Ministry Today magazine cover

Goodbye, Theologians





Let’s stop submitting our theology and practice to the scrutiny of an office that isn’t even biblical.
Let's do away with the term "theologian." Why? The idea that certain members of the body of Christ are theologians while the rest are non-theologians is traditional thinking embedded in the old wineskins of the church.

Those called to lead the church and to equip the saints for the work of ministry are called apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (see Eph. 4:11). Theologians are not on the list. In fact, the word "theologian" isn't even in the concordance.

Yet, the church has a long tradition of recognizing, and even honoring, theologians as a rather elite category of leaders. This is related to the unfortunate habit of separating clergy from laity or the idea that those who are employed by the church are "in ministry," while believers in the workplace do something on a lower spiritual level. While many scold us for this antiquated terminology, few are raising the related question as to whether the category of "theologian" fits the new wineskin. I, for one, don't think it does.

I recently found myself in the loop of an e-mail discussion of important issues related to the nuances of prophetic ministry in which two respected prophets accused each other of teaching something that had not been cleared by "the theologians."

As I read this, I had to ask myself who these "theologians" really were. What gives me the right to comment on this? For starters, I have four graduate degrees in religion, three of them from institutions called "theological seminaries." Those on the faculties of such institutions include professional theologians. I have enrolled in and passed courses taught by many of them. I know theologians well.

I taught in one of these theological seminaries for more than 30 years. My seminary was different from some others, however, in that it has three schools: a School of Theology, School of Psychology and School of World Mission (now Intercultural Studies).

I, along with 13 others, was a member of the missions faculty. Although we each had specialties, our broad field was missiology. The School of Theology faculty never tired of reminding us missionaries that, whatever we were, we were not theologians. In fact, each candidate for a new faculty position in missions was required to pass a theological examination administered by the School of Theology.

The theologians saw themselves as the elite guardians of the truth. Their assignment was to make sure that the doctrines espoused by the seminary remained pure and uncontaminated. In their minds, we missionaries did not have the skills that the theologians had developed, and, consequently, we were regarded as mere practitioners, not serious thinkers.

The habit of placing theologians on a spiritual pedestal developed before the Protestant Reformation, and the Reformation changed it but little. The Catholic Church has a recognized office of theologian. The Protestant church does not have an office of theologian as such, but the same function was entrusted to professors of theology in the universities and later in theological seminaries. In the Catholic Church and in the old-line Protestant churches, the notion of referring a controversial matter to the theologians was normal procedure. Everyone knew who the theologians were.

Such is not true, however, among the churches moving in the stream of the New Apostolic Reformation. We do not have an ecclesiastical office of theologian, nor do we have recognized functional equivalents. We do not agree that an elite group of individuals who happen to have advanced academic degrees in theology should be recognized as our doctrinal police force. Take the typical vertical apostolic network for example. In an apostolic network the person in charge of maintaining the DNA of the network is the lead apostle, who consults with those he or she chooses and no one else.

When I was teaching in seminary, I was coerced by the institution to refer certain matters to the theologians, which I of course did, but much to my personal grief. I began teaching signs and wonders, and students began getting healed and delivered right in class. The theologians declared that it was inappropriate to heal the sick and cast out demons in a seminary classroom. They forced me to cancel the class for a time.

Then I began teaching about territorial spirits and strategic-level spiritual warfare. This time I was called before the faculty senate to undergo a heresy trial. Fortunately for me I had been granted academic tenure years ago, and the theologians finally had to back down on the grounds of violating my academic freedom.

A danger of referring things to the theologians resides in the fact that theologians more frequently than not disagree with one another. They make their living by critically picking apart what other theologians write and writing things that they hope other theologians will criticize. I know a whole denomination that had its theologians discuss demons and issue a definitive doctrinal paper that Christian believers could not be demonized.

Some respected theologians have declared that the dead cannot be raised. A theological paper was issued not long ago by theologians who concluded that the offices of apostle and prophet are not for the church today. One theologian became very popular when he advocated contemporary prophetic ministry then lost popularity when he taught that women should not be in leadership in the church. My point is that mature, distinguished, professional theologians can, and often will, quench the Holy Spirit if the Holy Spirit happens to pull them out of their comfort zones.

I am not saying that we should do away with theology. What is theology? Theology is, pure and simple, a human attempt to explain God's Word and God's works in a reasonable and systematic way. On a broader level, every active believer can explain God's works and God's Word, whether a logos word from Scripture or a rhema word from direct revelation. However, on a higher level such as the points that were being debated by the two prophets I mentioned earlier, God will choose and assign certain leaders to clarify the issues theologically.

If we go back to Ephesians 4:11, the two offices that will most likely be God's choice in resolving complex theological issues will be teachers and apostles. The teachers have the ability to research, study, analyze and systematize the issues. The apostles have the ability to weigh the matters, to judge, to refine and to sense the proper timing for speaking out.

God has given some individuals both the gift of teacher and the gift of apostle, and in many cases the body of Christ has recognized the gifts and has awarded them the dual office of apostle-teacher. I am familiar with this gift mix because for years I have functioned both as a teacher and as an apostle.

Knowing this, I am able to understand the reasoning of some people who refer to me as a "theologian," despite the fact that no professional theologian, either Catholic or Protestant, would regard me as a peer.

Back to the debate on nuances of prophetic ministry. I was brought into the loop in the hope that I could provide theological clarity. To be honest, however, when I started reading the e-mails I found the prophets using terminology that I had never heard and discussing issues that had never entered my mind.

I was in no position to make mature, informed judgments. I might have been able to if I decided to spend days in researching the subject. But, I didn't sense an assignment from God to do that. I said: "If you're debating the biblical government of the church, count me in. But if you're trying to figure out what prophets should see or should not see in the invisible world, someone else is going to have to help you."

The upshot is that another apostle who has specialized in the matters being discussed and who is respected by both sides is now handling it. But let's not call him a "theologian." He is an apostle-teacher. Those of us attempting to receive the new wine in new wineskins will be better off if we say goodbye to theologians.


C. Peter Wagner is president of Global Harvest Ministries (globalharvest.org) and chancellor of the Wagner Leadership Institute (www.wagnerleadership.org).

From the Blogosphere

Online readers react to Wagner's controversial proposal.

We too often defer to the theologians. The present apostolic movement is God's idea of going back to the basics. If an issue needs clarification, then the apostles (of a given area) can have a meeting and clarify the issues.
Frank Hadzalic

Wagner's chief gripe is not about theologians but academicians. Who cares whether "theology" is a word from the text of holy writ? What matters is that the task of thinking carefully about God does not belong to the province of Ph.D.s.
Rich Tatum

By "theologians," Wagner means ivory-tower, abstract thinking, cold-hearted, letter-of-the-law, blind-to-the-Spirit academics who see themselves as "the elite guardians of the truth." This is a bit of a straw man—although such types undoubtedly exist. But what of theologians who are lovers and students of God? Many of the great leaders of the church have been both pastors and theologians—combining a pastor's heart with a theologian's mind.
Doug Wilson

Where would the church be today without "theologians" such as Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Finney and so on? If we follow Wagner's proposal we will have to do away with his "theology" of apostolic church structure. Certainly there is no "office" of theologian in Scripture, but neither is there an "office" of apostle in Scripture. The apostle, teacher, etc., are gifts and callings given to individuals by the risen Lord.
Eddie

What a covert attempt by C. Peter Wagner to discredit the influence of the many godly men who stand up for truth and accuracy of the scriptures. This isn't "Goodbye, Theologians." This is really "Goodbye, Enemies" of the New Apostolic Reformation.
Totem to Temple

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