Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Importance of Biblical Theology

Posts are a bit thin on the ground at the minute - the exams are approaching, oh no!! Calm. Calm. Anyway, whilst in Wales, I was blowing trumpets for my first year at HTC - naturally! One of the things I found myself talking about (again) was the importance of a narrative understanding of theology and an historical appreciation of the Bible. These might seem like scholarly niceties, but I really feel that they (like all good theology) have huge pastoral implications. One of the unhelpful things to come about from the ever-present bias towards systematics is the formularisation of the gospel. I had a conversation about this whilst visiting family in Bath. So, it kind of connected when I saw an article by Colin Thomas (City Evangelical Church, Birmingham) on the Evangelicals Now site. In the article, Thomas says:
In our youth work, I believe we have been influenced negatively by two movements. The first is ‘revivalism’. While I do not negate that God has used Billy Graham, one method he used has not assisted our youth work. ‘Revivalism’ has been influential in what I call the ‘ten-minute evangelistic talk’ model. Now, I contend that nowhere in the Bible is youth work condensed into a ‘ten-minute evangelistic talk’. I would argue a more biblical model is that of ‘catechesis’, where young people are systematically taught the great truths of Scripture. I therefore propose we need to go beyond a simple ‘seek the Lord Jesus and repent’. Of course, this is a vital part, but we need to go deeper. We are in a post-Christian society, where young people do not have the Christian categories, so we need to go back to basics and teach our beliefs about God, about people, what God has done in Christ, etc.
He's identifying in what he calls 'revivalism' the tendency to reduce the gospel to a simple formula. You see it widely in evangelicalism in things like Two Ways to Live and in formulaic gospel preaching (you are a sinner - you will go to hell - Jesus can save you - repent), even in Christianity Explored. It's kind of like Systematics-Lite (TM). Much too Lite! Whilst these structures are helpful for understanding, I think that there is an overreliance on them and that 'gospel' preaching then becomes in danger of an anaemic reductionism, which is less than preaching the Word of God. Systematics is extremely important, but pastoral practice seems to reflect an over-reliance on systematics in theological education and an under-representation of the biblical theological angle. Thomas is touching on something I am coming to see more and more: that it is in contact with the worshipping community of God's people, gathered around the Word of God, that effective discipleship takes place from darkness to light to maturity in the faith. Biblical Theology's contribution is partly in keeping the connections between the Community and The Word of God.
Thomas goes on to identify the second influence...

The second negative influence, I believe, is the ‘homogenous unit principle’ (HUP). his idea comes from the Church Growth movement, and posits that people come to faith easier surrounded by their own social group, as there is less of a wrench in aking the spiritual/social move to Christianity. We see its influence in all kinds of niche congregations, professionals, students, youth, etc., leading to certain groups prioritised over others. But when we look in the Bible in the Book of Acts, all God’s people are together (Pentecost reversing Babel, etc.) and are sent out to reach all. The HUP can be seen in how we run separate youth works for ‘church’ and ‘non church’ young people, and where young people come into the church for a club but have no contact with the wider church. We must expose all our young people to worship, to see baptism and communion, to the Word preached and to the wider all age fellowship. Now, maybe we need to think how to do this, but we can never teach in a segregated group.

Again, what I said before. The community is the key - see how they love one another. By this shall all men know... Especially when its a disparate group that would never be together otherwise: Jew, Gentile, Roman soldier, tax collector, skater, elderly woman, affluent family, ex-con. This is all very interesting and cogent. I'll post again on this soon - because it links in with something that Mike Bird just posted on his blog.