America has never been a Christian Nation. But the Christian ethos, myth, and spirit has invaded her shores. She was present when the first settlers, who had little religion but a faith in a new nation, a new identity, landed on her shores. She was present when a faith group with Anabaptist tendencies and a Reformation Theology also landed in the Northeast, armed with a Bible in one hand and life, liberty, and the pursuit of property in the other.
In the early beginning of this great experiment of Democracy, the phrase which has become a mis-interpreted philosophy of “Separation and Church and State” has been introduced and applied in many ways often to the detriment of the Church and Society as a whole. For people of faith, our faith can’t be separated from any area of our lives. While some decisions we make may seem to be separate from our faith, the reality is if we really believe every decision, good or bad, is impacted by our stable or unstable belief and faith practices and praxis.
Outside of politics and inclusive of healthcare, issues like abortion, stem cell research, immigration, race, class, and gender rights, it is imperative that our religious leaders: preachers, pastors, evangelists, etc., be clear and able to articulate the beliefs of the Christian faith and, in particular, their own Christian and Religious beliefs. Theology is the study of God. For every Christian, whether we know it or not, we are literally studying God daily or engaging God (or at least we should) and don’t know it. Every day I wake up, I realize that there are new mercies, more grace to experience, and more love to fill me. Every day in church language is a day of thanksgiving, but every day is a new experience and encounter with the divine.
As a pastor for the past 17 years, I find it becoming more intense to pastor and even harder to articulate the rudiments of our faith in the fast paced and intense culture in which we live. While I am very pleased with my theological training, I think intentional continuing education is the best tool to keep clergy fresh.
I finished seminary 17 years ago. Every few years, one of the theological disciplines grips me and energizes me. Most times the gripping is out of pastoral need. When I first started pastoring, I realized I needed more training in pastoral care and counseling. I found myself completing five plus units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). The training helped me immensely and was very beneficial for me as a I dealt with personal loss and tragedy in my family and helped in my vocation as a pastor. CPE was wonderful because it also helped me prepare for marriage. As the capacity to care for my church and to train the staff to care for the flock deepened, I then began to move back to my first love as it relates to the ministry, preaching. However, I found myself making the transition from Textual and Topical Preaching to an Expository Preaching.
I am a Methodist pastor with heavy Wesleyan influence but while pastoring in Indianapolis, I began to read a lot of Reformed Theology. While I still differ on the Doctrine of Election, Reformed Theology intensified my love for Bible. The Reformed tradition claims Sola Scriptura. But the Wesleyan Tradition is heavily Bible saturated as well. The Wesleyan Tradition does a better job at encouraging Holiness. In fact, if I had to state a difference between Calvinists and Wesleyans, it would be in the area of praxis. The practice of the faith. Wesleyans have it down. The Wesleyan Tradition is really about how to live out Christian convictions rather than having theological debates about the Christian Doctrines.
In my humble opinion, we need more emphasis on how to live out the Christian faith which requires that we know what the Christian entails and details. That is where Theology comes in. But if you can only articulate the theology and not live it, then what is the point.