Do you think that it takes a big brain, lots of books, and a tweed jacket to be a theologian? Is knowing theology reserved for people who talk behind pulpits and lecterns, but not the people in the pews? Have you dreamed of growing closer to God by learning more about him?
I’d like to relieve your fears regarding theology. Anyone can be a theologian. By “anyone,” I mean anyone who is a real Christian. By “theologian,” I don’t mean someone who uses big words and long sentences to explain God. I simply mean someone who spends their whole life learning about God and knowing him more.
Many have rightly made the distinction between knowing about God and actually knowing God. We don’t want to be like the kid who memorized all his favorite basketball player’s stats, but was too nervous to ask for his autograph after the game. Learning about someone doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a relationship. But growing in a relationship must include learning more about the other person. This is as true between spouses or friends as it is between Christians and God.
Unfortunately, a lot of Christians are intimidated to learn more about God. They think it is something that they can’t do. The books are too thick, the words have too many letters, and it takes enrolling in a seminary or grad school. I’d like to give you three reasons why you can do it.
But before I give you the reasons, I want to warn you. They are very fundamental reasons. They’re basic. But I think that is why you need them. When Watson asks Holmes how he made such an insightful deduction, he replies, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Starting on the road to becoming a theologian is as elementary as these three reasons.
1. You can be a theologian because God exists
Or, to put it another way, you can’t be a theologian if God doesn’t exist. If Dawkins and Hitchens are right, then we are fools for wanting to know more about God. Theology becomes philosophy. But if it is the fool who says in his heart that there is no God (Ps. 14:1), then the desire to deeply know the God who exists is the highest aspiration you can have.
There is a God out there. This world cannot contain him, but he is as close as his word. Since there is a God, you can be a theologian.
(I warned you that these were simple reasons. But had you thought of that before?)
2. You can be a theologian because God has revealed himself
God wants to be known. He revealed himself to Adam. After Adam sinned he revealed himself to Noah and Abraham and many others throughout Israel’s history. After speaking many times in many ways, God’s revelation climaxed in the coming of Jesus, God’s very Word made flesh. And now the church has the Bible, God’s inspired revelation. We can read it every day and hear it taught on Sundays.
Some people think that God is like a clockmaker. He made the world, but he is removed from it. He never intervenes and never makes anything known about himself. If they are right, then there is no hope for theology. A God who exists but does not reveal himself through his presence, his deeds, or his words is a God whom we cannot know. But since God has revealed himself, we can look into his revelation and learn about him.
Are you doing this, you who complain that you’re not smart enough to be a theologian? Are you looking into God’s revelation?
Or are you studying thick, technical books? The best technical theologies are written by men who have pored over the Bible. That is where God has revealed himself. Perhaps you’re discouraged in what you know about God because you are reading what men say about God rather than what God says about himself. You can know much about God if you listen to him, for he has revealed himself.
3. You can be a theologian because the God has given you the ability to understand him
The biggest obstacle for people who want to learn theology is that they feel like they can’t understand it. It is true that some theology books are difficult to understand. Peter, in 2 Peter 3:16, even admits that some of Paul’s letters are hard to understand!
But hard to understand is not the same as unable to understand. The Holy Spirit enables us to understand the revelation God has given concerning himself:
“So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:11b-16).
Growing in your knowledge of God, becoming a theologian, is a matter of trusting this passage. Do you really believe that the Spirit will help you understand the word that he inspired? If you do, then start digging into the Scriptures and books about the Scriptures so that you can learn some new things about God.
These three reasons add up to the amazing revelatory grace of our Trinitarian God: The Father reveals himself in the Son by the inspiring and illuminating power of the Spirit. All three persons of the Trinity participate in making known to us the one and only God. And that trumps any excuses for not becoming a theologian in your own right.
This is a guest post by Eric McKiddie. Eric blogs at pastoralized.com about doing pastoral work with theological rigor and practical efficiency. He serves as the Junior High Pastor at College Church in Wheaton, IL.