With the need for the systematic provision of a doctrinal and theological base within the Body established, how should the congregation proceed?
You will notice that this post title says Theology Lite, and not just Theology. God’s people, in general, though having an crucial needed for basic doctrinal knowledge, do not require intensive theological education. Put another way, every believer in the assembly does not need an MDIV (the stereotypical pastoral degree) in order to rest on a solid base. Not to say that such a level of enquiry is not desirable, but it is more than is needed on the general level. This will seem a given to most, but there are those who might choose to construe the proposed made for general education to be a call for a universal seminary movement, which it is not.
The next suggestion (actually another tangent which avoids the real need) might be “Why not just read the Bible daily, even end to end systematically?” Although clearly a good thing, supported by Scriptural example and having benefit in one’s relationship with the Lord, this nonetheless does not address the issue. Bible study author and teacher Irving L Jensen, a century ago, pointed out that simply reading and enjoying the Bible is not the same as systematic study. We would agree. Both are needed. Immersion in the reading of the Scripture draws us close to our Lord and is of great joy and value. However, though it is supportive of, it is not the same as nor necessarily most effective in, building conceptual understanding and concrete ideas.
Despite the methodology used, systematic study of the Scriptures is a long term project which is the responsibility of each believer. Our Book of Life is just that, and we turn to it in each daily situation. However, to grasp the overall theological and doctrinal concepts, upon which much of our understanding rests, by individual study can take many years, literally. On a shorter timeline, a systematic study of the distilled concepts and beliefs gives a structure and overview to both new and old believers. This is what can be supplied through the suggested systematic education in basic theology (that it, theology lite) and doctrine. If further development is desired, then the framework is already in place.
I am a strong advocate of a systematics approach to theology (after all, I am an analyst by profession). In the case of theology, the atomistic approach provided in Scripture, in presenting related concepts, requires the building of a conceptual system from related texts which can span many non-contiguous passages or books. Systematics provides such a framework. In the case of doctrine, usually related to a particular demonination, the appropriate Confessions of Faith and Catechisms provide a distilled view of foundational matters. In this area I feel that the catechism is most useful since it presents the more complex issue of the confessions in a more easily digested form, including Scriptural references in most cases. Not only that, but in that form denominationally specific points are often more easily identified and thereby opened to explanation.
One other related point that bears mentioning, though it does not reflect upon the specific need and provision of education as such, is the probably effect of this process on the local Assembly. With the provision of marriage by our Lord, two can join in Him. It is the in Him which provides the binding focus. In a larger sense, the focus of the Assembly upon common ideas in the study proposed has a very high likelyhood of drawing all together much more tightly in Him, even in peripheral congregational matters. As the intensity of focus increases on the faith and its ideas, all areas of worship and service are very likely to be intensified.
Having now qualified an overall requirement for a concrete form of doctrinal and theological education, how do we now quantify what is to be studied, the base assumptions, and the priorities?