In my studies at seminary, one of the themes that I’ve seen again and again is that those who practice mission and those who do theology have very little use for each other.
The missions crowd see the theologians as people so busy thinking about missions that they never actually get around to doing missions. They might even think that theology just gets in the way of the work that needs to be done.
The theologians can tend to look down on those who do mission as people who do what they do without a proper understanding, mere practitioners. They can feel that missions without a robust theology is like a house without a foundation. It may work for the time being, but eventually it’s going to sink.
Both sides have a point. Their particular field of interest is important, but both sides also fail to see how the two have to operate in tandem to work. Now, I’m not saying that every Christian’s job is to become a specialist in both theology and in mission. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day. But that doesn’t mean that we prefer to spend our time doing one, we are free to avoid the other.
I’m better at science than my wife is. She’s better at spelling than I am. This doesn’t mean that I should discount what I’m not good at, but neither does it mean that I have no use of it. On one hand, I really ought to try, when possible, to improve my spelling. On the other hand, it’s helpful to know that there’s someone who is strong in areas where I’m weak that can help me.
Missions and theology relate in the same way. If our natural bent is toward one and not the other, we should still do what we can to try to cultivate strength in our area of weakness, while at the same time thanking God that he has made us one body with people whose skills and interests are different than our own.
Diversity in the church isn’t the curse we can make it out to be. It’s God’s way of making a body that is unified and capable of carrying out his mission. Those whose skills and interests different than our own, make us more able to go and be the embodiment of God’s love on earth. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul puts it this way, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” (I Cor. 12:17 NIV). Our Western culture teaches us to value self-reliance while God teaches us to value interdependence. Missionaries need theologians and theologians need missionaries.
This is true in an organization like nightlight. We have a strongly developed sense of mission. We extend God’s love to the poor, the lonely and the marginalized. At the same time, without theological support, we would quickly loose site of why we do what we do, and we’d simply become another social club. If our mission is a sword, then theology is the stone we use to keep it sharp. If we loose our theology, we go into battle with a dull sword. If we loose mission, we’re armed with a sharpening stone, but no sword. We should be very thankful that God has given us both missionaries and theologians.