Here is some of my best advice for young theologians and Bible students:
- Everyone is a theologian. You cannot escape that responsibility. (Even atheists are theologians because they have a concept of what they think God should be like and then find that particular God absent from the world.) Since we cannot escape being theologians, the only question is whether we will be responsible, informed theologians – or bad theologians.
- Keep the Bible as your priority. There are many books of interest but the great theologians keep going back to the source.
- Develop a humility before the text of Scripture. As you study and before you read, pray something like, “Lord, change my mind about something today.” And do not panic when you find that you do not have it all figured out. We become informed theologians little by little, and the process is never complete in this life.
- Recognize that not all biblical truths are of equal importance. For example, the dual nature of Jesus (his deity and humanity) carries one kind of theological priority, while the exact nature of the “days” in Genesis 1 carries quite another. Both may need to be argued for, but not with the same level of vehemence. And how do we discern what are the priorities? This calls for wisdom. Knowledge of church history and the great creeds can help.
- Stay rooted in the gospel and remember that it is not what we know (information) but who we know (Jesus) that saves us. The story is told that Karl Barth, author of the massive Church Dogmatics and many other learned works, was once asked by a reporter what the most important thing was that he had discovered in his lifetime of research. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” was his answer. Even if that story is slightly embroidered, it reveals the heart of all great theologians.
- Theologians (and Bible professionals) need the church, and the church needs its theologians.
- It’s important to have heroes and mentors. But as we advance as theologians, we realize that we don’t learn exclusively from devout, like-minded Christians. In his wisdom, God has often given insights to Christians who are not like us – or even to people who do not acknowledge Him at all. Learning from pagans was something Augustine recognized. He called it “plundering the Egyptians,” alluding to the valuables the ancient Israelites gained from their Egyptian neighbors as they headed towards the Promised Land.
- Remember the challenge of Jesus in John 13:17, a challenge that seems particularly suited to theologians and Christian intellectuals: “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
I hope you will find this advice helpful. Ready for more? Some excellent advice from an experienced theologian can be found on Andy Naselli’s blog post: John Frame’s Advice: 30 Suggestions for Theological Students and Young Theologians. Highly recommended.
Do you have a reaction or perhaps some advice of your own? Add a comment below.
By: Ray Pennoyer
Date: 9 Oct 2012