What is Theology and Why Should it Matter to Me?
Podcast Intro – (Upbeat acoustic guitar music)
Jon Steele 0:09
Hey everyone. I'm Jon Steele. And this is After IV: a podcast for InterVarsity alumni. Life after college is hard. And even a great experience with your InterVarsity chapter doesn't shield you from the challenges of transition. As we hear stories from real alumni learning how to make it in their post-InterVarsity reality, my hope is that this podcast will offer some encouragement, a few laughs and even some hope for the future. This is After IV, and these are your stories.
What's up Welcome to After IV the podcast for InterVarsity alumni. I'm your host, Jon Steele. And we have a great episode in store for you today.
I really wish you were here in the studio with me because I'd like to know your answer to these two questions. One, what is theology? And two? Why should it matter for me today? I don't know about you but I had a hard time answering those questions. It kind of seemed like something very heady and abstract with really very little practical application for my day to day life.
Well, our guests today ever so graciously helped me to realize that this is just not the case. Today we're joined by Dr. Emily Hill and Dr. Jeff Liou, and they're going to help us get a better grasp on what theology is and why it has so much importance for our lives after graduation. And if there are any two people that could help us do this well, it's Jeff and Emily.
Jeff Liou is InterVarsity’s National Director of theological formation along with Dr. Hill and Dr. Bruce Hanson. He develops, delivers, and curates foundational theological training for InterVarsity staff. He holds a PhD in theology and culture from Fuller Seminary and MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and he majored in chemistry at the University of Michigan. Jeff has been a local church pastor, Professor, chaplain and campus missionary since he started working with college students and young adults in 2001. Jeff is also the author of Christianity and critical race theory of faithful and constructive conversation with Dr. Robert Chao Romero. Jeff writes and teaches in the Dutch Reformed tradition and reflects on the theology and ethics of Martin Luther King Jr. Race and Ethnic Studies and ministry.
Dr. Emily Beth Hill is a theologian interested in economic surveillance, social justice and how cultural systems affect our worship and practice in the church. She also holds a PhD in theological ethics from the University of Aberdeen, a master's degree in social justice from Kilns College, another Master's degree in economics and a bachelor's in Business Economics from Miami University. Before pursuing theology and ministry, she spent 10 years working in international market research. Emily is also an author. Her book is called Marketing and Christian proclamation in theological perspective. She writes and speaks about issues of economics and marketing in the church, and currently serves in the theological formation department at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. And Emily is also a co host of the Theology & podcast along with our other guests today, Jeff Liou.
As promised two extremely qualified guests for this topic, I'm so excited for you to get to hear from them, as they help us get a better grasp on theology, and why it matters for life after graduation. Here's Emily and Jeff. And this one's for you, alumni.
Emily, and Jeff, welcome to the podcast.
Dr. Jeff Liou 3:33
Hey, thanks for having us, Jon.
Dr. Emily Hill
Nice to be here.
Jon Steele 3:35
I'm excited to have you here today. So I gave our listeners a little more formal introduction during the intro to the episode, but would you to just help us keep getting to know you tell us a bit more about who you are? And then and then maybe just hit the highlights for us one more time, about education and career.
Dr. Emily Hill 3:54
All right. Well, I'm Emily. Thanks for having us. I am relatively new to InterVarsity. Before I became a theologian, I had a whole other career in marketing research in the corporate world. And then, long story short, I felt like that was not going to be my long term career and stumbled on to becoming a theologian or you know, that's where God led me through kind of a disruptive season. And a lot of that really sort of involved, in the end trying to integrate theology with my old life or figure out how all that went together. And so that's what ultimately led me to enter varsity after I did my PhD in theology, was looking at the graduate student and faculty ministry and seeing that they had a big emphasis on faith integration and research. And so that had been really important. In my own academic research. I've looked at theology and economics, and how the world shapes us and how theology might speak into that. So I really wanted to help students do that. And then a couple years ago transitioned into working in the theological formation IT department.
Jon Steele 5:00
Okay, so relatively new to the InterVarsity. World.
Dr. Emily Hill
Jeff, how about you?
