called them to be. To be reading thoroughly, studying both God's word and today's cultural trends in fine detail, and tying all these threads together in such a way that ministers and practitioners can communicate that learning with Christians at the local congregational level. Now I have used terms here in a very generalistic manner; and you could assume that I think theologians are detached from reality, and the Christian at the local congregational level is detached from deeper thinking about their faith. Of course that is not always true, but a lot of the time it is. I suppose what I am calling for is a collective, community based approach to both ministry and theology. Theology must be practically informed and provide practical information. This is the best sort of theology and the best sort of theologians are pursuing this task.