Who Needs Theology?


Who Needs Theology by Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson

This is an interesting book, which outlines exactly what theology is, and how it might be applied. Although the beginning is somewhat repetitive, the authors do thoroughly explain things, and if the concepts are new this would be helpful. The writing throughout was clear and easy to understand, and it was regularly smattered with examples from the Snoopy comic.

One slightly irritating aspect was the printing of the book. The typesetter had not kept the words complete, and on some pages there were many words split with a hyphen. When reading unfamiliar words, this was unhelpful. (I suspect it was done to reduce the number of pages and therefore the cost, but was, in my opinion, a mistake.) But if you can ignore the physical aspects (and I am being picky so you may not even notice) the content was excellent.

Irritating hyphenated words.

I especially enjoyed the description of different types of belief, such as the explanation of dogma, doctrine and opinion. The Bible contains many truths and rules. Some of these are dogma, i.e., if you don’t believe them, you aren’t a Christian. They include things like that there is only one God (so if you believe there are many gods, you cannot call yourself a Christian).

Then there is doctrine. A doctrine is a belief that is considered important by certain churches, and they would not allow you to be a leader in their church unless you believe them—though you would still be a Christian. For example, some people believe you should be baptised by being fully immersed, when a believer. They would not allow someone who believed in infant baptism to lead their church, though they would recognise them as being Christian.

Lastly, there are some parts of the Bible that are interpreted according to opinion. Two people might both be Christians (same dogma) both belong to the same church (same doctrine) but one might think women should wear a hat to pray, and the other think that’s irrelevant in modern times (different opinions).

Churches/Christians decide what is dogma, and what is doctrine, and what is opinion. Sometimes they disagree. Of course they do! However, it is helpful to keep these categories in mind when discussing issues. I have heard people protest that if you start saying one part of the Bible should be interpreted in the light of contemporary culture, where do you stop? The answer is now clear—you stop when you reach the truths that make up our dogma.


The book also includes a brief outline of church history:

The first Christian emperor, Constantine, called together the leaders of the church from all the Christian cities in the Roman Empire to write a creed stating what it meant to be a Christian. They met in Nicea (because Constantinople was still being built, and no one likes visitors when the builders are in). They wrote the Nicene Creed, which basically said that to be a Christian, a person must accept that Jesus was equal to/of the same substance as God. This was dogma (non-negotiable).

Until 1054, the church was unified.

In AD 1054: the church split into:

1) Eastern Orthodox (who believed that everything that was decided in Nicea in AD 325 and AD 787 constitutes a definitive body of Christian doctrine—so nothing should be changed.)

2)Roman Catholic Church—this includes the ‘Holy Office’ which decides what should be dogma/doctrine/opinion. They decided, for example, that dogma should include the immaculate conception of Mary, and her bodily assumption into heaven. This church has been further split as follows.

In 1517, Martin Luther, a German monk nailed 95 points for debate to the cathedral door. This evolved to become a new wing of the church, which protested the Roman Catholic emphasis of the authority of popes and councils—it was therefore called the Protestant Church. This then split again:
Luther founded Lutherism.
Zwingli and Calvin founded the Presbyterian church.
Cranmer helped establish the Anglican church (when Henry VIII wanted a divorce).
Simons led the Anabaptists/Mennonites.   

These wings of the church (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant) were all Christian. They all believed the same basic dogma.

In the early nineteenth century, modernism arrived. The Protestant church began to view Biblical truths in the light of modern culture—in some cases, refusing to believe things written in the Bible unless they complimented modern thought. The Roman Catholic church rejected modernism, thereby also rejecting scientific discoveries, the rights of humans, and so on. The Protestant church divided into two groups—those called ‘liberal’ who at their most extreme would only believe Biblical texts if they could be ‘proven’ by modern thought (so they rejected miracles as superstition, for example) and ‘fundamentalists.’ Fundamentalists at their most extreme tried to make all belief dogma, producing a tight list of everything found in the Bible and declaring that none was a matter of doctrine or opinion, and to be a Christian everyone must believe exactly the same things.

The book then explores the role of theologians, and how theology might be studied and applied. I found the book very accessible and immensely interesting. It is definitely worth reading if you have any interest in theology, or how the church evolved, and is continuing to evolve today.

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