• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Underestimating Theological Interest

I’m finishing up a week speaking at Mount Hermon Conference Center, in the hills above Santa Cruz, California. And I’ve been impressed that a family camp such as this would keep asking Ph.D.’s in theological studies such as I to join their roster of more typical speakers: counselors, devotional leaders, preachers, and the like.

I’ve been here before and once again I am delighted to report that many Christians, even on vacation, are eager to hear serious theology and to wrestle with important questions of exegesis, history, philosophy, and doctrine. I’ve spoken on Christology all week, and I have deliberately taken on some thornier questions, such as whether Jesus actually claimed to be divine (answer: yes, but mostly ambiguously, such that no one understood him on this point until after his resurrection); what it means to say Jesus was “tempted as we are”; whether God the Father turned his back on his Son on the cross (answer: no, I don’t think so); and whether Jesus is enjoying a nice rest between his first coming and his second (answer: no, he’s staying pretty busy).

Of course theology can be dull. I’ve read more than my share of dull theology, and probably taught more than my share of it, too! But so can any other discourse be dull, done badly—even stand-up comedy.

And of course some people, even long-time Christians, and sometimes especially long-time Christians, don’t care about theology. They want confirmation of their existing beliefs plus a little inspiration and maybe a tip or two to help them with their bratty kids, demanding marriage, or whatever. But not everyone wants that.

In fact, given dropping church attendance numbers in most regions of the U.S. and Canada today (as well as in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere), most people nowadays who actually bother to come to church or a Christian conference can be presumed instead to actually care about theology, to really want to know about the faith.

So let’s aim higher: preachers, Christian education directors, conference planners, and speakers. Let’s take people seriously and encourage them to take themselves—and God—seriously.

I’m glad Mount Hermon does.