Dr. Jeff Liou 5:05
Yeah, I have a more kind of typical InterVarsity journey. So I was an InterVarsity student at the University of Michigan. And I came on staff after I graduated, you know, I just loved what I was doing. And I didn't want to stop. So I kept doing it. And, and, but that was my first stint within varsity. And that was six years long, I left to go to seminary. And, you know, I knew after my master's, I wanted to do a PhD. So I came out to California to do a PhD in theology and culture, the whole time, I was volunteering for InterVarsity, so I never really left, which was a really happy thing. My wife was on staff for like, 20 years consecutively. I volunteered with her and did faculty camps, and I helped chapters do stuff and leadership teams, etc. So I never really left and it's been great. We're out here in Southern California, still, we got two kids that are teenagers, my daughter's senior son is a first year high school student.
Jon Steele 6:15
Well, I'm really excited that we, we get to have two people with the with the experience and the understanding that you all do you also you host the podcast, you host the Theology & podcast together. Tell us a little bit about the work that you're doing in the academic space with Theology &.
Dr. Emily Hill 6:33
Well, one of the taglines we use is that we try to have conversations with academics but not academic conversations. And we're really trying to, you know, as the name suggests, we're trying to bring together theology and other academic disciplines are big questions about life. So how theology intersects with, say, science, or economics or politics. And so we have a theologian discussing with another academic, in a different discipline, they're overlapping areas of research. So we had an episode talking about race and education. So theologians who specialize in those kinds of topics with an educator who is thinking about race, and how that relates to education. And both of them are Christian. So we're trying to also demonstrate ways in which people think about integrating their faith. And hopefully, in the end, any listener, they would be able to understand the topics. So trying to bring some research into the real world and why theology and academics matters to the world's big questions.
Dr. Jeff Liou 7:37
And if I could just plug one episode.
Please do. Yeah,
One of my friends from Michigan, Dr. Chris Roselle, who's a professor at Georgia Tech, he recently just published some of his findings. And it's gotten picked up by a bunch of major news outlets about real breakthroughs in treating chronic depression. Wow. And so you can go look up Dr. Chris Roselle. But that episode with Victoria Lorimar, is on human enhancement. So Chris works on putting electronics inside the human brain. And Victoria is a theologian out of Australia, who's thinking about what it means to augment our physical bodies, to enhance ourselves. I mean, it's coming, all this stuff is coming. But at the end of the day, every one of your listeners has majored in something, and that major is doing something to them, it has done something to them. And eventually, I don't know, if we keep going, Emily and I are going to cover every major in the university, and there'll be an episode for you, you know, so that's the goal.
Jon Steele 8:41
I love that whatever it is that you're studying, whatever it is that you're interested in, come and find out how that intersects with theology, where those things come together, and probably do so more than we anticipate. And I think that, you know, is very much what we're going to talk about today, maybe maybe at a, you know, a 10,000 foot view, we're not going to dig into specific majors or areas of study or, or, or careers necessarily, but but that's some of what we're what we're going to be talking about and and specifically how we engage with theology in life after graduation. So so let me just preface the rest of our conversation for you. And for everybody else that's listening. By saying that I'm probably going to be showcasing a lot of my ignorance as the host today, let me promise you this, that I am not playing dumb. I just am. So So let's just start let's just let's showcase that here. With my very first question, which is big picture. What is theology? Exactly? It feels like one of those words that we hear all over the place that people would be like, Oh, what's the ology and they would start in on a sentence feeling very confident about oh, this is what theology is, and then you get a few words in you're like, I'm actually not so sure that I know what that actually is. So Can Can you help us define some terms here? As we start out? What is theology?
Dr. Jeff Liou 10:07
We would love to help with that. If it's possible, let me try to put your listeners on the edge of their seats. Okay, because if we jump right into it, it's easy to gloss over. So let's start with like, what we think theology is not. Yeah, because yeah, I think we get into trouble thinking about the so the things that I think come up most frequently, when I talk to folks about what theology I'm looking in between the lines and trying to see what they think about theology, there's really three things. The first one is question answering. Theology is the answer to tough questions. And so basically, it's the same thing as apologetics. And no hate. I love apologetics. But theology is not the same thing as just question answering number two, some people think that theology is the positions you take. So what's the right thing to believe? Or what which denomination should I choose? Right? So you kind of just like, think about issues? And what do people believe about issues? And so I think theology is more than that. And you'll see why in a second. The third thing is boundary keeping. So it answers the question, who's in and who's out. And it kind of begins to define your community. And that to me, is all three reasons actually, for me, are the reasons why people think theology is not for them. Interesting that it's just for nerds, or it's just for judgmental people. Or it's exactly the thing that made Christianity unattractive to them and their friends. So I want to start there. And maybe Emily has more to add about that. But yeah, that's where I'm gonna start with what it's not.
