When the church’s history of contemporary America is written, the question will be: Why has theology ceased to be a topic among the church community? To be certain, there is still theology being done. Books are asking the big questions of who Christ is (Christology), what is salvation (soteriology), who is man (anthropology), what is the church (ecclesiology), who is the Holy Spirit (pneumatology), but for the most part, when looking at the most popular Christian website, the most popular books, or the Christian media, these topics that dominated the Church from the early days are in large part absent. Many of the popular Christian media centers on topics of self help or politics. The other common topic is the decline of the church as an influence or in numbers, and yet the connection to the lack of serious theology goes unnoticed.
During the heady days of the 70s after the sexual revolution, many leaders started noticing a decline in numbers. They look to the world of marketing and focus groups and found that people didn’t like the churchy language. They also found people didn’t like the cross as it was a downer. Armed with this marketing information, they sought to reinvent the church to meet the needs of contemporary 70s America. So was born the Church Growth Movement. Jesus on the cross of modern marketing.
Out went the cross, in went pop music repeating empty phrases. Out went exegesis, in went Bible studies on parenting, building a strong marriage and managing finances. Out went discussions of theology, in went topics of politics. Out went the liturgy, in went drama. Out went pews and churches, in went comfortable chairs in auditoriums and campuses serving lattes. Out went the Gospel, in went the Prosperity Gospel. The results were spectacular in terms of growth. The idea of giving people what they want proved successful. Giving what they need remains open, though. The new churches grew to thousands and thousands of members, small groups were created around hiking, biking, writing, novel reading clubs and the church became less a social club but a one stop shop culture, minus Jesus. Prayer went from communing with God to answering our material wants and needs. Church no longer shaped culture but culture shaped church. Scripture became sound bites of verses to throw out in debate and less a story to meditate and measure life. Theology, through neglect, has become simply a buzz word with no real content.
Will theology make a comeback? We still need to encounter God in the church, so I am hopeful. For I know in mans desperation and loneliness we need God to be with us. We need God to love us and challenge us in our sin. I know as a man search in the dark streets of unforgiving world, we need the forgiving God to teach us what love is. We need again to sit at the foot of the master and at the foot of the cross, no matter how much we don’t like it.
Art, says Ernesto Tinajero, comes from the border of what has come before and what is coming next. Tinajero uses his experience studying poetry and theology to write about the intersecting borders of art, poetry and religion.