Theological Elevator Pitch


Doug Hagler at Prog(ressive)nostications issued a challenge:

What if you had to create an elevator pitch for theological concepts? Something that encapsulated what you think is important about the concept for someone to understand, in plain English?

So, here’s the challenge. Choose a theological concept and write an elevator pitch for the concept. The elevator pitch should not be longer than 50 words, and should be as short as possible if you go over the 50. It should express what you think is the core of a theological concept, and be easily understandable by the average 8th grader.

Incarnation—When God put on flesh and lived with us. This intersection between human history and divine history allows us to know a bit more about God.

Atonement—The way we become united with God. None of us have figured out exactly how this happens. But we have some ideas. Most people think that atonement occurs through the life, death, and/or resurrection of Jesus.

Christus Victor—Unity with God happens through Jesus’ resurrection. It is the thought that when Jesus was raised from the dead, he became the victor over sin and death, and so we can be victors over sin and death too.

Satisfaction—Unity with God happens through Jesus’ death. In many ancient religions, there was the thought that to appease the divine, blood had to be offered. In Christianity, substitutionary atonement holds that Jesus was the last of these gifts. Because he died, and he was the perfect gift, God was then satisfied.

(And I would have to add: I don’t believe that we have a blood-thirsty God.)

Moral Exemplar—Unity with God happens through Jesus’ life. Jesus is completely human and completely God, so through his teachings and through his example, Jesus teaches us how to be fully human.

Salvation—Is when we let God help us. Sometimes it’s a moment-by-moment thing.

The Gospel—Is good news in the form that we need it the most. When Jesus spread the gospel, sometimes it was through healing, sometimes through teaching, sometimes through feeding people. 

The Holy Spirit—Is a person of the Trinity. The Spirit is the bond of love between God and Jesus, and the Spirit pours out upon us, as a bond of love. The Holy Spirit moves in us and among us, helping us to learn, giving us courage, and empowering us to seek justice and lift up the oppressed.

Creation—The ongoing process of God making us and the world. Since we’re made in the image of God, we are also partners in creation. As created beings, we are creative beings.

The Sovereignty of God—The idea that God’s ultimately in charge. It’s often a confusing concept, because we make choices, so it feels like we’re in charge of our own lives.

Sin—Actions that separate us from God.

The Fall—The myth of when humans first sinned. It

Heaven—In the Bible, heaven’s often the word for sky or the cosmos. I believe that when we die, God will enfold us into God’s love. We will return to God. And that’s heaven.

Hell—Separation from God.

The Crucifixion—It’s a form of execution and it’s how Jesus died.

Mission—The act of sharing the good news in the form that people need it the most. Whether that means helping to provide food, resources, water, medical supplies, care, compassion, or help along the spiritual journey, mission comes from our deep sense that we’re all made in the image of God and the hope that we might have justice and peace.

Immanence—The sense that God is close by.

Transcendence—The sense that God is beyond us.

Theodicy—That’s when we try to make sense of three things: (1) God loves us, (2) God is all-powerful, (3) bad things happen.

Biblical Inspiration—The idea that God inspired the words of Scripture.

Biblical Inerrancy–The idea that there were no errors in the first manuscripts of the Bible.

Biblical Literalism—The idea that the Bible is a chronological, historical account, and it is the only authority in our lives, in all disciplines, including science.

Okay, so I’m a geek. I had to add a couple of theories of atonement. 

Anyone else up to the challenge? Anyone want to add to or rip apart my answers?


10 thoughts on “Theological Elevator Pitch

  1. heehee….. Very timely since I’ve been working ALL day to finish a huge paper due for Systematics tomorrow. Same paper that Susan is working on. Take a creed and “unpack” the theology. (I can’t stand that “unpack”, lol..) — I wish we could do elevator theology! However, I can at least report that I understand every term on your list, including the various theories of atonement. Personally I go for the “kaleidoscopic” view, incorporating Hermann’s use of Calvin’s three-fold office of Christ as prophet, priest, and king. lol! now who’s the geek? :))

  2. I was trying to figure out how to work the Prophet, Priest, King offices in there, but then I abandoned the effort.

    You spend all of seminary unpacking this stuff, and then you spend the rest of your pastorate packing it back up. I hope all goes well as you finish up!

  3. Working with people who are mentally challenged, our huge theological basis is:

    “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”

    It’s amazing how much you can preach and teach in that small space. Here is my elevator explanation to a mentally challenged person:

    Jesus–God’s son who is also a man just like you or me. I don’t understant that but I believe it.

    Loves me–He came to earth to die for you and me and to forgive the bad things we all do.

    Bible–A book that is God’s word written to help the world and me personally to understand and know God.

  4. But isn’t that what Jack Chick tracts are for?

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like the whole elevator pitch approach, perhaps because unlike a screenplay or a project idea, “doing theology” requires conversation and deep human engagement.

    Even with…and perhaps particularly with…eighth graders.

  5. Hhmmm… a theological screenplay… that would be interesting.

    I think on Doug’s part, he’s usually hashing things out at great length on his blog (well, in other areas of his life too, I’m sure…). I can say the elevator pitch was more of an intellectual exercise and a departure from the norm.

  6. Yeah, David, actually what I was thinking is that often theology involves far too many words to talk about what are, at core, often relatively simple things. Simple and profound, but still simple. When asked something theological, my first response is often something like “well, its complicated…” at which point, the person, who might be genuinely curious, has usually stopped listening.

    It’s also come up in youth ministry, mostly with middle-school-age kids. If they ask something, I’ve got about five seconds to give some kind of answer before they’ve lost interest in what I’m going to say. So the conversation can go from there, but I’ve found I need to have something useful and true to put in those few seconds. Once I’ve built the relationship, I can talk about these things all day, but I feel like the window of opportunity to engage someone is sometimes small at first.

    I’ll forgive the comparison to the crime against humanity and nature that are Chick Tracts because we don’t know each other 😉


  7. It’s from all of those years of teaching confirmation classes. Actually a lot of them are distilled from conversations with 8th graders.

    When I took the social crisis class with Paul Raushenbush, we talked about making social gospel tracts. I have to admit… I keep thinking about the possibility… a little propaganda for the cause, in the spirit of Fairey or Banksy.… Too bad Jack used his gift for evil instead of good.

  8. Doug: Having taught middle-schoolers and lead confirmation classes myself, I tend towards following a question about a particular theological issue with a “well, what do you think?” Get them opening up about the impetus behind the question, and then structure the response accordingly. Speaking of our mutual friend brother Jack, you might find this entertaining:

    Carol: I’ve had exactly the same idea about progressive tracts. I’d actually thought of using Chick Tracts as a model, given that progressives on campus actually collect the darn things as evidence of the idiocy of Christianity. Perhaps something that plays off of Chick’s perverse theology. Perhaps a tract entitled “Yer Goin’ Ta Hell!”, that then suddenly spins subversively towards grace, openness, and acceptance.

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