WHAT IS THEOLOGY?
Theology is neither a nine-to-five job nor a career. To know and speak truly of God is a vocation that requires more than academic or professional qualifications. The image you should have in mind is not the professor with a tweed jacket, but rather the disciples who dropped everything to follow Jesus. Becoming a theologian means following God’s Word where it leads with all one’s mind, heart, soul, and strength.
Theology is the study of how to speak truly of God and of all things in relation to God. But theologians can’t approach the object of their study the way biologists study living creatures or geologists the earth. God cannot be empirically examined. God is the creator of all things, not to be identified with any part of the universe or even with the universe as a whole. Speaking of God thus poses unique challenges. If God had not condescended to communicate to creatures something of his light, we would be in the dark.
BY GOD, OF GOD, TO GOD
Are you familiar with Thomas Aquinas’s definition? “Theology is taught by God, teaches of God, and leads to God.”
By God. Only God can make himself known. We’re simply children who love their father and want to know him better, who trust their father’s wisdom: “And He (Jesus) said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3
Of God. Theology is thinking hard about what God has taught about Himself and all things in relation to Himself.
To God. Theology is ultimately about cultivating godliness, in oneself and one’s community. A theologian is a certain kind of person, whose created intelligence has been illumined by the Holy Spirit.
It’s true, there is a guild of “professional” theologians—mostly academics who populate colleges, seminaries, and university divinity schools—and there are scholarly journals and awards to be had, not to mention salaries and sabbaticals.
Don’t confuse making a living as a theologian with living out the knowledge of God. If you aspire to speak of God, do so to please God, not people: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people?” Galatians 1:10 “We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” 1 Thessalonian 2:4
When theology proclaims the deep mystery—God’s plan of redemption conceived “before the foundation of the world”: “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.” Ephesians 1:4
It doesn’t promote cleverly devised myths, but reality. The world is passing away (even scientists agree, acknowledging that our sun will eventually burn out), but God’s Word endures forever:“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Matthew 24:35
Have you considered whether academic theology is your vocation rather than as a pastor or priest?
Let us begin with four adjectives (Trinitarian, biblical, catholic, and systematic) that qualify Christian theological thinking.
First, becoming a Christian theologian means developing a Trinitarian habit of mind. God the Father has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ through the Spirit (what Irenaeus calls the “two hands” of God).
Second, the best way to stay focused on the subject matter of theology is to stay focused on Scripture. It’s no coincidence that the most important figures in the history of theology—Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth—also wrote biblical commentaries.
C. S. Lewis’s distinction between looking at a beam of light and looking along it clarifies what’s at stake. Those who look at the biblical text analyze it from a critical distance. They see the text, but not necessarily what it’s talking about. In contrast, those who look along the text enter into its strange new world.
God addresses us in Scripture and requires our response. It involves reading all the books in the Old and New Testaments as parts of an overarching story. The theologian is a kind of cartographer of this new world.
The third thing you must do to acquire a theological habit of mind is to read the Word of God with and for the people of God.
The best theologians are apprentices to Scripture and to the consensual tradition of its interpretation. Catholicity is a well-known mark of the Church; it ought also to characterize theologians. Let the gospel be the center of your thinking, but let catholic tradition fill out its content and fix its circumference. Know this: evangelical and catholic are bedfellows, not rivals.
The fourth theological habit of mind involves thinking systematically as we read the Word of God with the people of God. What unifies Scripture is the story of God’s determination to see through His purpose for creation to the end, a story in which Israel and the Church loom large, with Jesus Christ as its hinge and center.
Let’s turn to your question about the kind of person you need to become. The short answer is “wise”: a person with understanding who knows how to live out what he knows with three pairs of contrasting qualities. Continue reading ARE YOU AN ASPIRING THEOLOGIAN?
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