My relationship with the Vineyard has, at times, been somewhat complex. I’ve found that this is common for other people in the Vineyard
I came into the Vineyard as a kid when my parents started attending one in Denver, CO. I’ve been basically hanging around ever since then and yet while I love the Vineyard, there have been times where I’ve wondered how I fit in the movement because I’ve felt a bit awkward over the years. Why? For a couple of reasons:
- I rarely get goosebumps during worship singing (not that goosebumps are bad).
- I have always had a lot of theological questions and for a very long time felt like that was something that didn’t really have a place in the Vineyard.
I’m happy to report that I’m still in the Vineyard and that I’ve come to feel like there is a place for me and for others who value theology! After all, this is part of our heritage. In fact, I believe there are three things about the Vineyard’s identity that are crucial to our future…
First, I believe if the Vineyard is anything, it’s a worship movement (this defines us and for a long time was all that people really knew about the Vineyard).
Second, I believe the Vineyard is a church planting movement. Multiplication was at the heart of the early days and this is probably connected to Wimber’s work in church growth and his emphasis on power evangelism (cf. Wimber stated that the “meat is in the streets”).
Finally, I believe the Vineyard is a theological movement. We would not exist if it were not for a commitment to a specific theological approach and philosophy of ministry. I mean, have you ever wondered what drove John Wimber and what drove the early Vineyard leaders? Don Williams, the OG of Vineyard theologians, answered that question by writing the following:
In general, Wimber was driven by his understanding of the kingdom of God. Jesus came in the power of the Spirit to evangelize the poor, heal the sick, drive out demons, liberate the oppressed, and build a people living under his lordship who will reflect his character and ministry in fulfilling his mission to the nations. In Jesus the kingdom has come and is still coming. It will be consummated at his return. The church lives in a tension between these two realities, the already and the not yet.”Don Williams, “Theological Perspective and Reflection on the Vineyard Christian Fellowship” in Church, Identity, and Change, 167-68.
Our movement began because John Wimber and a host of other early Vineyard leaders became aware that the theology of the kingdom of God was far more important than being spiritualized away or relegated to simply a future thing for people in heaven. Building on the influence of the biblical theologian George Eldon Ladd, they came to understand that the theology of the kingdom was the central message of the Gospels… and this is why our theological center is the kingdom of God (cf. Calvinists center their theology on God’s sovereignty; Arminians center their theology on free will / God’s love).
So I’d like to suggest that one of the most important things we can do in the Vineyard is to recover our theological identity and press into being more theologically reflective because I believe it’s at the center of who we are. There is no Vineyard without our commitment to the theology of the kingdom.
The Cultural Challenge and Opportunity.
Unfortunately, as the prevailing cultural winds have influenced us, we have become increasingly less thoughtful, less nuanced, and less able to engage in intellectual reflection (e.g., politics – people lose their minds!).
This has actually been a challenge amongst American Christians for a long time:
The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind… Despite dynamic success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life.”Mark A Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
While there is a lot of debate about whether or not the Vineyard should identify itself as “evangelical” in today’s cultural milieu, Noll’s classic work firmly established a challenge amongst our type of churches (his book is still worth the read).
Essentially I think it’s important to note that we as American’s have largely lost our ability to think and engage in the life of the mind… but I’m going to argue that thinking and theological reflection are actually acts of worship (since we hopefully all agree that worship is much more than just singing songs). After all, Jesus said:
You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.”(Matthew 22:37–39 NLT).
Since we are integrated creatures that consist of bodies and souls and minds, the call of Christian discipleship is to worship God with every aspect of our being.
So the cultural challenge for us is that society and many of the mediums that shape our thinking are actually dumbing us down and we are being formed in a way that makes us more reactive and less reflective. That’s the bad news… the “challenge,” so to speak.
The good news is that this is actually just an opportunity for us… if we continue to lean into our identity as a theological movement we can help disciple those we lead in worship to love God with all of our beings. And, as I will demonstrate soon… theology can actually serve to enhance and enrich our discipleship.
What is Theology and Why Does It Matter?
Sadly, I think a lot of people have made theology inaccessible, which has led to many people failing to see theology as practical or assuming it’s divorced from the nuts and bolts of life. This is why we who are theologians need to ask questions like the following:
- How does theology connect to life as a plumber or teacher or accountant?
- What does theology have to offer the grieving parent who has lost their child?
- How might theology serve to empower our singing and song writing and overall spiritual practices such as prayer, baptizing people, and receiving Communion?
Many people assume that theology is just plain boring (e.g., infralapsarianism, ontological reality, or Neoplatonism are often discussed in such boring ways, cf. a discussion overheard at a coffee shop near my seminary). Nerding out isn’t all bad, but I believe all theology should be done to help us better know God meaning I think theology should serve the Church and should be done in community (e.g., theology pubs, small groups on theology, studying to determine positions and approaches, etc.).
Furthermore, I believe that the study of theology actually enriches Christian spirituality and discipleship. Vineyard worship actually empowers us to continue to engage in theological reflection because when Vineyard worship is at its best, it’s extremely theological.
For example, Sam Yoder’s song “Wonderful” is probably one of the richest songs on the doctrine of the Trinity every written.
So what is theology? I define theology simply as the way we talk about God (theos + logia = “the study of God”). When we speak about God, we’re doing theology. In other words, everyone’s a theologian and everyone does theology; the question is are we doing it well? Does our theology represent who God actually is? Does our theology help us know God better and serve to encourage our work for the kingdom?
The traditional goal of Christian theology is to develop a better understanding of God so that we can think and speak rightly about God within the context of a life governed by our faith in Christ and our discipleship to him in community with other Christians.”Keith L. Johnson,, Theology as Discipleship
So why does theology matter? Why should you each invest more time into theological reflection, place for more value for theologians, and work hard to be a good theologian? Put simply: bad theology hurts people.
