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Monday, October 4, 2010

The Importance of Peer Theology

In college, my roommate introduced me to a book called, Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy. The book was based off of a Saturday Night Live sketch and contained humorous quips of tongue-in-cheek philosophical statements such as, “Sometimes I think the so-called experts actually ARE experts.”

It’s tough to argue with that.

Turning to an altogether different author, philosopher and theologian, C.S. Lewis, tackles the idea of experts as well. He writes in the opening paragraph of his Reflection on the Psalms:

“It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can. When you took the problem to a master, as we all remember, he was very likely to explain what you understood already, to add a great deal of information which you didn’t want, and say nothing at all about the thing that was puzzling you. I have watched this from both sides of the net; for when, as a teacher myself, I have tried to answer questions brought me by pupils, I have sometimes, after a minute, seen that expression settle down on their faces which assured me that they were suffering exactly the same frustration which I had suffered from my own teachers. The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less” (1).

Lewis raises something important for us to consider: there needs to be space for people to work things out in community. In no way do I consider myself much of an expert at anything, but as a church leader and aspiring worship theologian, I often want others to know what I know and feel passionate about my same passions. It is as if I’ve discovered a truth they haven’t yet seen, but I want to make sure they do. Thus, so often I end up either forcing my ideas upon others, or I drag them along some path they don’t quite fully understand. Perhaps this approach is more dangerous than if I simply allowed them to discover the truth on their own. Unfortunately, I end up dumping a load of information on others instead of trying to allow space for their formation.

The truth is, others have not been through the same process of formation that I have. The laity in my church don’t spend their time reading worship books, thinking through what songs to choose for a Sunday morning, or meeting with a team to plan a worship service.

As leaders, we need to allow space for peer theology. This involves two levels of responsibility – one, that we don’t force our expertise on others; two, that we use our expertise to motivate others. We need to not be afraid to allow others to work out their faith. At the same time, we need to bold in encouraging others to work out their faith. Perhaps then we will see how much more we learn from one another than any so-called expert could ever teach us. 


  1. Well said, Jonathan. Well said.

    When what I know becomes more important than who (both God and others) I know, then I cannot pastor well.

    And Jack Handy reigns supreme!

  2. Thanks man. And thank you for introducing me to Jack Handy all those years ago!

  3. Jonathan, I totally agree. It is what Henri Nouwen speaks of in "Reaching Out" concerning the student/teacher roles and the fact that we all move in and out of them continuously if, in fact we are living in community with those around us. Thanks for sharing this. ~margie groves