BREAKING NEWS: THIS JUST IN – It turns out you do not need a Doctor of Philosophy in Theology to be a theologian!
Yes, I said it. You do not need to have fancy advanced theological degrees to be a theologian.
Now before all my academic friends start blasting me out of the water for this statement, let me say this: I personally desire to obtain a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy in Theology. Academia is a passion for me and I desire to join the conversations of some of my favorite theologians. Education is a joy for me!
So what am I talking about? Let me outline the rest of this article for you. First, we will explore what the word “theology” means and implies. Secondly, I will introduce two concepts: primary theology and secondary theology. Finally, I will explore what implications this understanding of theology as primary and secondary may have on worshiping congregations, worship leaders, and our worship services (specifically on Sunday mornings).
When we break down the word “theology” we have two parts: “theo-“ and “–logy”; “Theo” meaning God and “logy” meaning study or interest. Therefore, theology means the study of God. This is the true semantic understanding of theology and an accurate one at that.
We may also understand theology as how we think about God. In The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer suggests that the most important thing about humans is what we think about God. This, I believe, is
an appropriate understanding of theology even as it pertains to the semantic interpretation of theology that we just looked at. Studying’s primary task is that of thinking, therefore theology can be thought of as how we think about God.
Theology can be extended to how we think about God, our knowledge of God, how we respond to God or commune with God.
Primary theology (or theologia prima) is the “dogma of the Church in its unreflected, living manifestation in worship” (Fagerberg, What Is Liturgical Theology, 1992). In other words, it is the theology that comes out of our worship. It may also be said that this is where theology is born. This is performative theology; where theology is done.
Secondary theology (theologia secunda) is the “dogma of the Church being reflectively unfolded” (Fagerberg, What Is Liturgical Theology, 1992). This is what we normally think of when we think of the word “theology”. Here is where people study and reflect on the theology that is born of what ur worship is doing.
Simon Chan creates this distinction between primary and secondary theology (Liturgical Theology, Intervarsity Press, 2006):
“The primary liturgical theology is a tacit form of knowledge that is fully expressed only in the act of worship…Secondary liturgical theology seeks to explain as fully as possible this primary experience of the church in its encounter with God which is expressed in its public act of worship.”
In other words, primary theology is the Church’s encounter with her triune God and secondary theology is the reflection and explanation of that encounter. Theology consists of the transformation that occurs when we encounter God. This is the part of theology we often forget. Too often we think of “school theology”, i.e., the fancy advanced theological degrees (which I firmly believe has its place in theology, especially in light of a primary/secondary understanding of theology).
One of the first questions that came to mind when considering primary and secondary theology while writing this article were the implications of these two theologies for worshiping congregants?
First, we must recognize that our worship and liturgies are encounters with the living God. We are not there to simply give Him thanks for what He has done in our own lives and in the Salvation story, although that is certainly a part of it. God speaks to us through His Son, the Word, and the Church actively responds to the Word. This encounter follows much like a dialogue. God calls us together, His Church gathers, God speaks, His Church responds, and God sends His Church out to be the light in the darkness.
It is also important to recognize that our experiences in worship and liturgy are real encounters with God and form us. Therefore our experiences do have meaning. While my primary caution with affirming our experiences is that God, through His Word, defines our experiences; our experiences do not define our relationship with God. For those who embrace a Wesleyan theology, you will be very familiar with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Our encounters with God mean something!
Also, as worshiping congregants, we must be active participants in our encounters with the triune God and be responsible for them. We are not passive spectators while the pastor does the work. We must embrace God and His Church. Even the most “powerful” worship liturgies do not inherently conclude with transformation. Transformation comes from our active engagement with God and His presence.
This is not simply an evangelical or low-church Protestant struggle. As far as my readings indicate, all traditions and forms of the Church find this to be a critical point in their worship and liturgies. As individuals and as local worshiping communities we must embrace our relationship with the triune God and allow Him to not only transform us as individuals, but to transform His people and establish His Church in the world.
Next it is important to consider the implications of all believers as theologians and the distinction between primary and secondary theologies for worship leaders. The first question I would pose to worship leaders is whether they are shepherds of primary theology or secondary theology? This question has serious consequences concerning the role of the worship leader.
Is the worship leader supposed to reflect and explain the ongoing encounter with God, or lead the church in their response to their dialogue with their Creator? Some worship leaders do a good job of leading the response; others cannot seem to stop preaching “seminary” to the people (for more on this idea, visit my last post here)!
Instruction ought to be set-aside for another time (personally, I would recommend pre-baptismal and post-baptismal instruction, but that may serve well for another article). Worship is a time for encountering God and allowing Him to speak and the Church to respond. The worship leader’s role is leading the people in a biblically sound worship and liturgy.
The final question I wish to address for this article is how does a primary and secondary understanding of theology impact our worship services and liturgies? Our primary theology suggests that our worship services and liturgies are centered on the work of God. When we consider what we do and how we do it, this needs to right at the heart of our gatherings. Worship is not centered on our work, which a lot of evangelical churches liturgies seem to indicate. Rather, it is centered on the work of Christ amidst His people.
Worship and liturgy is not a time to push theological agendas. While certain theologies, depending on your tradition, will more than likely find its way into the liturgy, which is not the approach that ought to be taken. Be concerned first with the Church’s encounter with her Creator.
Everyone, including pastors and worshipers, will benefit from an understanding of primary and secondary theology. It gives shape to the worship leader role within the Church and gives responsibility to the worshiper for their active participation in worship and liturgy.
Now let me clarify that pastors and worshipers are not only meant to engage with primary theology and to leave secondary theology to the ones at the universities. Worship leaders should be theologically sound and the worshipers ought to be reflective of what they are doing. If both can embrace these two dimensions of theology, our churches may find themselves bridging academia and the work of the Church together.
Jason Palmer is the Editor of TalkingWorship.com. Jason has a Bachelor of Science in Ministry with a Worship Arts Major and Music Minor. He has lead worship for evangelical churches for 7 years and desires to see worship leaders become confident in their calling.