Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Is Theology Relevant in the Philippines?

My interest in theology started when I was college. It all started when my father unexpectedly became a Pastor of a Baptist Church we were attending that time. The congregation believed that he was fit to be the pastor and the senior pastor and an American missionary supported the idea. I mentioned this because these pastor and missionary started giving their theology books to my father. The books were written by conservative theologians but the works were huge. The books were heavy both physically and intellectually. I read without understanding, and perhaps if it seemed I understood, I probably misinterpreted the meaning. I didn’t pursue theology because; you see, I live in a country where theology is considered irrelevant.

To prove my point, I became a Christian in a denomination where a total looser can become a pastor. Don’t get me wrong. I was not saying that all of them are looser. The truth is admired some of the pastors who have been successful in the ministry even without theological training even when they are self-taught. The process in becoming a pastor in my denomination goes like this: a total looser will become a Christian. He will show a minimal knowledge of the Bible. He will start leading a Bible study then he will be assigned to teach a Sunday School class. Until finally, the senior pastor decides that it is the right time for him to preach at the Sunday worship service. Then he will be appointed as a leader in mission point and eventually he will become the pastor of that congregation. Voila! He is now a pastor who has his own congregation.

I believe this kind of structure contributes to the many problems of division and immorality in the churches in Southern Baptist denomination in the Philippines. Churches and its members should consider at least minimal knowledge of systematic theology if a bible school or a seminary degree is not possible. The question is: how will they know? Who will teach them? It is apparent that the church leaders are not doing this. As long as theological knowledge is considered irrelevant in church setting the problem will remain.

To prove my point further, I have a friend who is a pastor recently resigned in his church to become one of the staff of parachurch discipleship organization for the youth. In their discipleship seminars he would tell the youth that studying theology is not important in Christian growth. He would say that the only book that a true Christian should read is the Bible. The only book one should use in preaching is the Bible. A Christian needs not to study theology but should study the Bible alone. For people like him, the cause of the problems in the church and many Christian circles is too much theology. And mind you, he is not the only one who holds this view; this is in fact the view of the entire organization. They are training hundred of young people in the Philippines every year. Unless something is done, theological education will continue to decline in the grassroots Christianity in the Philippines most especially its leaders.

Furthermore, a megachurch, prosperity-gospel preaching church that boasts thousand of attendance every Sunday would proclaim to the whole denomination that the reason that they are better than the other churches is because (not in spite of) none of their pastors are trained in the seminary. None of their leaders have a seminary degree. The only one who has seminary degree is their senior pastor and he wants to denounce it if he could. For them, theology is not necessary as long as you experience the leading of the Holy Spirit you are okay. God can use you mightily in his ministry. They actually perceive theological education as a limitation on what God can accomplish through a person. Who can refute their stand? If God seems to approve of their ministry who can say that they are wrong?

This is the reality. These are the examples of the situations where theological education seems to become more irrelevant each day in Philippine context. I hope the theological professionals, educators and seminaries can reverse the situation. The church and the seminary should be helping each other. I could only look at other countries that have a rich theological heritage; of course, this does not make them better countries but theologians have somehow had a loud voice if not influence against oppression, injustice, immorality, poverty and perhaps in some extreme cases in politics. This is true in Latin America where the theologians (mostly Catholics) with their liberation theology have put pressure on the government to have some kinf of reform to deal with the problem on oppression and injustice. They have a voice and they are being heard.

Meanwhile, Filipino Christians think that theology is irrelevant. They think that theologians are fighting a losing battle. Theology belongs to other sphere of existence; it is not even good for the church and its pastors. Filipino theologians have no voice and have no influence because they are not making themselves relevant.

6 comments:

Jim said...

Amen, Joey. So true, so sad. But it's the same here in the States where Baptists are one day behind the plow and the next day behind the pulpit - without not an ounce of theological skill. That's why the SBC is led by ignorant dilettantes and not skilled theologians and biblical scholars.

Richard said...

Hi Joey. Just thought I'd let you know that I've posted a couple of comments on this post on my blog (you've got Jim to blame for referring me!)

Joey said...

Hi Dr. Jim,

I was encouraged by your comment and thanks for the link. Now i am sure that people visit my blog and read my posts. :)

Hi Richard,

Thanks for the your response/post over your blog. Thanks also for the link. Now i'm pretty sure there will be more visitors to my blog.

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neki said...

hmmm.... this is an interesting observation... makes me reflect on what is Filipino Theology or if there is one... and who are the influential Filipino theologians...

Anonymous said...

We believe that a knowledge of theology is important.We cannot ignore this. Without knowledge but we stillc need a standard thats why we have false phrophets. We should study theology to bring us closer to God.