Theology and the “How to” Culture
In our corporate worship today, the crowd is sovereign not the text. As I observe much of the modern evangelical preaching, I am reminded of something one of my former preaching professors once said, “it’s good stuff; it’s just not God stuff.” I call this style of preaching “how to” preaching, and it is largely the product of the cultural values of the day. In other words, “how to” preaching is an acquiescence to the demands of the crowd more than the demands of the Bible.
I recently made the statement from the pulpit that “The Bible is not really a book of good advice.” Though it does indeed contain plenty of good advice, this is not really God’s goal with the Bible. We have grown accustom now to think of the Bible as nothing more than a manual or set of instructions for “our best life now,” which betrays a subtle and yet central worldview facet that at best obscures and at worst opposes the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. And so, we pillage the Bible, looking for “the three easy steps to a better me.” I would challenge this understanding of the Bible’s purpose and role in our lives. I would suggest that the Bible’s purpose is actually to reveal God . . . who he is and what he does . . . theology not “how to.”
On the significance of theology N.T. Wright wrote, “Prayerful reflection on God, God’s ways, God’s work, God’s purpose, and ultimately God’s faithfulness – that task we loosely call ‘theology’ – had (for Paul) quite suddenly to take on a new role . . . The Messiah’s people, he often insisted, were to be ‘transformed by the renewing of the mind.’ Thinking clearly about God and his purpose was not just an intellectual luxury, an indulgence for long winter evenings. The renewed people of God were to be renewed in their minds, learning to think in a way that was given, for the first time ever, the task of sustaining a worldview. My point here is that in order for the worldview to remain in place, Paul believed it was necessary for the Messiah’s people constantly to explore and think through the actual object of their faith, in other words, God himself, his purposes and his promises. Wisdom prior to this a luxury for the leisured, was now offered to the slave, the shopkeeper, the housewife . . . Theology is the lifeblood of the ekklssia (i.e., church) . . Without it, as any church will discover, to this day, if theology is ignored or marginalized – the chance of the central worldview-symbol standing upright and supporting the rest of the building will be severely decreased” (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 403–404).
When we supplant a pursuit of God by surrendering the sturdy value of a hard-earned, thick, and load-bearing theology for the flimsy, counterfeit convenience of a mile-wide, inch-deep, googled praxis, we do so to our own peril and more importantly to the diminishing of our missional effectiveness. On one occasion Jesus was challenged by a group of religious leaders with a question that was designed to trap him. Jesus response? “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt 22:29) . . . and the two are always connected.