Who Needs Theology is a book written by Stanley Grenz and Roger E. Olson. It was written when I was in high-school in the late 90s, but I found it at a bargain book store and saw the authors and had to have it. These two guys know their stuff.


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Summary of Who Needs Theology

The premise of the book is that any person who is reflective and thinks critically needs to study theology in some capacity. They outline five types of theology done in the world today. Folk Theology is a sort of blind, and unreflective faith in a tradition of some kind. Moving past this first level, Lay Theology attempts to examine the assumptions of Folk Theology. Those engaging in Ministerial Theology are able to read scripture and apply it to their lives in a post-christian world. Professional theologians spend many years working to develop their theological understanding and yet apply it in a faithful contextual setting. Academic Theologians often study for a lifetime but are not a part of a faith tradition in most cases. The goal of the book is to encourage the reader to achieve some level of ministerial or even professional theology while avoiding the pitfall of becoming an academic theologian.

In order to define theology, they write, “Christian theology is reflecting on and articulating the God-centered life and beliefs that Christians share as followers of Jesus Christ, and it is done that God might be glorified in all Christians are and do” (69). Then, they describe engaging in theology as involving both a critical task (Eamining and evaluating Christian beliefs, and categorizing valid christian beliefs as dogma, doctrine, and opinion) and a constructive task (constructing unified models of diverse biblical teachings, and relating those models relevantly to contemporary culture) (80). In their estimation engaging in theology has been done largely within a church setting until the modern era, at which point liberal protestant theology developed. They describe liberal protestant theology as something that searches for the essence of Christianity without the miraculous. They looked for something that could be examined scientifically. The agree with Niebuhr’s estimation that the result was “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without a judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross” (85).

Then they turn do a prescriptive method of doing theology. One needs to engage in a “trilogue” using the tool of the Bible as scripture (92), church history, and contemporary culture. Their goal is that the reader strive to take part in “theology’s constructive task [which] is to set forth the unity and coherence of the biblical teaching about God, ourselves and the world in the context in which God calls us to be disciples” (104)

Evaluation of Who Needs Theology

This book is a useful one for the 21st century church. In my church, I regularly come into contact with people who did not grow up in a believing household and therefore have very little theological depth. This book communicates on a college-freshman-level the need for utilizing the mind in following Christ.

I can certainly see a use-case where I hand this to a 20-something who we’re grooming for leadership, or is in leadership. I would want to talk them through several different points of the book but I think it would be very useful for moving people to a deeper level of engaging their mind and reflecting about God’s truth. Of course, I personally would do that while encouraging engagement IN theological practices like evangelism.

Some from my Southern Baptist circle will not like this book because the authors are a little left of most Southern Baptists. Yet this book only gives glimpses of that perspective. By and large I would expect more people to call this book too conservative than too liberal. Since I think the benefits outweigh the liabilities of this book I would recommend it to most anyone. You can pick up a copy of Who Needs Theology from Amazon through my affiliate link here. You won’t pay any extra, but I will get 4% of what you spend!

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