At this point in working through a Blue Collar Theology (BCT), I want to provide some excerpts from Richard Lints as he elaborates on the disjunction of theology and the local church (Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993, 81, 318-21). I have provided these excepts with subheadings, and I will post a few reflections in conclusion. Central to these excerpts (and the theme of BCT) is that theology belongs to the local church, not any other institution or parachurch organization. Consider these words by Lints (all emphasis mine).

Shriveling Theology

Theology is not simply a list of dogmas to be believed; it encompasses a framework for thinking about the world and a vision for living in it. It seeks to capture the minds and hearts of believers so that they might think Christianly and act Christianly. Theology is the most noble and impassioned of disciplines, and if confined to the classroom, it will shrivel and die. (81)

Contextual Theology and Personal Transformation

Theology must be lived in the life of the church, in the lives of those whom God has called out from a rebellious world. It must be lived in the midst of the world, not in isolation from it. The church is composed of fallen creatures who live in a fallen world and whose theological vision is inevitably influenced by the profound impact of sin on their hearts and minds. Yet the fundamental hope of Christians is the hope that the Holy Spirit brings in the power of God’s word to transform their minds and hearts in accord with God’s purposes. (81)

Church Usurped by Seminary Enterprise

Until the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, the church was the prime recipient of theological endeavors and was the prime context in which theological visions were constructed. . . .The growing professionalization of theological education has placed most seminaries in the hands not of churches but of private enterprise. And finally the breakdown of ecclesiology as a significant category of the theological framework has contributed to shifting the prime context of theology from church to popular culture. (318)

Theology Disconnected from Worship and Mission

Evangelicals have broken the fundamental connections between theology and worship and mission. As the primary context of theological construction has moved outside the church, it has lost sight of the God who called out a people for his own, that they might worship him and proclaim his name in all the world. It is God who grants to his people a theological vision, and the church is the fundamental context he has chosen to carry forth that vision. The church was not a nebulous entity in the New Testament, nor were the people of God left without a vision in those days. The church had particular shape, structure, and spiritual location. Its privileges and responsibilities were spelled out in great detail. As the apostles addressed particular churches or groups of churches, they delivered a common theological framework that was meant to infuse the people with a new way-of-looking-at-the-world-a theological vision. (318)

Church’s Work to Build Framework of and Boundaries to the Praise of God

Undoubtedly the focus of the church ought to be the God who has brought her forth and through whom and unto whom are all things. But the church must wrestle with how this praise of God is to go forth. She must constantly be on guard against allowing her proclamation to become self-praise instead the praise of God. If the church is the context for the praise of God, it is also the proper context for the protection of that praise. Theology likewise reflects two purposes when it functions with a church identity: it sets forth a framework for the praise of God, and it declares the boundaries of that praise. (319)

Peril of Theological and/or Ecclesiological Abandonment

The church abandons theology only at great peril to herself, but likewise theology abandons the church only at great peril to itself. Theology lost the most important forum for the praise of God and thereby lost the means to apply the Bible’s theological framework in the contemporary world. When it lost its church identity, theology also lost its accountability structures. And as theology becomes less accountable to the church, it lost sight of the boundaries of the praise of God. (319-20)

Theology Belongs to the Church

Theology belongs to the church, and it is only to the extent that theology is grounded in the identity of the church that it will effectively own the tasks to which it has been called. (320)

Result of Theological Abandonment

As things now stand, evangelicals have lost not only a church identity for their theology but also theological identity for their church. The church inevitably lost a taste for theology as theology lost a taste for the church. Evangelical churches are now enamored with the management of the people of God not by a theological vision but by a vision of success maximization. (320)

Theological Wastelands

Evangelical theology . . . finds itself alienated from . . . the church whose habits of mind and interests now lie substantially elsewhere. . . . This is most unexpected, most grievous and most damaging. A Church which is neither interested in theology nor has the capacity to think theologically is a Church that will be rapidly submerged beneath the waves of modernity. It is a Church for whom Christian faith will rapidly lose its point and this is already well under way within evangelicalism. And a Church whose interests are thus adrift is the one that no longer is an audience for whom theologians can think. They are on the point of becoming artists whose work no one bothers to view. (320-21)

(David F. Wells, “The Theologian’s Craft,” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer, eds. Thomas E. McComiskey and John D. Woodbridge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991, 193-94)

Personal Reflections:

In both the evangelical world and Southern Baptist life, theology in the local church desperately needs to be reconciled. Previous years of liberal theology has lead many a lay person to hold theologians in suspicion; on the other hand, many theologians feel more at home in academia than in the local church because of the pervasive anti-intellectualism and unrestrained pragmatism which values technique over truth. Richard Lints nails it when he says that theology belongs in the local church. To have a vibrant fellowship rich in theology and united in gospel mission is not impossible. Perhaps we have a little too much of the Mama Boucher complex which says that everything, including theology “is of the devil.”

God has not promised to build an parachurch organization, college or seminary. He has promised to build His Church. It is in this context that theology must once again find its home. When the only audience theologians have today is academia and fellow colleagues, something has gone terribly wrong. Furthermore, when the task of theology is divorced from the practical outworking of the truth of God among the people of God, then we have failed as servants and stewards (1 Cor. 4:1) of the mysteries of God. It is my hope and prayer that my generation can once again have a passion for God’s truth-a passion that is manifested neither in a well-decorated wall or initials but in transformative knowledge of the Most High God.