Dr. Emily Hill 11:44
We actually have a short episode of Theology & called “What is theology,” where we have a bunch of interviews with different theologians, and we're kind of trying to tell a story there. So I really do feel Hunter is a theologian, and she says, Everyone is a theologian, every Christian is a theologian, because we have a relationship with God, and we're in the body of Christ. And that kind of ties into a comment that I heard Willie Jennings make one time who says, something along the lines of theology is a conversation about God, within the Christian community throughout history. And so were we, as the people of God are, we have Scripture, we have the tradition of the ways that people have interpreted that and talked about that, what that means about what it means to live as a Christian in our world and in our context. And, and I think another important point that theologian Veli Matti Carr kind of talked about in that episode, too, is that a theology is trying to connect different elements. And it points to a reality that is never totally defined. So in some ways, theology is a reality that we see through a glass darkly, which is not to say, we can never know anything, but that what we're doing is we're trying to come up with ideas and ways of talking about God and God's work in the world at that point to a reality that we kind of know, but also can never try to pinpoint for sure.
Dr. Jeff Liou 13:09
Yeah, so there's what theology is. What you just heard. But for InterVarsity, you know, we want to make sure all of our staff and students think big about what theology does. And so there's three things, we think it does three things. We call them the three dimensions of theology. Number one, good theology has got to deepen your intimacy and commitment to God. So deepen. Number two, theology needs to diversify our awareness of our own tradition, and our awareness of others traditions. So we need to become we need to diversify our perspective on things. And number three, we need theology needs to help us discern the way forward. And for InterVarsity, it's discern the way forward on campus and in our lives. And then, you know, in the rest of the world for everyone else, if theology doesn't help us discern what we're looking at from day to day, is it really theology? So that's what those are. Those are the kinds of goals that we have.
Jon Steele 14:04
Deepen, diversify, and discern.
Dr. Jeff Liou
Okay, theology and exploring theology helps us better understand who God is better understand who we are, and better understand who others are. And to have a better idea of what is the what is the right way to engage with each of those things.
Dr. Jeff Liou 14:22
So, Jon, let me just correct you a little bit there.
Dr. Jeff Liou
The answer to that is absolutely yes. But I want your listeners to hone in on this. We don't think it's just an activity for the brain. It's not just understanding and it's not just ideas, theology itself has got to help us experience. If Dr. Canaan is right. It helps us make those connections between our experience and the things that we think and the things that we see and touch and feel and smell. Theology’s got to do way more than just light up our brains.
Jon Steele 14:52
That makes a lot of sense that it is both intellectual and experiential, that it's transformative in how We are interacting on a real day to day basis,
Dr. Emily Hill 15:03
We all have a theology that's shaped by the world, or by our, our upbringing that we're not necessarily aware of, which means we we have some way of thinking about what a good life is or how to make decisions or what to prioritize when we make those decisions. And there's theology under that, that we may or may not be aware of. So we want to help draw out some of those considerations, but also then help reflect so if we're talking about the Trinity as a kind of theological concept, that's pretty central to our faith, you know, we want to, you know, kind of understand that an idea or more brain level, like, what is a trinity? But why does that matter? And so what does it mean, to reflect on an experience the fact that we, as human beings get to participate in the triune life? And how does that deepen the way that we experience our relationship with God? How does reflecting on that shape our relationship with God and then with other people.
Jon Steele 16:01
So then, with this foundation that we've started to build on, then why does theology matter? That seems like an obvious question now, based on the conversation that we've had, but But you know, as, as we've said, the one of the first things that comes to my mind is, you know, a pastor prepping for a sermon that that's where theology comes in handy. That, you know, based on some of these maybe old ways of thinking, before we've done some of this defining or an academic like yourself studying to understand correctly. Why does it matter beyond those circumstances, as we think in are starting to live in our day to day lives?
