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why study theology?

October 5, 2009

Whenever I tell people that I’m in seminary studying theology and that part of The Bridge’s vision for the future is to offer theological training for members, most of them are really excited about it but there’s another group of people that either change the subject or roll their eyes.  For some people “theology” means…

  • Annoying people who disagree with everything
  • Even more annoying people who aren’t loving
  • STILL MORE annoying people who are spiritually arrogant
  • Boring
  • Big, meaningless words like “infralapsarianism”
  • Emphasis on just knowing instead of actually doing anything to change the world
  • Putting God in neat little boxes and equations

Now I’ll be the FIRST to say that the dangers of gaining any knowledge are there with theological knowledge too – 1 Corinthians says “knowledge puffs up”.  But I’ll also be the first to tell you that growing theologically can be the most spiritually fulfilling adventure of your life.  CS Lewis encapsulated the value of studying theology in this quote…

For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

– CS Lewis

I’m not much of a pipe-guy, but that is so true.

When I’ve struggled – sometimes painfully – through issues like God’s sovereignty, predestination, the attributes of God, the inspiration of The Bible, eschatology (end times stuff), and the Covenants of Scripture what I’ve found is the deeper I go, the bigger God gets and the more my heart for him grows.  Ves Chancellor, one of the most humble and evangelistic Christians I’ve ever known, wrote me this last week about why he disciples young men to study theology: “Theology leads to worship.”

That’s why I think it’s worth it to take the hard step, buy the big boring-looking book, and start wrestling with some hard words, questions, or passages of Scripture.

Those are my two-cents.  Any thoughts?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Jonathan Poole permalink
    October 5, 2009 12:31 pm

    Thank you for this.

  2. Andrea permalink
    October 5, 2009 1:45 pm

    Thanks for that Josh! I saw the tweet asking whether every believer should study theology, and resounded (in my head, didn’t want to wake babies) with a confident “yes!”. But then in reading your post, I see the issues that come up that would cause people to reject studying theology. For unbelievers, they see theologians (even laypeople who know all those terms and can spout theology with the best of them) as prideful, arrogant, selfish, self promoting, and overall useless because their knowledge does nothing for anybody but themselves. Pride can become a huge issue when we begin to seek knowledge for its’ own sake. We become pretty much modern day Pharisees when we seek knowledge so that we can judge and puff ourselves up. And I think that’s in similar rankings with the “s” word that you discussed yesterday.

    On the other side of the coin, God’s people, people that stand under the name of Christ, will want to know Christ, to reflect Christ, to grow closer to Christ every day. And we can do that by studying Him in His word. If we come humbly before the Word, we can be like a tree planted by still waters, where the roots grow deep and strong. We put ourselves in a place where we can be refined and humbled by the word. So, I say, “yes!” EVERYBODY should study theology (and what I mean by that is, get in the word and do whatever you can to really digest what it says!)

    And that’s my “one cent worth” since the babies are now awake and asking for lunch! And no, I won’t tweet that!

  3. Chad Osborne permalink
    October 5, 2009 3:28 pm

    those are words that i couldn’t put to my thoughts. thanks

  4. josh permalink
    October 5, 2009 3:56 pm

    Andrea, I think that’s what keeps a lot of people from experiencing the joy of growing in theological depth. Four or five stodgy, judgmental guys give everyone they meet a bad taste. Now, I just hope we can do the opposite 🙂

  5. Lynetta permalink
    October 5, 2009 10:08 pm

    I love that the Bridge has a vision to teach theology. There is an older woman back in Oregon who has tons of knowledge and a huge passion for the Word. I miss being able to go to her with questions I have from my own study and having long talks over coffee about the deeper theological issues. In an ideal world, we would all have a mentorish-type person from which we can learn.

    As for the pastor having seminary training, I think it’s a must. Without that training, he doesn’t have the knowledge to effectively teach the Word. To me, that’s scary beyond all reason, because most people take a speaker/pastor at his word and don’t even question what he says. I once attended a service where a pastor preached in a “stream-of-consciousness” style. Oh, my! You could see him looking around the congregation and thinking of ideas to talk about, using people’s personal lives as examples. I didn’t personally hear anything of substance (at the risk of sounding prideful) and was astonished that most of the people sat there just eating up everything he said. (And was quite glad he didn’t know anything about my personal life!)

    There’s an article in this month’s Christianity Today called “Why We Need Seminary.” Among many other good points, it emphasizes the need for pastors to have formal education so “they will acquire the knowledge more systematically and at an earlier time in their ministry.” A systematic method for laypeople wouldn’t hurt the rest of us either. Pretty idealistic, I know–but one can dream! It also says that “ministers need both burning passion and sophisticated understanding. Ignorant zeal is no improvement over passionless knowledge.” I think they use “minister” to mean pastor here, but it really applies to all who minister, whether it be the pastor or any other person who ministers.

  6. Christy permalink
    October 6, 2009 3:32 pm

    I have found theology, in its purest form, to be the attempt to 1)describe what we believe and 2)to connect those beliefs with everyday living. I think theology is living and evolving and should reflect not just ‘what we know’ but ‘how we live’.
    Stanely Grenz says this: ‘While it is an intellectual activity, theology is immensely practical. In fact, theology is among the most practical endeavors of the Christian life! It is practical because of its link to our encounter with God in Christ-to that marvelous transaction we call “conversion.”‘

    Thanks for your willingness to help us make those ‘connections’!

  7. John Howard permalink
    October 7, 2009 10:59 am

    I heard a quote from an elderly lady in a typical FBC setting. “The bible sure does shed a lot of light on those commentaries.”

  8. John Howard permalink
    October 7, 2009 11:01 am

    Whoops. I meant to add, hence the need for a deeper study. Go for it.

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