House of Deputies

of The Episcopal Church

Encourage, Amplify, Resource, Challenge: A Message from the House of Deputies Theologian

In my contribution to the previous House of Deputies newsletter, I emphasized the importance of remembering that the work of church governance that you do as deputies is itself theological work. It is theological work in the sense that it is driven by theological concerns and aims to achieve theological goals. This is because it is work that literally tends to the health and vitality of the body of Christ.

This in itself is no small thing. But it is not the only reason to think of your work as deputies as theological work. There is even more!

In his most recent book, The Life of Christian Doctrine, the noted Anglican theologian Mike Higton offers a perspective on what it means to do theology and who this theology is for that allows us to see your service as deputies from an important, but easily overlooked, angle.

Higton redefines what “doing theology” is. He wrenches this activity out of the iron-fisted clutches of professional theologians such as himself (and me!) and redistributes it among those he calls “ordinary believers.” For Higton, theology is being done wherever and whenever Christians “express and explore claims about God and God’s ways with the world.” Most often, this is done by ordinary believers engaged in “activities of conversation, reflection, confession, teaching, proclamation, deliberation, argument and apology, and all sorts of others” (3). This is crucial work for people to be doing, at every level of the church, each according to their degree of aptitude and skill for such activities.

Where does this leave those of us for whom theology is our specific vocation? In Higton’s estimation, it makes us responsible, above almost all else, for equipping ordinary believers with what they need in order to pursue the activities they undertake well. This, he suggests, is best done by thinking of ourselves as carrying out four interrelated tasks. First, by encouraging ordinary believers to continue engaging in “conversation, reflection, confession, teaching, proclamation, deliberation, argument and apology,” reinforcing how valuable that is for building up the community, strengthening the life of faith, and witnessing to the truth of the gospel. Second, by amplifying the theological insights of ordinary believers, communicating the theological discoveries that people are making through our networks in church, academy, and society. Third, by resourcing the theologizing of ordinary believers, providing them with skills and materials they can use for enriching and refining the theology they are already doing. Finally, by challenging ordinary believers to revisit their theologies with a critical eye, to examine their beliefs and practices, and to correct course where the mark has been missed (235–37).

What does this have to do with you? Well, to no insignificant degree, your decisions as deputies on the legislative matters before you can also have these same four effects. The decisions you make can encourage ordinary believers to take up or continue their efforts to better understand who God is and who they and we are in light of God’s reality—or, as It is with the work of any theologian, your decisions can inhibit that work. Your decisions can result in amplifying the theologizing of ordinary believers—or in silencing it. They can contribute to resourcing that work—or to impoverishing it. And they can challenge the theological activities of ordinary believers to go even deeper, to engage the quest ever more fully, allowing it to reshape their lives into a more Jesus-like pattern—or it can allow such work to become thin and vapid and incapable of transforming anything.

As you think about how you will serve as a deputy, it is worth considering how you will go about it in a way that encourages, amplifies, resources, and challenges the lives of ordinary Episcopalians. This, too, is part of your theological mission!