You don’t have to read too far into the pages of this blog to see that I believe that Christian theology takes place at those points where the gospel meets culture. This meeting between gospel and culture has taken place, to some extent, as long as there has been, well, gospel and culture. If true, theology probably began in the earliest pages of Scripture when the “cultural mandate” of Genesis 1:28-31 (God’s command that we cultivate his good creation) met the Protoevangelium of Genesis 3:14-15 (God’s first promise to save his now broken creation). Several years ago, I read a work by Leonardo and Clodovis Boff (Introducing Liberation Theology) that helped me understand that theology works best when three groups of people stay connected with one another: scholars, pastors, and lay people. While their take on Liberation Theology needs more critical analysis, their understanding of the relationship between these three groups of people seems helpful. I like to think of this as Theology in 3D.

Theology has 3 dimensions. Scholars keep us connected to good theology from the past. Lay people keep us connected to culture in the present. Pastors live in both worlds, taking the lessons from good theology in the past and applying these lessons to our encounter with culture today.

These connections are important because any theology today that ignores the lessons from theology in the past invariably ends up in error. At the same time, theology today that only parrots the lessons from theology in the past ends up culturally irrelevant. 

Pastors play a vital role. On the one hand, they help their church members navigate a faithful gospel encounter with culture, drawing on the lessons from theology past. On the other hand, they help scholars take up the questions and problems facing culture in theology present. But pastors can’t do this without a firm grasp of Christian theology’s rich past and an ever-growing understanding of culture. Too often, neither the left hand nor the right hand knows what the other is doing. The pastor’s vital role in this encounter between gospel and culture might be the single greatest argument for theological education. 

In the next few articles, I’d like to explore Theology in 3D. 

  • Theology in 3D: Scholars
  • Theology in 3D: Lay People
  • Theology in 3D: Pastors

Kept in balance, these three groups of people help us with a more faithful and relevant gospel encounter with culture.