local theology: local theologian(s)

October 22, 2009 | 2 Comments

I’m long over due on writing more thoughts in my ongoing series on Local Theology. I have notes with thoughts for several more posts scratched out and I will keep working them out as I find the energy to put toward them.

On my Austin Mustard Seed business card, I have a title that almost always draws a comment when someone takes the time to look at my card when I hand it to them:

John Chandler, pastor / local theologian

The usual responses are “Local theologian…I like that.” Or “Local theologian…what does that mean?” Or confusion.

I like all of these responses, because they all lead to a conversation where I can talk a little more about why I’ve chosen that title. When I crafted my job description (thanks to the prodding of the IRS), I divvied my responsibilities into three roles, with Local Theogian heading the list as the primary responsibility. It reads this way:

Local Theologian – The pastor serves as a local theologian by connecting an understanding God’s ongoing work in creation with the unique contemporary context of Austin. Functions of this responsibility include:

  • Deep listening to the Scriptural narrative, the Christian tradition, and the cultural influences of Austin as a means of engaging the three with one another.
  • Form the church community around the core values of Story, Wholeness, and Presence through teaching and interaction.
  • Invite the church community into local and global mission and justice as an expression of a theology shaped not only around ideas, but action.

Looking back at the language of this even a year after writing it, I still like it very much. But I am challenged by one thing. My friend, and fellow pastor in Austin, Jonathan Dodson once said that he wanted to develop Austin City Life to be a church full of theologians. (Sorry Jonathan, I don’t recall when I heard this from you…maybe you can help me.)

Local Theology is not something that just I should do within our church community. Some of the expressions might vary, but I would love to see the description of a local theologian above be true for each member of our community.

On future printing of my business card, I’m considering changing the title to Lead Theologian to express that this is something I am drawing the entire community into. My only hangup with this title is that it removes the word Local, which is critical to the whole point.

Good thing I have plenty of business cards left to allow me ample time to decide.

  • John,

    I love the concept of being a local theologian. We’re all called to it, to thinking, believing, and practicing God’s thoughts in the context of local values, worldviews, and behaviors. Keep it up!

    The comment you are referred to was my aim to plant and pastor a “self-theologizing church.” This is something we do through the back door (calling them theologians carries too much baggage and, in my mind, is incomplete. I’d rather call them to be the church, in the gospel, on mission, which requires theological reflection on life and culture). Only partners are aware of this explicit purpose, though everyone is being discipled to think God’s thoughts locally. The self-theologizing purpose of the church is supported by a slew of Scriptures on the life of the mind, but the phrase came from Paul Hiebert’s expansion on the 3 self church: self-governing, self-supporting, self-propagating (reproducing), and his contribution, self-theologizing. We are making gradual steps in this and look forward to learning from you in this.

  • Thanks Jonathan,
    Yes…all that context is coming back to me now.