Whither amateur theo-blogging?

Readers may have noticed something of a drop-off in theology blogging in these parts recently. Partly, this is just because my interest in things waxes and wanes, and I’ve found that my attention has alighted on other subjects lately.

I’ve also been considering the question of what niche the “amateur” theology blog is trying to fill. In the past several years, blogs by pastors, theologians, theology grad students, and other “religious professionals” have proliferated. It’s increasingly difficult for the layperson to engage on a substantive level in the increasingly sophisitcated blogospheric debates about, say, the finer points of Karl Barth’s views on election.

Since starting this blog I’ve always had in the back of my mind the idea from C.S. Lewis that there’s some value in the equivalent of “schoolboys comparing notes” on theology, as distinguished from the authoritative dissemination of specialized scholarly knowledge. Theology, almost by definition, is something that all lay Christians should take some interest in because, at its broadest, it’s simply the attempt to understand one’s faith and relate it both to our knowledge about the world and how we live our lives. No thoughtful person of faith can avoid doing that to some extent.

The lay person who lacks the time, inclination, training, or ability to delve into the thickets of scholarly argumentation will always be at something of a disadvantage compared to the professionals. Perhaps, though, the amateur theo-blogger has the advantage that he or she is attempting to apply theology to life outside the academic cloister–to kick the tires and see if theological concepts can do some work in the “real” world. Hopefully there’s some value in that.

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2 thoughts on “Whither amateur theo-blogging?

  1. I came across your blog a few days doing a search on Niebuhr and radical monotheism and have really enjoyed what I’ve seen so far. I have to admit that I often find myself frustrated at the esoteric nature of so much academic theology and would love to see more amateur bloggers. Wouldn’t a thriving amatuer theo-blogosphere be nice?

    Travis

  2. Personally, I think there’s at least as much, if not more, value in amateur theo-blogging (nice term, BTW) as in professional or student theo-blogging.

    Have you ever read Helmut Thielicke’s “A Little Exercise for Young Theologians”? It’s a wonderful book. Thielicke’s main point in the book is that when the people in the pews are scandalized by the theological ideas that the young theologian has brought back from the seminary, the young theologian should take their concerns seriously, even if not at face value. I think we’ve got some old theologians who could benefit from this advice too, but it’s particularly acute with the young theologians because his faith hasn’t necessarily “grown into” his newfound academic knowledge.

    It seems to me that a lot of our clergy emerge from seminary feeling unable to relate to their parishioners at a theological level, and too often, I think, they end up just abandoning the theological approach altogether.

    An example: I attended a church where the head pastor was the son of a prominent seminary professor. He had been there for a while when I joined the church. Shortly after I joined he made the “Purpose Driven Life” materials a central part of the church’s orientation, and he once did a sermon series on “The Five Love Languages” — these are just two examples that illustrate his general approach to public ministry. Some time later, he put out a box of books he was clearing out of his office. I picked up an old worn copy of Gustav Aulen’s “Christus Victor”. I was startled to find it extensively underlined and annotated. What happened to the young man who made those notes and how did he become the middle-aged man who embraced pop Christianity?

    I think amateur theo-bloggers have the potential of bridging the gap between the academic ivory tower and the people in the pews. We can call bs when the academics insist that it is critical to understand the finer points of Barth’s views on election. We can also (hopefully) provide mildly curious lay people with a rough sketch of the broader aspects of Barth’s views on election and suggest why anyone would care (the latter being a question of the sort that academics tend to be hopelessly unable to comprehend, to say nothing of answer). We can offer perspective to the young student who is learning answers to questions she may not have asked until much later in life.

    In short, I think amateur theo-bloggers, like the monks of old, have the responsibility to engage in the quixotic task of guiding the church between the twin dangers of clericalism and anti-intellectualism. Maybe I should get back to it myself. 😉

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