Every person has beliefs about God. Even if a person does not believe in God, they still have beliefs about what they are not believing in or about what others think about God. One’s beliefs about God are the content of their theology. Theology can be simple (“God is love”) or complex (“Jesus Christ is one person with two natures—divine and human—indivisible and unmixed”); conscious (the two examples are intentionally, consciously held because they are written) or embedded, which are beliefs about God and God’s work that are held without one’s being aware, hidden and buried and assembled from prior teaching, experience, reading, and other inputs. The following three questions are meant to help you uncover some of your embedded theology. Especially as a person in spiritual leadership, it is important to have consciously reflected on our beliefs, as Paul encouraged Timothy to watch not only his life, but his doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16). These questions are meant to help you tease out what you believe so that you can observe it, strengthen it, replace it, correct it, and/or share it more effectively.
1. What is your theology of conversion?
There are several questions that fall under the question of conversion, including God’s work in the unbeliever, personal evangelism practices, whether salvation is individual or corporate, means of baptism, and appropriate age of baptism. Some traditions hold that when God changes a person, there is a radical, manifest change from that very moment. Some traditions hold that if a person can’t name the date of their salvation, then they better say the sinner’s prayer right now and mark it down! Some people are skeptical of immediate change and look for God’s work over the long haul. What is your theology of conversion?
2. What is your theology of work?
We often personalize an aspect of this theological question by asking, “What has God called me to do?”, but this question aims at a broader question: “What does God call people to do?” Are vocations of full time, paid/professional ministry more important than vocations in accounting or construction? Is work in politics, business, or health care more or less valuable as service unto God? Do people who serve in the secular workforce need a ministry in the church to really discover what God has called them to do? Does God count it as service to him when a task is done because it needs to be done, but not out of joy? Without a conscious theology of work, we might falsely chase “real” work or “true” ministry or invalidate the work and vocation of people in our churches.
3. What is your theology of time?
Time is notoriously difficult to define. We all operate in time, but we struggle to define it. Not only is time hard to define, it is also a difficult subject about which to articulate our theological beliefs. Spiritual leaders might even be seen as people who do not take their own purported theology seriously—perhaps skipping Sabbath or fretting over productivity. In my own ministry, I wondered what my tendency to hurry and leave little margin in my schedule revealed about my theology of time. Did I think God was working at all times, whether or not I was working? Was time something for me to use, mine, redeem, or enjoy? Why did I feel guilty about simple joys, often thinking I should cut joyful activities for productive ones? Without a conscious theology of time, we are prone to unconscious self-condemnation for “wasting” time, arrogance in thinking that we can “kill” time, and missing little joys along the way of life through the practice of a hobby. (Check out JD Walt’s free book on Sabbath for more thoughts on time, some of which inspired this question and are reflected in it.)
This is the first of a series of questions of theology that will be posed by church planters and practical theologians. It is very hard work to dig up our embedded theology and to see all of its implications and connections, so we do not want to overwhelm the reader. Consider your theology of these topics and how they might impact some of your church planting and leadership practices.