3 Practical Examples of how Good Theology Empowers and Bad Theology Hurts People
Here are three areas where I believe theology matters for those of us in the Vineyard. These are reasons why I believe theology has practical ramifications.
(1) Let’s start w/ the Vineyard’s approach to Kingdom theology.
Inaugurated eschatology (now and not yet) is the central message of Jesus’ earthly ministry (and we are called to continue his ministry, not our own).
A robust kingdom theology of the “now and not yet” keeps us from being either pessimistic defeatists or advocates for an over-realized approach to the kingdom (cf. how “kingdom now” requires people to have only two solutions for why people aren’t healed: (1) lack of faith or (2) someone is still sinning).
Bad kingdom theology can cause people to abandon their faith or shames them to the point where they believe that their children died because they didn’t have enough faith. People either lose faith because the unrealistic expectations are unsustainable or people walk around in shame because they feel personally responsible for their experiences.
This is why we need to sing songs that reflect both the now and the not yet. We need songs of invitation and celebration while also singing songs of grief and lament. For example, look to the Psalms:
- Psalm 40:1-5 – Mountain top spirituality.
- Psalm 60:1-3 – Low valley spirituality.
Among the 150 psalms that exist in the Psalter, 42 of them are psalms of lament. Each of these psalms follows this pattern:
- A cry to God.
- A complaint about what is wrong.
- A confession of trust that God will deliver.
- A petition calling on God to intervene.
- A promise to praise God when deliverance comes.
Are you singing songs of lament in your worship sets? Do you design your song liturgy to include songs where those in your church who are experiencing the “not yet” of the kingdom can sing and pray and lament? We need songs where we can express sorrow, mourning, or regret.
Having good kingdom theology helps us remain balanced and imbeds us into the story of God’s mission; good kingdom theology helps us avoid the ditches on both sides.
(2) Women in leadership.
Why should we look to intentionally empower women to serve in leadership roles in every area of leadership within the church? Because being theological means that we need to take Scripture in context and understand the cultural influences that shape its writing and wrestle with the application — all aspects of good hermeneutics (biblical interpretation).
I believe that bad theology ends up both hurting women because it shames them for seeking to use their Holy Spirit empowered gifting and also neutering the work of the Church in its mission (cf. 2/3’s of missionaries are women). Plus, it’s based on what I have found to be bad arguments:
- Poor exegesis of 1 Timothy 2 (cf. Gary Hoag’s YouTube video, “Why Women Must Learn in Quietness and Submission”).
- Is illogical. I mean, if women are easily deceived, why are they encouraged to teach children?
- Is implicitly racist. women have been encouraged to participate in church planting and missions globally, yet prevented to doing so when leading white males in the United States(!).
So in the case of women being able to serve in leadership, theology matters.
A Theology of Worship.
How many of you would like to see the people you lead more engaged in worship or more expressive? How many of you also realize that God can be doing some deep things in people’s lives despite whether or not they are jumping around in circles?
These issues are theological issues. If you want a thicker appreciation for worship in your church, you need theology to get you there. Theology is how we come to understand that worship is:
- About encountering and experiencing God’s presence.
- An aspect of spiritual warfare.
Plus, the very fact that we have contemporary worship is owed to theological reflection. Theology is what grounded our attempts to contextualize our worship styles because good theology is shaped by God’s mission to make Jesus known and what better way to know Jesus than by worship? (cf. Lester Ruth’s Worshiping with the Anaheim Vineyard and Lovin’ on Jesus).
Theology as Discipleship.
Let’s switch gears here. Let’s talk about theology as an aspect of discipleship.
We have to connect theology to worship. Worship is an outworking of discipleship. Worshippers are disciples and disciples worship. Listen how a theologian describes this relationship:
We practice theology whenever we think or speak about God. We are doing theology when we pray, worship, read Scripture, teach others about the faith and make decisions about how to live in a right relationship to God. In this sense, every Christian practices theology every day.”Keith L. Johnson,, Theology as Discipleship
Hopefully by now you’ve come to know that doing theology can be and should be an act of worship. Worship is concerned with knowing God and experiencing his presence and power; worship is focused on exalting God for his goodness and mercy and faithfulness and love… all characteristics that we learn about God as we study the Bible and do theology. Being theological is part of being a disciple.
So if we’re going to recover our theological identity, I think it’s important to point out that I think the most important teachers of theology in the Vineyard are not pastors or formal biblical theologians! I think the best teachers of theology are our worship leaders! Here’s why:
- People will remember the songs we sing long beyond their memory of the sermon.
- Singing has always been a significant aspect of catechesis.
- Music is the language of the heart. Some truths you just have to sing.
This is why you need to make every effort to sing good theology — you are teaching your church about who God is and what he is like and what his mission is. When we sing “I want to know you” we had better also sing about who Jesus is! The more that people know about who God is and what he has done for us, the more they will respond in worship. Good theology leads to worship.
We must not allow ourselves to be satisfied with vague ideas of the love of Christ which present nothing of his glory to our minds.”– John Owen
People don’t need more vagueness. People need to feast on the beauty and truth of who God is.
How to Increase Your Theological Development as a Worship Leader:
- Read good theology (or find someone who can make recommendations for you).
- Read through church history.
- Ask good theological questions about the songs you lead: What does this teach us about God?How does this song reflect the truth of who God is and what he has done? How clear is the gospel in this song? Do these songs center on Jesus and his kingdom? What can I do to make these songs accessible to everyone?
- Think about whether or not the order of your sets will help deepen the people you lead’s relationship w/ Jesus.
(This talk was originally presented at the Rolling Hills Vineyard for their regional Worship Summit).