Dr. Emily Hill 16:38
So I mentioned that before I became a theologian, I worked in the corporate world marketing research, and I had studied economics, I have a master's in economics, and there was really no way in which my faith was actively at play in my work. And I think that's the case for a lot of people. Because we don't have resources to do that, like, how do we do that? And so certainly, in my life, at that time, in my early 20s, no one was helping me do that. It's very easy to keep those on two separate tracks, for example, my faith, and what God says about the world and what my discipline and my work says about the world. And occasionally, there were times where I would have a question come up, and I thought, hmm, I don't know what to do with this, because this seems to be in contrast with my faith. But also this discipline is telling me that this is the way the world works. So for example, I remember taking a class about poverty economics. And I don't remember now exactly what the comment was, but something about the way we should relate to poverty, according to economic theory, and like, Okay, well, what does God say about that? And how do I relate that to the fact that this professor and this whole system of thought is telling me that this is the way the world works? And I had really, you know, nowhere to go with that question. And, you know, it was essentially, probably 10 years, 15 years later that I started to get into trying to think about that question. And so I think that one way to think about why theology matters is that the world is telling us in different aspects of the world are telling us what's true in the world. So that you need to pull yourself up by our bootstraps that to live a good life is to keep moving up the social ladder to keep having more money. The world is telling us different aspects of culture, or systems or disciplines or work. They're teaching us what it means to be a human being, as essentially one way that I say it. And so I need to think then about how that relates to what God says about what it means to be a human being or what a good life is. Movies are telling us this too. And so our advertisements, lots of things. And so and they're not all bad. It's not a good, bad dichotomy all the time, but to be able to investigate, what are all these things telling me about the way the world is? And what does my faith tell me about the way the world is and the way human beings should interact with each other? And, you know, the challenge, then, beyond these ideas is how do we live that out? So I'm never going to live in a world where I can have a perfect job, you know, that is totally Christian, so to speak. So we have to then kind of get into how do we navigate these differences? And what does it mean to be formed as Christians in the middle of whatever system that we live in?
Jon Steele 19:54
I mean, it feels like we're going to be trained and discipled by something, everybody Be cheats. So to make a level playing field you must cheat to, uh, we could be discipled into that into that way of thinking, or we can be discipled into an upside down Kingdom where it is everybody cheats, but my Jesus does not cheat. Okay, so then how does the fact that my Savior and my king lives this way, inform the way that I live in this world? Whether or not it agrees with that format? So then taking this question of why does it matter one level deeper? Our our audience, they are just in these early stages of life after graduation? Why does theology matter for them specifically?
Dr. Jeff Liou 20:40
Okay. Listen, listen, I'll answer your question with a question. Okay? What part of your life doesn't matter to God? What minute of your day doesn't matter to God? What aspect of your job? Is God not already the supreme expert in already? There's nothing, there's not a single part of our lives that God is not concerned about. That doesn't mean that, you know, there is a best answer for how to brush your teeth in the morning. I mean, maybe there is I'm not a dentist, right? Like, there's no, I don't think that there's like a divine way to brush your teeth in the morning, right? But rather, it asks us this question of how do I give every minute of every day over to God. So I was working with a grad student one time, who was trying to help them understand that God cares about every aspect of our work. And he said boldly to me in reply, God doesn't care about how to build a better turbine. Now, I want to be just straightforward here. If folks, if listeners disagree with me that like their widget making job, they really feel logically are committed to this idea that God doesn't care about making widgets. And what God really cares about is the money that they make, that they give toward missions. I'm not mad at that. Okay, so like, that's a real thing out there. Sure. But I, you know, in my theological system, and my tradition, there's not a single square inch of all creation, over which Jesus does not cry out, this belongs to me, this is mine, and has a wonderful kind of longing and love for it wants it to be reconciled to himself. And the scripture says, All things at Jesus feet Colossians one, all things, right. So, um, I think for me, you know, I can remember when there were times when I just was hiding parts of my life from God, like this belongs to me, and I am not going to give it over to you. And that doesn't work out. Well. In fact, when we begin to compartmentalize parts of our lives, and keep them for ourselves, instead of surrendering, surrendering them to God, that is a habit forming kind of thing to do. Then there are more parts of our lives that are not worth surrendering to God. But when I go into every aspect of my life, every moment of my day, breathing in and breathing out, thanking God for breath in life, it's a different way of being. And so I would commend that to our alums, without disrespecting folks who really believe that there are some things that are more important than others. That's fine. I just think that it all matters to God.
