Friday, 15 February 2013

Theology 101 - Conclusion: How do I do Theology?

We have come to the end of our ‘Theology 101’ series. What have we established?

·         Christian theology concerns itself with speech about God, with the speech of God, and with the variety of experiences that are said to derive from Him.
·         We’ve argued that theological study can be personally beneficial, pastorally helpful, ecclesially vital and publically confrontational. We’ve also argued that it is intellectually necessary and worshipful in nature.
·         We’ve looked at the sources of Christian theology – revelation, experience, tradition and reason.
·         We’ve explored the types of Christian theology – its disciplines (e.g. systematic, biblical, contextual theology, etc) and traditions (e.g. Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran theology, etc).
·         We’ve investigated the relationship between apologetics and theology, suggesting nine ways in which theological study should be a priority for the aspiring apologist. In the last post, we used Richard Dawkins as a case study to highlight how this relationship can be mutually beneficial.

In this final post, I want to say a few words to those interested in studying theology. Seeing as it may be a little daunting for beginners, there are a few pieces of advice I’d like to give you before you get going.

First, examine your intentions. Take some time to think about why you want to study theology. In the previous posts I may have given many positive reasons, but the human heart is a fickle and deceitful thing (Jer 17:9); none of its decisions are entirely pure. It should be obvious that theological study affords the pupil with a certain degree of power and influence, especially if they serve a Church otherwise bereft of theologians. There are a great number of theologians (especially those who are young) who use their intellect as a vehicle for vanity. Make every effort not to fall into this trap: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

Second, serve a Church. Get involved in a local Christian community. Not only is there abundant scriptural warrant for this, but (as we’ve argued) theology should also be ecclesial in nature. You should aim to serve the Church with your study. More than this, your commitment to a body of believers will benefit you greatly as you proceed on your journey to learn theology. Not only will your time in the body be a source of reflection and provocation, but it should also afford accountability and wise direction. To submit in this way to a local Church (and its leadership) will prove vital for the intellectual submission that God requires from every theologian.

Third, be steadfast in Scriptural study and prayer. This is something you won’t necessarily get right before you start, but you should begin to make an effort now. The Scriptures ask that we “devote ourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving” (Col 4:2), and that we continue in our knowledge of the “sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). I really can’t understate this: Christian theologians are not only mandated to be familiar with prayer and study, but they become better theologians by that same familiarity. Seeing as Scripture is a vital resource of theological reflection in every tradition, a greater awareness of its content makes one a more capable theologian. Moreover, seeing as God is central to the theological task in every sense, then greater intimacy with Him makes one not only a capable theologian but one worth listening to. You may know the difference between enhypostatic and anhypostatic Christology, but if you don’t know Jesus, your words are always going to ring hollow.

Fourth, pick up some introductory texts. We’ve listed some already in this series: McGrath’s Christian Theology Reader and Christian Theology: An Introduction are useful. So is Migilore’s Faith Seeking Understanding. The Cambridge Companion series can function at introductory as well as advanced levels of study, so you may wish to acquire the volume dedicated to Christian Doctrine (edited by Colin Gunton).

Fifth, don’t be afraid of primary texts. Get stuck into the classics. If you’re interested in Calvin, read him. If you find your interest piqued by Augustine, Irenaeus and Athanasius, read them. If you want to know more about Anselm or Barth, read them. You may not understand everything you read but that’s fine; you’ll still get a basic sense of what they’re saying. Use a notebook to jot down the gaps in your knowledge and pursue those avenues at a later date.

Sixth, if possible, find a friend or two who shares your interest in theology. This isn’t strictly vital but it certainly is useful. After all, “iron sharpens iron” (Prov 27:17). This kind of friendship will provide you with camaraderie and support when you find what you’re studying objectionable, confusing or difficult. Personally, I have two friends with whom I share a deep and satisfying theological relationship. We help one another understand key issues, challenge one another in our piety, and spur one another on towards mission. Such friendship is to be highly commended in one’s theological life. [2]

Seventh, if desirable, find an academic context in which to study theology. You might have assumed I’d list this first, but it should be observed that theology is not – primarily – an academic matter. You do not need to be an academic theologian to be a good theologian. Indeed, many of the greatest theologians of history were pastors first, and then scholars. If, however, you desire your theological study to be tempered by academic discipline, then finding somewhere appropriate will be a priority. Depending on what you want to do with your training, you may want to go abroad or attend a seminary. In the UK, at least, academic theology is mostly defined by the university. A handful of domestic institutions stand out: Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, St. Andrews, Aberdeen, Nottingham, Chester, Leicester, etc. Similarly, there are several international universities that would be worth considering: Tübingen, Yale, Harvard, Notre Dame, etc.

Above all, make this the elementary feature of your theological life – “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). Of course, that is a theological statement in itself. But by now, you’re hopefully equipped to know what that means!


[1] C.S. Lewis wrote an essay called On the Reading of Old Books; find it online, and read it. He makes a good case that we are too dependent on books about books, that we should persevere instead with that which is primary as opposed to secondary.

[2] Indeed, it’s no coincidence that intimate theological friendship was enjoyed by many of the great theologians of history. One is reminded of Tolkien and Lewis’ friendship, along with that of the rest of the ‘Inklings’. One may recall Barth and Thurneysen’s relationship, or that of Calvin and Farel.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...