On the Disappearance of Theology

The Stats

What does it mean, for example, when 91 percent of evangelicals say that their beliefs are “very important” to them, when 93 percent say that they believe in divine judgment, when 96 percent say that they believe in miracles? It does not mean all that much.

Theology is Peripheral and Irrelevant

Even in churches that are active and among believers who are religiously observant, it is possible that theology (i.e., a set of beliefs that refers beyond the experiencing subject to the world “out there, “natural and supernatural) has become peripheral and remote.

Even “those who count themselves as believers, who subscribe to the tenets of a Church, and who attend services regularly, ” Bryan Wilson has observed, “nevertheless operate in a social space in which their beliefs about the supernatural are rendered in large part irrelevant.”

Wherever modernity has intruded upon the Church, there the social space even of believers who give assent to the full range of credal elements will be emptied of theology.

Even the beliefs of such individuals will have been pushed to the margins of life, the central and integrating role they once had commandeered by other interests.

Theology on the Periphery Can’t Define Evangelical Life

It is in this sense that it is proper to speak of the disappearance of theology. It is not that the elements of the evangelical credo have vanished; they have not. The fact that they are professed, however, does not necessarily mean that the structure of the historic Protestant faith is still intact.

The reason, quite simply, is that while these items of belief are professed, they are increasingly being removed from the center of evangelical life where they defined what that life was, and they are now being relegated to the periphery where their power to define what evangelical life should be is lost.

Practice Reveals What Polling Can’t

This is not the sort of shift that typical polling will discover, for these items of belief are seldom denied or qualified, but that does not mean that the shift has not occurred. It is evangelical practice rather than evangelical profession that reveals the change.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What do you think of the state of the church? Has care for theology been moved to the periphery?
  2. If theology is moved to the periphery, what affects will that have on the church?

Resources

David Wells, No Place for Truth Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, 107-108. (NOTE: Paragraphs are Wells; headings are mine)

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