Dr. Emily Hill 23:42
Yeah, and here, we get to like, how are we going to work that out? Because you know, if I think about your example of Does God care about my widget making? Or is it only about the money that I make and what I do what that I mean, and one way if it's only about the money, then that could and how I spend or give away my money. First of all, I need to let God into how I use my money. Yeah, which is probably a pretty big way that we, including myself, it's been a big part of my journey, like how we let God into our lives. But then if I just focus on the money, then that could obscure the ways in which my work is, is unjust or exploitative, whether I'm the one exploiting or whether I'm being exploited. And Does God care about about that? Now, sometimes that becomes, you know, there's there's a tension there because there's not always something I can do about that. But if I'm if I am exploiting someone through my work, which, under capitalism is probably almost always the case in some way. How do I need to think about that? What can I do about that? And opening my money up to God is one way that I might be freed from that, because I might be open to different jobs that aren't just all about, you know, making sure that I'm secure and having enough money. If I am being exploited in my job, then I certainly hope that God cares about that. I might not be able to get out of that. But maybe, maybe I can, or maybe through the work of recognizing that I can experience God in a new way. And my life and hopefully those who are part of a system that exploits also began to see the ways in which they can participate in that everything
Jon Steele 25:31
What you both are sharing right now makes me think of, you know, Psalm 24:1. That, “The earth is the Lord's and everything in it.” The people, the resources, everything that walks across it, those all belong to him. And he is a he is a deeply involved, thoughtful, caring creator. And so it would make sense then that from the moment you step off campus, after you graduate, that you should be you should start this discipleship of mind of, of I mean of heart and mind and application of like, God cares about where I'm going and cares about the work that I do it's application. And so it makes sense that why this matters for people right after graduation, because now is the time to be discipled in the fact that God cares about what you do, how you do it, start that work now, and continue it for life. If I'm not already conscious of this, how do I start letting this journey of theology this application? How do I start to let this inform the everyday portions of my life after graduating?
Dr. Jeff Liou 26:43
What I would long for every InterVarsity alum to do is to begin to think of yourself, offering your whole life, not just your spiritual life, not just your passions and desires are the things that you hope for, but also what you do from day to day and minute to minute, offer them to God as a living sacrifice, because Jesus offered himself as a living sacrifice. Now, as you begin to join your work life, your breathing life, to the God of breath, until the God of work that begins to shape the way that we infuse life with life and work with meaning.
Dr. Emily Hill 27:23
One way that I've heard, that I really liked that's a practical way of doing that is Bob Truby, who works for the Emerging Scholars network, used to talk to his grad students about keeping a journal where they just write down their questions about their work or their research. So it's a it's a practice of paying attention to the world to your questions. And I really believe that the Spirit works through those questions and your ability to pay attention to those questions. And that's a big challenge, too, to stay open to those questions, to observe them, to think about how you might bring those into your spiritual practices with your community or researching them. And I think that the difficulty of that is, they're probably going to be disruptive. So if we think about challenges of integrating, it's going to be disruptive. So that's certainly been the case in my life, and lots of other people that I've talked to, when we think about this faith integration or our work. It's an that can be unsettling. And it's, but it can also be really freeing and exciting to open that part of our selves up to God, and actually allow the Spirit to, to work and move in that. And that's going to probably take us on a trajectory that we didn't necessarily expect.
Jon Steele 28:46
This feels like a place where the practice of a daily examen might come in really handy. What does it look like to pause throughout my day, and to be reminded that God is a part of this, like, God is a part of what I'm doing? And to get to the end of the day, and review the day as a whole? And say, like, where did I? Where was I partnering with God? Like very overtly, very clearly. And then where are the places where now that I think about it, I missed God in the space, and that that might help kind of clarify, God is involved in the inner workings of my day.
