Bridging the Divide Between Academic Theology and Local Church Practice

In this video, Michael Horton and Fred Sanders share ways they’ve attempted to bridge the gap between the church and the academy.


The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.

Fred Sanders: I think when you work in academic theology and you’re also involved in the local church and you’re staying to sort of switch hats or change from one thing to another, it’s often easy to start feeling guilty about, well, that’s an academic distinction, and I’m not going to preach that or I’m not going to bring that into this small group discussion or into popular writings. At least I feel myself pulling my punches and pulling back like that because I don’t want to academicize things. God didn’t call his people to all be professors or even students in that sense, in an academic sense. Sometimes, I accidentally forget that theology is just fun, and people know theology is fun. Normal, non-academic people in the pews, they love doctrine. They want to get in there and work with it. And so it’s trying to find the right zone of saying, yes, think hard about God and Christ, and the Spirit, and salvation, and you’re doing theology. You don’t have to enroll in a course to do it. You don’t even necessarily have to read really difficult books. This can be done in biblical language.

Michael Horton: I love your point. It’s so true that we, often, are the problem as teachers. We’re so afraid that people are going to say, “This is too heady,” and, yet, very often it’s the people in the pew who can get it better sometimes than other teachers. And they’ll point out things to me that I had never seen before and afterwards say, well, that’s perfectly obvious. I also think that it’s important to be actually involved and engaged in pastoral ministry while we’re teaching theology because theology really is about calling on the name of the Lord and should be done, if not formally in a form of prayer, informally, you know, meditation on God’s word and prayer for illumination. That’s really what we do in church and taking our place with the communion of saints, rather than imagining that we’re above them is a key there.

Fred Sanders: I studied with a Lutheran theologian. The language of church-based theologians was kind of in the air back then, and he would always make the point church-based is not enough. We need church basement theologians. We need people who know where the extra chairs are in case the potluck gets too big. We need people really involved in the day-to-day life of the church.