Popular Theology Posts
August 24, 2012 by Jason Hood
Exposure to biblical scholarship and its conclusions often shocks laity and pastors. But one sometimes encounters shocking scholarly errors that plague evangelical pews as well.
Few things are more shocking in the academy than the dismissal (or more subtly, the downplaying) of Paul’s belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Craig Blomberg addresses the tendency to treat Christ as more or less Jesus’ last name, a problem that looms as large at the scholarly level as it is in local congregations: “There is no unambiguous evidence to demonstrate that ‘Christ’ in any of its 531 New Testament uses ever ‘degenerated’ into a mere second name for Jesus.”
John Collins observes that, thanks to the ecumenical movement and politically correct approaches to scholarship, “. . . we have the astonishing claim that Paul, the earliest Christian writer, did not regard Jesus as the Messiah . . . Jesus is called Christos, anointed, the Greek equivalent of messiah, 270 times in the Pauline corpus. If this is not ample testimony that Paul regarded Jesus as messiah, then words have no meaning.” Collins acknowledges that there is room for debate on the significance of Jesus’ Messiahship for Paul, but the basic idea should never have been in doubt.
In his summary of recent decades of scholarship on Paul in the English language, N. T. Wright similarly pushes back: “Jesus’ Messiahship has been a sleeping element in Pauline studies so long that many scholars seem not to know what to do with it if it was proved. But proved it can be, and major revolutions must follow.”
In a footnote to that sentence Wright cites the newly published dissertation (via Oxford University Press) of my friend Matt Novenson, who was recently appointed Lecturer in New Testament and Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh. My dissertation is about the same price; Matt’s is far more important and truly worth some attention.
 “The Messiah in the NT,” in Israel’s Messiah in the Bible and the DSS, ed. Richard Hess and M. Daniel Carroll R (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 141, emphasis original.
 The Scepter and the Star, 2, emphasis mine.
 ExpT 123.8 (2012), 374.
December 31, 2010 by Jason Hood
Update: The Economist has an earlier (2006) article with some eye-popping stats on Nollywood: it produces more movies than India and the US and employs nearly a million people.
The year-end double issue of The Economist has an interesting breakdown of the pan-African success of Nollywood films. These films represent the Nigerian alternative to the hope-or-holocaust treatments of Africa churned out by Hollywood. These indigenous films depict the challenges commonly faced by New Africans: the hope and trauma associated with rural people moving into massive urban area; personal (not political) betrayal and disappointment; the challenges of “ordinary people trying to make sense of a fast-changing, unkind world.”
(In passing, I think anyone considering moving to Africa as a missionary should watch 10-15 of these films as part of their training.)
Theological themes are rampant in Nigerian films. Witchcraft or occult-related wickedness provide drama and violence: “Traditional curses are imposed, spirits wander, juju blood flows.”
“[T]ormented characters often find salvation by turning to Christ. A church scene is de rigeur in a Nollywood film.” As many “Nigerian ‘owner-operated’ churches preach the gospel” around Africa—virtually always health-and-wealth in nature—the burgeoning Nollywood film industry has become a way to manifest religious success.
“Many Nollywood film stars are born-again Christians. Film credits usually end with the invocation: ‘to God be the Glory’. Helen Ukpabio, who is a leading actress as well as a successful preacher, runs a decidedly religious production company called Liberty Films. ‘All the movies from our stable are means of spreading the gospel in preparation of rapture,’ she explains.” These Christians are out in front of the trend, and thus by some measures more successful than Christians in North America, with less of the late-to-the-party derision of Left Behind-style Christian cultural interaction.
The article closes by comparing the growth and success of Nollywood to Hollywood’s own global growth. But America’s other great export—the health-and-wealth gospel—authors the imprimatur on many of Nollywood’s hits, for spiritual slogans and faith formulae are far more slavishly followed than film industry conventions.0 Comments
June 17, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
Popular theology and ecclesial theology share much common ground. Both are concerned with the life of the church. Both are prophetic and call the church to action. But ecclesial theology pushes beyond the introductory nature of popular theology, and serves as its ground. Indeed, the ecclesial theologian engages in ecclesial theology as a necessary first-step in laying a solid foundation for his popular theology. In other words, a significant function of ecclesial theology is to make sure that one’s subsequent popular theology is built on a solid footing. Thus ecclesial theology may not always be “user-friendly” to the average Christian. But ecclesial theology is always concerned with the sitz im leben of the average Christian.
Too many popular theologians are forced to build their popular theology on the foundation of academic theology. And too many serious theologians don’t bother with popular theology at all. The ecclesial theologian writes in both directions, always with a view to the Church.0 Comments
March 27, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
Theological reflection that cannot connect with the existential questions of the congregation is not ecclesial, however robust it might be. But popular theology, in and of itself, cannot be the sum total of ecclesial theology. The theological needs of the church will often compel us to press beyond a lay level of discourse, yet such pressing need not degenerate into irrelevant abstraction. John Webster helpfully notes,
[Theology] attempts a ‘reading’ of the gospel which in its turn assists the Church’s reading. Developing such a ‘reading’ of the gospel entails, of course, the development (or annexation) of conceptual vocabularies and forms of argument whose range and sophistication may seem distant from the more immediate, urgent idioms of Scripture. But though technical sophistication is not without its attendant perils, it is only vicious when allowed to drift free from the proper end of theology, which is the saint’s edification. When that end is kept in view and allowed to govern the work of theology, then dogmatics can be pursued as a modest work of holy reason, transparent to the gospel and doing its service in the Church as the school of Christ (Holiness, 4).
Webster is exactly correct here. It is appropriate for a pastor to ask about the “usefulness” of any particular theological synthesis. But the pastor must be able to see beyond the need to gather fodder for his next sermon. Sound theological preaching will often require preliminary “intramural” discussions among theologians, as a way of sorting through the legitimacy of its popular level proclamation. Short-changing this theological spade work, or abdicating it solely to academy, is a mistake.0 Comments