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Do Full-Gospel Ministers Need Theology? by Larry Taylor

V. Theology Before the Pulpit

We have discussed the current need for theology and, especially, the need to redefine theology as a practical tool for communicating truth in the church. We now consider theology from the perspective of the minister, viz., what does it mean to him, and how does it become practice?

Theology must be first of all a disposition of the pastor. It would be senseless to challenge every full-gospel minister to return to school in pursuit of formal theological education. The church would not necessarily be the stronger because its pastors became “lettered.” Instead, the ministerial task requires a “theological disposition,” an attitude baptized in discipline and burning with the desire to proclaim nothing but the truth.

The specific theological task of the minister is to relate sound theology to his people in such a way that they come to live out that theology in practical principles.

As the expositor of God’s word, the pastor must weigh his ideas and interpretations carefully before bringing them to the pulpit. God’s servants of the word are not passive conduits transporting revelation from heaven to earth, from Book to brain. Any idea worth presenting should be arrested before it is made public and scrutinized in the light of time-honored orthodox theology. Any “new” doctrine should be tested by infallible Scripture and also, perhaps, by the response of a circle of mature and trusted colleagues.

More fundamental than vast knowledge of the relevant theological literature is a disciplined and alert mind with a passion for truth. The man with such a mind will have a powerful influence in communicating his ideas. Still, where we have access to books and materials which are helpful in interpreting the Scripture and enhancing our awareness of our contemporary environment, we should take advantage of them. When we respect and learn from a diversity of works on Christian theology, we admit to the belief that there are “teachers” in the body (1 Cor. 12:29; cf. Eph. 4:11).

A Christian’s worship will never exceed his concept of God. Those with warped or paltry ideas of God soon become slack in their worship because they run out of reasons to praise the Lord.

Theology must in the second instance be a matter of practical application. A valid criticism of the church’s former handling of theology is that it never seemed to bring doctrine down to the believer. Church members came to associate theology with bushy-browed, pipe-smoking, withered little men sitting in musty libraries, laboring over the intricacies of irrelevant minutiae. Theology is practical, but one might not believe it listening to some clerical snobs who seem to delight in mystifying their parishioners with “things hard to understand.” How different was the early church, which saw its doctrine as intensely practical (cf. Phil. 2:4-11).10

The church has never suffered from a lack of controversial topics; what it needs in place of these is a theology which reaches into the homes and hearts of every Christian and follows him in his daily walk and into his workplace. We need a theology which addresses the common issues of our lives–a “marketplace theology.”

A theology for the twenty-first century must handle the hard questions of the times: what about racism? homosexuality? abortion? nuclear proliferation? singleness? single parenting? divorce? marriage? public education? These and other issues are what the churchman faces every day. He must know that the message of the kingdom of God relates to these issues with timeless principles and practical guidelines which offer hope and direction. Working out answers to these issues is tantamount to working out our theology.

We do not suggest that the more traditional theological categories are no longer relevant! God, man, sin, Jesus Christ, salvation, the church: all seriously impact modern man. But the minister will have to communicate these doctrines within a context that helps people see their relevance. Why is it still important to believe that Christ is God? What about the Trinity, or the personal, visible return of Christ? If these doctrines are still sacred tenets of the church, today’s believers need to know how they relate to his situation.

More fundamental than a vast knowledge of the relevant theological material is a disciplined and alert mind with a passion for truth. The man with such a mind will have a powerful influence in communicating his ideas.

We need to recognize that we, as ministers, are no longer dealing with a “Christian society.” Many non-Christians, especially young people, have not grown up with the Sunday school or with an environment of Christian love and teaching. They don’t understand religious jargon, and it is questionable whether half the people who attend church regularly do, either. Loaded expressions such as “being saved,” “born again,” “Spirit baptism,” or even “God’s abiding presence,” are little more than foreign phrases to many who populate our congregations today. When a person encounters God in Christ and is subsequently transformed into a beautiful Christian, we cannot naively suppose he understands the basic terminology of the Church. Many will need to be led by the hand into the fundamentals of the faith. They will need sound Christian doctrine to guide them, and such theology must be vigorously practical.

We should be able to demonstrate that some Christians practice glossolalia, prophetic utterance, and spontaneous worship because they are theologically sound.

In the third place, theology in our context must a full-gospel endeavor. It must be an exposition and clarification of those categories which distinguishes the full-gospel wind of the church. The experience of Pentecost is enhanced by the explication of Pentecost, conducted in humility and with a passion for truth. There is still a platform for those who will stand up in the midst and declare, “this is that”!

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Category: Fall 1998, Ministry, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Larry L. Taylor, M.A., D.Min., is Affiliate Faculty at Regis University in the Denver area and formerly professor of humanities at Portland Bible College. Larry Taylor founded a church in Colorado and has 17 years of pastoral experience.

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