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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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We are all theologians

Be attentive, curious, disciplined, conversant

You are a theologian. It may not be how you describe yourself, but you are. You are a theologian as you listen to God, talk about God, wonder about God. Victor Thasiah, an assistant professor, describes theology as "talking about God and everything else in light of who God is" (page 20).

That we are all theologians is not meant to diminish the significance of those whom we call to be teachers of the faith, be they parish pastors or professors. We are a church richly blessed by theological wisdom that has been passed on for centuries by strong Lutheran seminaries and by the work of emerging theologians who help us think about our complex, often conflicted and rapidly changing world in light of who God is.

bishopAs the ELCA we are in our 25th year and we have work to do — theological work. It involves all of us and it calls us to:

Be attentive. Listen for God speaking to us. We cannot talk about God if we have not heard God speaking. Our work as theologians begins in worship and in Scripture. The word of God is God's living address to us and the whole creation. As a Book of Faith church, we are committed to becoming fluent in the first language of faith that is the language of Scripture. As you pray and study the Scriptures, hear them read in worship and listen to the word preached, be attentive to what God is saying. As theologians, we will also be attentive to others through whom God is speaking. Yes, so often through unexpected people judged to be outsiders, God speaks.

Be curious. Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism so parents could teach their children the basics of faith. He also taught us to ask: "What does this mean?" To be theologians is for all of us to have an unquenchable curiosity about faith and life. From age 12 in the temple to the risen Christ asking John three times, "Do you love me?" Jesus was a relentless questioner. Faith frees us to be the same.

Be disciplined. If we are serious about each of us being a theologian, it will call for commitment and discipline. We need to hold each other accountable for this shared calling.

John Thomas, former president and general minister of the United Church of Christ, once said, "We will require leaders schooled in the theological disciplines and practiced in the spiritual disciplines lest the truth that is proclaimed be merely warmed over political agenda of social ideology with a pious veneer. The capacity to read Scripture critically and teach the Bible thoughtfully, to think and speak as theologians informed by the richly diverse traditions of the church through the ages, to pray and to meditate, alone and corporately, to listen to God and particularly to the oppressed and to those who are vulnerable — these disciplines are critical to resisting the deceiving and distorting voices that shout from beyond the church and that whisper within."

Be conversant. It takes practice to talk about God. Increasingly I stop my sermons and ask people to talk with another person. If we are not comfortable talking about Jesus with another person in worship, how will we have the confidence to talk about our faith with a neighbor, a colleague or classmate? Too often we worry that we might say something wrong so we don't say anything. Let us trust the promise of Scriptures that the Spirit will give us the words to say.

Allow for diversity. Talking about God and everything else in light of who God is will allow for diversity. I believe our theological wisdom is deepened and enriched by the voices of those who often have been ignored and excluded. We have a glimpse of that in the young theologians introduced in this issue.

I absolutely am convinced that this is a great time to give a Lutheran evangelical witness to the gospel. May each ELCA member and congregation make our 25th anniversary year the occasion to grow in our "talking about God and everything else in light of who God is." Yes, for in Christ we are always being made new.


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