Myriam Thyes

Theologian John Mackay once introduced a metaphor that has influenced my thinking about the practice of theology. Mackay talked about “theology from the balcony” and “theology from the road.” The difference between these two approaches is their starting points. “Balcony” theology originates in academic circles, and rarely leaves them. It leads to conversations that are often abstracted from the realities and messiness of daily life. Theology from the “road,” on the other hand, begins with the lived needs, questions, and circumstances of particular people we meet and engage with.

A few years back I read an essay on the life of missionary theologian David Bosch.[1]  Bosch was a South African, a classically trained biblical scholar, and a missionary.  The article picked up on Mackay’s metaphor and showed how Bosch’s ministry exemplified theology from the road. For Bosch, this meant being conversant with his academic guild while doing ministry with black South Africans under apartheid. His theology emerged from the crucible of life and ministry. Bosch, and other theologians such as Roland Allen, Hendrik Kraemer, J.H. Bavinck, and Lesslie Newbigin, have asked new questions about theology and refused to be satisfied with answers that, to use a phrase from Herman Bavinck, “[rely on] intellectual arguments and abstract ideas no one cares about and no soul can live by…”[2]

Who is Theology For?

The balcony and road metaphors should not be overplayed; nor should the academy and the church pitted against each other. However, these images do point to fundamental issues that give shape both to the type of theology that we develop and for whom.

My own approach to theology from the road has been significantly shaped by Abraham Kuyper, Bavinck, Newbigin, and Richard Mouw. From them I learned the importance of thinking about the identity and vocation of the Church in terms of the larger mission of God to create, sustain, redeem, and perfect this world. This guiding paradigm helped me see the role of theology and the seminary to be helping to serve the Church as it seeks to make disciples who faithfully participate in God’s mission. In the words of Christopher Wright, “It’s not so much, as someone has said, that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world.”[3] It is this type of theology—from the road in light of the mission of God—that this blog seeks to engage with.

What to Expect from this Blog

So what can you expect to find on this blog? This blog is a theologian’s field notes attempting to bring insights from the balcony and the road together. I anticipate a variety of different resources including stories, theological reflections, practical ministry tools, and interviews emerging from diverse ministry contexts. For those who join in the conversations, I look forward to learning about the pressing theological and missiological issues you encounter in your everyday life and ministry. At the end of the day, theology needs to be undertaken not only from the balcony and the road but also with others in community.

[1] Timothy Yates, “David Bosch: South African Context, Universal Missiology–Ecclesiology in the Emerging Missionary Paradigm,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research (Vol. 33, No. 2, April, 2009), 72-78.

[2] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Abridged in One Volume (Grand Rapids, Baker Publishing, 2011), 117.

[3] Christopher Wright, “Truth With a Mission,” in Fanning the Flame: Bible, Cross & Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 230.