My first great theological mentor was the pastor during my college years, Earl Palmer. Actually, my “college years” were my first years as a Christian. So I learned by Theological ABCs at the same time I began to take steps as what is now called “emerging young adulthood.”
During those sermons in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, I heard Earl declare (and everything in the pulpit is an enthusiastic declaration for him):
Every Christian is a theologian! As soon as you answer the question, ‘What do you believe?” you are a theologian. You’re either a good theologian or a bad one, but you’re a theologian!
And ever since that time, I’ve yearned to be in that “good” category. I’ve also wanted the same for as many other Christians as possible.
In an historical sense, Earl has a crucial point: The earliest confession—found, for example, in 1 Corinthians 12:3—is “Jesus is Lord.” This statement most likely answered the question, “What do you believe?” on the way to a first-century baptism. (This letter to the churches at Corinth was written around 55 AD.) This confession of faith then expanded to not just a paragraph on Jesus as Lord, but included one before and one after. So we find the fourth century Nicene Creed outlining “the faith once delivered” (to quote Jude 1:3) on these three paragraphs—a theology structured on God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
And so I preach, teach, and write theology based on this threefold, and ultimately Trinitarian, framework as a means to answer the question, “What does the Christian community believe?” and therefore to help fellow followers of Jesus to become, in Earl’s words, “good theologians.”
There will be successes in this endeavor, and of course, failure. But I would be bold enough to say (so why not say it?) that, if this theology—or one like—is done right, it should be read by all types of thoughtful Christians. This theological task is for mothers and fathers, mechanics, professors, real estate agents, morticians, plumbers, and students.
In other words, let’s not just leave this work for the professionals, as it were, to answer the question “What do you believe?” Nonetheless, the professionals can certainly help in this crucial task.