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Blog // Thoughts
August 22, 2006

Broken Churches, Broken Theology

Mary Hess (Tensegrities) made a very interesting comment here recently, …historical theology has far too narrowly conceived what we mean by theology, and in doing so cut huge numbers of people out of the conversation. I think Mary is right. That is an example of how theology is broken – broken in the sense that […]

Mary Hess (Tensegrities) made a very interesting comment here recently,

…historical theology has far too narrowly conceived what we mean by theology, and in doing so cut huge numbers of people out of the conversation.

I think Mary is right. That is an example of how theology is broken – broken in the sense that Seth Godin talks about in this talk at the Gel 2006 conference. You can read more at thisisbroken.com (where I found the traffic light picture above, submitted by Paul Adams). Godin explains that the idea for things being borken came to him looking at the taxi stand at Newark airport;

“…you get there and there’s 75 people in line and there’s 75 cabs and it takes an hour.

“And, there is a man in uniform who will get you “in trouble” if you just go and get in a cab…”

In that sense, Church is broken, theology is broken – we sense that. But, how do we identify this broken-ness and what do we do about it?

Church marketing sucks took Godin’s words on board and started a poll, which you can read here.

The big point of breakage is not pointing at something and saying “hey that doesn’t work,” it is understanding the thinking that created brokeness and how people respond by not using the broken thing. In a church setting this manifests itself in well-meaning failures and in congregants not participating or using broken resources. There is tremendous potential in identifying broken things and process and “unbreaking” them.

Academic theology often claims to serve the church – to help the church find its voice and do its mission. However, look at the programmes and focus and it is unclear how this works in practice. Most denominational colleges are too focussed on the small percentage who train for full time ministry; too many university programmes on specialists for academic discourse. My experience is that most theologians are not trying to perpetuate a broken system. Ask them and they will often say that what they do serves the church (despite all evidence to the contrary). Some theology is broken on purpose, to cut out non-specialists, but most is not.

Theologians are not fish; that is part of the problem (see Godin’s talk for an explanation of that). Moreover, there is a critical layer – interestecting theology with everyday life that a lot of theologians do not see as part of their job (and is not what their institutions pay them for for). This is not the same as teaching undergrads and maybe should be done by pastors, but often isn’t. It’s the missing link of thoughtful faith.

Theologians who blog, who write at a popular level, who comment meaningfully on everyday life and current matters go a long towards fixing that break in theology and church. But I don’t that is enough. Maybe theology is overspecialised and self-referential. Maybe, churches prioritise the voices of their clergy too much. Maybe the way we publish and who we publish is wrong. Maybe we listen to infrequently to Christians who are working in culture, media and politics? Maybe we need to spend more time in the world and less time being told what the world looks like?

[tags] Seth Godin, Broken, Theology [/tags]

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