Massive disclaimer: This entire post contains genuine and sincere questions. I'd like answers.
Ever since I started studying theology, I hear all the time that theology must be for the Church. This was presented as a possible answer to my post below about theology and the academy. If theology is not "for the Church", then it is meaningless, self-indulgent, irrelevant, etc. Most with whom I have spoken who express such opinions think that theology disattached from the life and concerns of the Church would prefer silence to such selfish speech about God. What could be worse than one who claims to speak about God and only gives a damn about their own career ambitions? What kind of God could that person possibly be witnessing to if that God clearly has no conditioning upon that person's concerns?
I think I understand what people mean by this sentiment. And yet, I don't. What does it mean to say that theology is "for the Church" and "by the Church"? What do we mean when we say the word "Church"? Are we talking about our particular denomination, sect of Christianity, or the one holy, catholic, apostolic church? Does theology that is "for the Church" have concerns for those "outside" the Church, or would we prefer to offer less strict dichotomies between the Church (and "Christianity" for that matter) and the world (so that there is no "outside")? Is theology that is "for the Church" mean anyone can read it? Does it mean we teach Sunday school? Does it mean that we hand out free copies of our work?
Sometimes I think that those who say that theology should be "for the Church", especially those who actually do formal academic theology, only say so because they feel guilty saying anything else. But is the only positive reason for saying that theology is "for the Church" the fact that it is some kind of lip-service shield of sorts that protects you from looking like a complete fool? Nothing could be worse than admitting you don't do theology "for the Church." So if it is so important, why doesn't anyone really talk about what that phrase might actually mean? I want theology to be "for the Church". I really do.
Even more, if theology is "for the Church" then who is the Church for? Is it for itself? Is it for the poor? Is it for all sinners? And if the Church was actually defined (both in confession and action) in my own dearest hopes as those who find solidarity with the least of those in society then how should the questions we ask in theology be informed by this task?
Simply put, I have no idea what people mean when they say that theology should be "for the Church". I don't even really know what the word "Church" should mean.
That might be the entire problem.