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What is theology for?

In their 2019 book For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference, Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun argue that academic theology in the West has come to crisis. That crisis includes a shrinking job market, a shrinking audience, and a shrinking reputation. Those aspects of the problem are compounded by moves to treat theology as a science in which the subject of study is Christianity or religion instead of God and the whole of creation in relation to God (47). More could be said, but I'll just encourage you to go read chapter two of the book. What I'm interested in highlighting in this post is what Volf and Croasmun propose for the renewal of theology. They suggest that to renew theology we need to reconsider the purpose of theology. And that purpose, they argue,

is to discern, articulate, and commend visions of and paths to flourishing life in light of the self-revelation of God in the life, death, resurrection, exaltation, and coming in glory of Jesus Christ, with this entire story, its lows and highs, bearing witness to a truly flourishing life (61).

Volf and Croasmun take this to be a somewhat provocative (and perhaps controversial) claim: the purpose of theology is human flourishing. I'm curious. How does the claim sit with you? Strengths? Weaknesses? Concerns? Appreciations?


Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, Alabama, Director of Research at Wesley Biblical Seminary, and a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians. He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice, The Letters to the Thessalonians, and Bless the Nations: A Devotional for Short-Term Missions. Connect at

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