Dr. Jeff Liou 29:20
Super simple, but just like Emily said, potentially very disruptive. So this is not for the faint of heart. Like you don't do breath prayers just for the therapeutic kind of value of it. You do it for discipleship and for Lordship, right. Like Jesus is Lord that that's the central one of the central Creed's of the gospel is like, so for Jesus to be Lord over every breath. You're going to start asking yourself questions that, you know, you maybe you didn't want to ask before so that I mean, it's like Emily says super disruptive.
Jon Steele 29:51
Emily, Jeff, we've we've only scratched the surface. If, if, if even that. Is there a way that alumni can continue to dig into all these topics with you long after listening to this episode?
Dr. Jeff Liou 30:03
Absolutely. I mean, we got to plug the podcast again. Yes, Theology &. I mean, we use the ampersand, but you can go to theologyandpodcast.com. And instead of the ampersand, theologyandpodcast.com. So that's one way. I mean, the podcasts on Instagram, and then both of us are on social media.
Dr. Emily Hill 30:25
I've tried to get off. Yeah, but I think, you know, like, I've written articles on social media and surveillance in the church, and so are our websites or things like that? Put those in the show notes. I don't always keep mine updated. But I should.
Jon Steele 30:41
Perfect. We will make sure those things make it into the show notes. Emily, Jeff, thank you so much for for making this investment in alumni who I mean, this is a, this is a but extremely important season of life that they step into, that there is kind of this passing the baton from this close knit community that they've been a part of that can provide helpful boundaries and help them ask these questions because they have other eyes on them. And and then they're stepping into this place where that just really for many of them, that is not the case. And so to be able to have tools like this mindsets like this to say, why, why does what I do matter, and not just the work that I do, but everything that I say and think and do why does this matter? Why do I do it this way? And what does God have to say about that? That these are really important mindsets for us to move through the rest of our lives with? And I think you're helping set up our alumni really well to start developing that framework early on. So thank you so much for that.
Dr. Emily Hill
Dr. Jeff Liou 31:45
Thanks, Jon. Appreciate the conversation.
Jon Steele 31:50
“What part of your life doesn't matter to God? What minute of your day doesn't matter to God? What aspect of your job is God not already the supreme expert in? There's not a single part of our lives that God is not concerned about.”
Alumni that statement from Jeff Liou right there is why theology matters. Why this conversation about God within the Christian community throughout history matters. Because this conversation deepens our intimacy and commitment to God. it diversifies our awareness of tradition, both our own and others. And it helps us discern the way forward, the theology we hold to impacts the way we understand God, ourselves and others and informs the way that we interact with those three. And as we start to recognize that we see that our theology is a roadmap for engaging with every part of our day to day lives, work, money, recreation, entertainment, relationships, issues of justice, and on and on and on, are all wrapped up in our theology.
So for real, what parts of your life feel like they don't matter to God. I want to encourage you to hold those up to him and ask how should I think and act differently about these things? Now is the time to start asking those questions so that you can form lifelong habits of investigating those things with God, investigating them with the broader faith community and making adjustments as you learn more about how it should influence the way that you think and act.
Jeff and Emily, thanks so much for joining us today. Thank you for being such a fantastic resource on this topic. And thanks for putting up with my hamfisted attempts at understanding and explaining what we talked about.
Everyone, you can find links in the show notes to more of Jeff and Emily's offerings to help you keep learning about these ideas. And make sure you check out the Theology & podcast. Some fantastic stuff happening over there.
And come back next week. For our last interview of the year. We're going to chat with Rocco, an alumnus who walked away from his faith and found out that God was still very invested in inviting him to come back home.
And we're only two weeks away from our 100th Episode celebration. If you haven't submitted your story about a favorite moment from After IV, you can still get those in today as in the day that this is released for a chance to share them with the After IV community. Thanks so much for tuning in. And I will see you in the after, alumni.
Podcast Outro – (Upbeat acoustic guitar music)
Hey, thanks so much for joining us today, Alumni. If there was anything that you learned, really enjoyed, or that encouraged you from today's episode, would you send us a DM or tag us in a story? We'd love to hear about it. You can find us @afterivpod on Instagram and Facebook. And if you haven't already, take just a second to unlock your phone and subscribe to the podcast. If your platform lets you, leave us a rating and a review. And if you like what we're doing here, share us with your InterVarsity or other post-graduation friends. Thanks again for listening. And I will see you in the after, Alumni.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai