Review: A Genuinely Theological Church
Author: Geoff Thompson
Geoff Thompson has long played an important role in directing the Uniting Church’s approach to theology. From his recent Assembly motion calling for the Uniting Church to renew its witness to his work on the Basis of Union’s provocative message, Dr Thompson’s role could be described as giving the church a few gentle nudges towards its own stated direction.
In his latest book, A Genuinely Theological Church, Dr Thompson once again offers the Uniting Church much to read, discuss, and draw on as it debates and discerns its future direction.
The first thing that a reader will notice about this new book is its compact size. Dr Thompson refers to it early on as a ‘booklet’. And yet, there is so much genuinely worthwhile and stimulating content in A Genuinely Theological Church’s pages that its size is misleading.
A Genuinely Theological Church provides both a clarification of what theology is meant to be and a challenge to the Uniting Church in 2018.
One of the book’s early contentions is that the church all too often dismisses theology or defines its purpose too narrowly.
All too often dismissed as a solely ‘academic’ pursuit, or as an intellectual task divorced from the church’s ‘practical’ mission, theology is often considered to be something that only a few professionals in the church undertake.
While the Uniting Church considers it important for ministry agents to receive theological training, whether it is appropriate or necessary for all to receive formal academic training in theology is a widely contested point.
One of the many gems that A Genuinely Theological Church offers up, then, is clarification of what theology is and what its purpose is for the church, in a context where this is misunderstood.
Dr Thompson writes:
Theology is the church’s ongoing historically-shaped, critical, imaginative, and constructive reflection on the biblical witness to early Christianity’s puzzling proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth as Israel’s suffering Messiah and the world’s reconciling Lord.
Spinning off and around this pivot, theology shapes the Christian vision of God, creation, salvation, sin, evil, community, ethics and hope. This vision unfolds in sometimes expanding and sometimes contracting concentric circles, and sometimes along unexpected tangents.
As the author himself points out, it’s not a snappy definition, “intended for Twitter or church billboards” (although he might underestimate Twitter’s ability to handle complex concepts). By defining theology in this way, however, Dr Thompson hopes to nudge the church towards theology’s major purpose: inspiring the church’s imagination around the Gospel’s “peculiar message”. By centring theology on the Gospel itself, he opens up so many possibilities for how the Uniting Church should draw on and make use of its theological resources.
A Genuinely Theological Church offers up many more ideas that deserve to be carefully considered and debated. Thankfully, the book already appears to be generating discussion online, with Macquarie University Chaplain Liam Miller interviewing Dr Thompson about the book here.
To recommend A Genuinely Theological Church only to those who are already interested in reading about theology would be to do it a disservice. As such, it is widely recommended to everyone interested in the Uniting Church’s future direction.
A Genuinely Theological Church is available now. You can purchase the book here.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor