Someone just told me (in an email) that the type of writing I do sounds rather academic. I responded that some of it is, but that the most academic writing I've done (Covenant And Community) has changed me in countless ways. She asked me to explain. Here is my response.
To begin with, you need to understand that I’m religious, Christian. That’s why I do theology.
For years I had seen my religion as being primarily between myself and God. I tried to have a relationship with God, study his word, obey him, etc. Of course, that has plenty to do with other people, because God has lots to say about how we treat each other. But still my personal religion was my account with God.
Thus, I could be a perfectly good Christian with or without other people. And I generally found it preferable to spend most of my time alone. It was just me and my Bible and Jesus. (I exaggerate somewhat, but that was the general direction of my life.)
Then I began studying the idea of the image of God. In the first chapter of the Bible God proposes to make humanity to be his image. That, I think, is our primary purpose in creation. The more I studied, the more clear it was that this image is not each of us separately being God’s image. Instead, we all together are to be his image. That makes personal/private religion almost like no religion at all.
As I worked through some of the implications, I found that I needed to really be willing to become part of a community of Christians, all working together, all working for each other, all building each other up.
This all has changed how I think of myself (no longer so much as an individual, more as a member of a group of like-minded folk), how I think of the church (no longer as a place only to learn, now as a place to work for the benefit of others), how I think of evangelism (no longer as trying to prove my point and convince someone of some vital truth, now as drawing people into the community and letting God work as he chooses). No longer is my religion primarily academic, now it is almost entirely interpersonal.
Thus, my whole life is changed. Where once I was content to do my work, try not to sin, repent when I did, etc, now whatever I am doing I know that God is working through me to build his image through me and those around me. At every moment the people around me (Christians or not, no matter) matter much more now than ever before. And I don’t have to convince them of anything! And everyone is just as vital. No longer are pastors and teachers the great people and the rest of us just followers. Each person has their own gifts to bring, each person is absolutely needed.
Depending on your background, this may sound like “Well, duh!” or it may make no sense. I hope it is at least somewhat coherent.