I’ve questioned before who the task of theology is for, who’s obligated to theological reflection? And how do we do it? According to Stanly J. Grenz, a professor of theology and ethics at Regent College, “Every Christian is a theologian. Whether consciously or unconsciously, each person of faith embraces a belief system. And each believer, whether in a deliberate manner or merely implicitly, reflects on the content of these beliefs and their significance for Christian life.”
Everyone does theology in one form or another; everyone believes in something… everyone is a believer. So since everyone is a believer no one can neglect theology; everyone should question things and examine their faith and everyone should do it together. “examine and see how good the LORD is…” When we neglect this discipline we can easily become ignorant.
But how? How do we properly examine our faith? What we have to realize is that we are entrenched in history and tradition. People have been asking questions for all of history and we are still asking the same questions; about the bible, about God, about our reason for being alive. And throughout history theology has been affected by culture and history. The way and direction of people’s thoughts is greatly affected by the things that are happening around them and we are shaped in the same way, by our culture. Any attempt to propositionalize and emancipate theology from culture does not understand or give attention to this contextual nature of theology. If we neglect the discipline of theological reasoning we will not stop being influenced and shaped by our culture, instead, we will become ignorant of who is shaping us.
There are a lot of people who would just like to only read the bible and assume that they are getting a pure instruction. The problem with that is you are never “just reading” the bible. Your interpretation of scripture, no matter how obvious it may seem to you is being influenced. Hermeneutics, a responsible approach to the text, realizes that we approach any given text with presuppositions and biases. Hermeneutics seeks to identify the lenses through which we are reading a text and then remove them as best we can. This means then that I cannot assume that I can just read the bible and get the answers. The bible is much more difficult than that. We are reading scripture through an American, western culture, 21st century lens. How do we remove that lens? Well, first we have to know something about the lens through which the text was actually written. The writers of the bible were shaped by a completely different culture than we are today. Why do you think the bible is constantly being retranslated into “contemporary language?” It’s because language changes.
The bible you read today, unless it’s written in Hebrew and Greek, is an interpretation of the bible in itself. The interpreter had to decide what the writer was actually saying, they had to make sense of language that is very unfamiliar. And we’re not just talking about moving it from Hebrew to English, we’re talking about going from literality to understandability. Take for example currency. In the King James Version of the bible Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” Now, immediately one question arises; what on earth is a farthing? There is really no help for the reader here. Through Jesus cultural lens it seems obvious to Him what a Farthing is, He doesn’t stop and explain it. But the truth is this word "farthing" wouldn't have made any more sense to Jesus than it does to us. It would have made sense in 15th century england, maybe (since this is the King James Version), but it doesn't make sense to us. Why is it more difficult for us? Because we don’t have the same lens. We don’t live in 15th century England and we don't live in 1st Century Galilee. In the New Living Translation the interpreter helps us out. It says “Not even a sparrow, worth only half a penny, can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.” We’re told here that a farthing is about a penny. The research we would have to do to understand the term farthing is already done for us which bring up a very important point. We can’t interpret the bible alone. We will always have to refer to someone else’s research. We are incapable of testing everything for two reasons.
First, we will never live that long. To do the type of historical, social, and archaeological research that is required in biblical studies would take far more than a lifetime. Second, we just don’t think of everything. Theology is best done in community because we won’t always ask all the right questions. Your neighbor might think of something you don’t and that thought could change your life forever. Because of these two components we read books and research historical theology and Church history. When we read books and consider our neighbors thoughts we enter into community with them. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote; “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” King understood community, he understood that we are not isolated beings who are meant to fend for ourselves and think to ourselves. Our thoughts ma be just the thoughts that will help someone understand the greater meaning of life. And someone else’s thoughts may be the thoughts that will help you to understand something you may not have even been wondering about.
When we pick up a book we are entering into communal theology and we are taking charge of the things that influence our interpretations of scripture and the whole of our theological thought. When we discuss with a friend the deeper meaning of existence, we enter into the ancient tradition that brought us the bible. The tradition of asking questions and examining what we believe in the context of community.
 Stanly Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994) 1.
 Psalm 34:8
 Grenz, 6.
 Matthew 10:29, KJV
 Matthew 10:29 NLT
 Martin Luther King Jr., The Measure Of a Man (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2001) 43.