Alas, I didn’t make any progress since my last post on Systemic Theology. I think the core problem is that even I found the topic too dry, intellectual, and negative. Maybe it really isn’t possible to critique systematic theology without reinventing it!
Instead, I figured I should take a step back and re-ask the question: what is the purpose of theological education? More precisely, what are the “failure modes” we are (or at least ought to be) trying to prevent?
[Update 12/28: added a couple more, even if slightly redundant. Here’s the new list]
- Sexual Immorality
- Spiritual Pride
- Broken Relationships
- Lust for Wealth/Power
- Resistance to Correction
This is the failure mode most obviously targeted by systematic theology, but what does it mean? Biblically, there seem to be two major concerns:
- Affirming that Jesus Christ is Lord
- Preventing the preaching of “another gospel“
I am tempted to say that these are the only truly important issues that must be affirmed and defended, but that may be going too far.
2. Sexual Immorality
I include this not because I claim sexual sins are worse than others (though Paul might), but because sexual failure and destroyed marriages seem to be a leading cause of leadership failure. Any theological training that doesn’t equip leaders to avoid this is, IMHO, grossly inadequate.
3. Spiritual Pride
Pride — especially of the religious kind — is arguably the sin that Jesus despised most. Yet do we equip leaders to avoid — or even recognize — when they are guilty of this sin themselves? Worse, do some of our methodologies (like, say, an over-emphasis on knowledge) actually contribute to spiritual pride?
4. Broken Relationships
I was going to label this “a rebellious spirit”, but that may just be a combination of the former point and this one. In extreme form, these lead to church splits or epic schisms, Even apart from such obvious manifestations, though, wounded relationships (usually fueled by unforgiveness) sap the vitality and unity of the body of Christ at all levels.
No doubt there’s more to it than this, but I would hope this establishes at least a bare minimum for what holistic leadership training should cover.
5. Lust for Wealth/Power
I don’t run into this much in my circles, but the desire for money is something Scripture frequently warns against, especially for elders. And the linkage to secular power has led to some of the church’s ugliest episodes. Not that I think wealth or power are inherently evil; but the desire for such is very easily corrupted.
6. Resistance to Correction
This is important enough that it deserves its own category, even if it is typically a fruit of #3 (and the root of #4). Teachability is (literally!) a proverbial requirement for leadership, as part of the Faithful-Available-Teachable triplet. Indeed, if one masters this challenge, it will probably save you from the rest.