Is there a place for theological scholarship in the everyday life of a church community? Over at the Religion Dispatches blog, Jonathan Walton points to a widening gap between academic theologians and local churches. Ties between seminaries and denominations have become so weak that seminaries and the theologians who teach and publish at them are at risk of slipping off the radar of American Christianity altogether.
Who's to blame for this? Walton sees problems on both sides of the spectrum. On the one hand, many modern seminaries have slowly come to conform to secular universities' focus on career scholarship; they offer little incentive for theology scholars to leave the halls of academia and head out into the world of everyday Christianity. On the other hand, too many churches embrace shallow "soundbite theology" and worship styles that leave little room for the more thoughtful theology of the seminaries; to many would-be church leaders, seminary courses look irrelevant to the type of ministry they feel called to do. Walton closes with a few good thoughts about how we might go about fixing this problem.
It's a tough balancing act, both for churches and for scholars. I grew up in a church with very close ties to a local seminary, and can testify that it can be a great blessing to the local church—the participation of seminarians and theologians (beyond just the pastor) adds a real element of theological thoroughness and accountability to worship. But that level of interaction with a theologically-sound seminary is just not feasible for most churches.
Has your church managed to bridge this gap? Is your church in a position to encourage theology scholars to step outside the world of academia into the everyday church? And how would your church benefit from the theological insight they'd bring with them?