On the first day of Constructive Theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School, my professor, Dr. Meeks said, “When you see Sam coming down the hall, I want you to think, ‘Here comes a great theologian.’” The whole class looked at me, my face turned red, and all I could think was “Me? I’m not a great theologian!”
He went on to say, “All of you are theologians.” Anyone who thinks about who God is in the midst of their real, lived experiences is a theologian. Anyone who talks about God is a theologian. But what you must understand about theology is that it is never worked out alone. You have to work it out in conversation, in listening and speaking, in giving and receiving.
As our United Methodist Book of Discipline says, our theological task is both critical and constructive. It is contextual and incarnational. It is essentially practical. Our theology must be grounded in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and by extension, the embodied experiences of all people. And, our theology must have practical import. How does it affect our day to day living?
Last fall when I taught my first Wednesday night class here at Belle Meade, we used Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton. I began that class by echoing Dr. Meeks’ words. “All of you are theologians.” The class looked at me the same way I’d looked at him, “Woman, you are crazy.”
As I explained, they seemed to get more comfortable with the idea. We went on to discuss an important tool we use in the United Methodist Church in working out our faith. We interpret Scripture in light of Tradition, Reason, and Experience. This means we bring the history of faith, connection to the early church, context, logic, and our own messy realities to Scripture when seeking its significance for our lives.
Dr. Meeks taught me a great deal about the church and about being a pastor. I didn’t quite understand what he meant at the time, but he repeatedly said that pastors need to recover their teaching role. Teaching that first bible study gave me insight. The best thing I can do is empower you to think critically about the gospel. I am of no value if I try to convince you to believe what I believe or if I stifle your questions. When I preach, I share what I have learned and what God has revealed to me. But even more important is encouraging you to work out your faith communally, to join a Wednesday night study, Sunday school class, or home group.
It is most rewarding for me when you discover the beauty and wonder of God through conversation, when you grow in your faith around the table with fellow believers, when you are encouraged and nourished by a light bulb moment — and those revelations actually change your life.
All of you are theologians. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
Rev. Sam McGlothlin