With Patrick Mitchel
(From the April - June 2018 issue of VOX)
It is a delight to join the team of columnists at VOX. For my first article, I’m going to explain what I hope this column will be about by focusing on six words.
MUSINGS: Musings are more than random thoughts, they are (hopefully!) thoughtful reflections on the intersections between theology, life and ministry.
THEOLOGY: It is my passionate belief that all of Christian life and ministry is first and foremost a theological task. This is because the moment we start thinking about God, ourselves, the church, mission, the gospel, leadership, justice or pastoral care we are ‘doing’ theology. Every one of us is a theologian – whether we realise it or not and whether we like it or not!
LIFE: The wonderful thing about the Bible is how it continues to speak with relevance and power across history. As new issues and questions emerge, we have continually to be connecting God’s Word with our world. There is NO area of life that is somehow exempt from the need for good theological thinking – whether issues like sex, property prices, music, books, films, food or politics or themes like love, justice, guilt, pleasure, beauty, joy or hope or whatever.
MINISTRY: But, theology should primarily be for the church. This is important. Many Christians have little time for theology because they think it consists of abstract debates about irrelevant issues. That is a tragedy on all sides. All Christian ministry needs to be thoroughly theological! So these musings will always be trying to make links back to the life of the church.
CONTEXT: A fifth word worth mentioning is ‘context’. In Ireland, our context is fast-changing from a strictly enforced religious culture to one that puts individual freedom of choice before all else. One moment all sorts of rules were in place (with harsh penalties) to enforce norms of behaviour. Now, such norms are seen as oppressive restrictions on individual freedom and must be overthrown. For example, the upcoming referendum on abortion is about the supreme freedom of the individual to decide what to do with her body, over and above another life that is voiceless and powerless.
But the ‘god’ of individual freedom reaches far beyond sexual ethics. As Christians, we need to appreciate that these changes are symptoms of a much bigger cultural shift – and we are not somehow immune from its effects. We live in a highly consumerist Western capitalist society, which is structured in hundreds of ways to get us to worship the god of individualist free choice.
GOSPEL: This brings us to the sixth, and most important, word – gospel. What does it look like to think theologically about life and ministry? Well, we must begin with the gospel, the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ – His incarnation, life, teaching, death, resurrection and future return. As Christians, we are to live and think and act in light of this earth-shatteringly good news. This is the true story that outshines all others. If we really believe it, we will live accordingly. If we don’t, we won’t. This is why one of Paul’s favourite encouragements to his churches is to “live a life worthy of the gospel.” If Jesus is Lord, then we are to give allegiance to no-one or nothing else. This may mean being sharply out of step with our culture and facing hostility as a result. It may also mean repenting of where we are far more shaped by the values and dreams of our culture than we may like to think.
Anyway, that’s a flavour of what’s going on here. Since theology should be anything but boring, I hope this column will dare to go pretty well anywhere. Looking forward to having you along for the journey!
Dr. Patrick Mitchel is Senior Lecturer in Theology at the Irish Bible Institute. You can follow his blog at www.faithinireland.wordpress.com.