I have a confession to make. I don’t have a theology.
And I don’t think you should, either.
I was speaking to a pastor not long ago who was asked what he thought about a couple of theological topics. He responded by explaining his views with reference to Scripture along with a few Wesleyan accents he believed helped to interpret Scripture. His conversation partners then responded, “Yes, but what do you think about all that?”
That kind of exchange is just fascinating to me. It is the kind of thing that could only happen in a culture where we have come to believe that we have to create ourselves out of whole cloth. Stanley Hauerwas has often said that the story of democratic liberal society is that the only story we have is the story we chose when we had no story. (Read it a couple of times, slowly.)
In popular theology today, this point of view is largely the norm. It is so much the norm, in fact, that it is often adopted in a largely unthinking way. We assume that we need to know just enough Scripture, just enough history, and just enough theology to go out and construct a theology of our own. We do that on the fly, making it up as we go along. Pastors often inflict it on their congregations with little thought about the consequences that might have.
Here’s something that all teachers and preachers in the church (whether ordained or not) should think about seriously: “Your” theology is really not that important. In fact, it’s probably not even very interesting. What is important (and what is profoundly interesting) is the theology of the church. Handed down from Scripture and through the great catholic tradition of the church in the form of faithful doctrine, the church’s theology is that which has been tested, can be trusted, and ought rightly to temper all that we say and do as teachers and preachers.
James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (NIV). That is a helpful counsel to remember for those of us who have been entrusted with a flock of one sort or another. We should save our own personal theological speculations for the privacy of our study; if we can’t do that, we need to be thinking very hard about whether preaching and teaching the gospel is what we should be doing at all. When we read Wesley’s counsel to his preachers that “all you have to do is save souls; therefore spend and be spent in that work,” we should realize the profound responsibility we have to teach Christian doctrine faithfully that those who hear might respond in faith to the God who desires they be saved.
So you have your own personal theology, huh? That’s great. But do you know the theology of the church? Spend a lifetime immersing yourself in it, and then test your own views by it. At the end of the day, the wisdom of Scripture and the tradition is so much greater than the personal views of any one of us that there really is no comparison.