Before seminary, I never gave much thought to theology. In fact, I left most of the “theological thinking” to greater minds than my own. I thought of pastors and teachers as people of God who would take deep theological concepts and “dumb” them down so that my average Christian mind could comprehend them. (Silly… I know.)
Now I know this isn’t how all people perceive theology, but I do find that many of the Christians I encounter on a day-to-day basis don’t study theology in-depth. We talk about God, the Bible, basic spiritual principles, the Holy Spirit… but unless we’re academically inclined, we don’t often sit down over coffee to discuss deep theological issues.
I’m amazed at how much I didn’t know or understand before I went to seminary. You would think that growing up in the church, in a Christian home, and in a Christian school, I would have had this whole “Christian” thing down. I should have known the Bible cover to cover – right? But I didn’t. Not even close. I knew all the stories, and I had all of the typical Sunday school answers for tough questions. But my world was shaken to its core when my theology was challenged. I nearly questioned my entire religion because some of the things I had been taught no longer made sense.
My first year of seminary taught me one important lesson: theology matters.
Paul was a theologian at heart. Reading his letters makes it abundantly clear that he had an academic mind. He wanted the things of God to make sense to his readers. He knew all too well the dangers of bad theology. It was a constant battle as new church leaders were rising up everywhere, and some of these leaders were spreading some seriously flawed doctrine. Paul made it his mission to correct bad teaching.
Here are 3 reasons why bad theology is dangerous:
- It gives us a warped perception of who God is. – Is He the angry God of the Old Testament ready to fire down judgment or the gracious and forgiving God of the New Testament? Does He care about us following His laws or does He simply want our hearts? How involved is He in our lives? Can we approach Him confidently as our heavenly Father or do we need to be afraid of Him?
- It gives us a warped perception of who we are. – Am I a filthy sinner or am I holy in His sight? Does God favor the Jews over the Gentiles or does He view us all the same way? Should I be afraid of the enemy or should he be afraid of me?
- It warps our view of God’s grand plan. – What was the purpose of the Old Covenant and the Law? Do we still have to honor it today? What about the New Covenant? Does it replace the old one or do they co-exist? Has the enemy been defeated or does he still possess some authority in our lives and on this earth?
Now I understand that some of these questions are deeply controversial. But if I’m being honest, I hadn’t given much thought to most of them prior to seminary. I would have had an answer for a few of them, but certainly not all of them. And even if I could give you an answer, I definitely would not have been able to give you a full reason as to why.
How are we supposed to serve God to the best of our ability if we don’t understand the basics? Who God is, who we are, and the details of our religious past are the basics.
Here are 3 ways to start thinking like a theologian:
- Study good theology. – Get your hands on some credible resources. Read commentaries. Understand that different teachers and scholars have different ways of viewing things. That’s a good thing! It challenges you to do some research for yourself and to decide where you personally stand on an issue.
- Know why you believe what you believe. – It’s not enough to have good answers. You need to understand why. That way when someone tries to challenge your viewpoint, you won’t be shaken the way I was. Growing up, I had good answers, but I didn’t know why they were the answers. I had nothing to stand on when someone challenged my view.
- Step back and analyze your theology from start to finish. – This one is crucial. I’ve heard so many believers (myself included) who have actually contradicted their own theology. We can say, “I believe this about __________.” And then we move on to another topic and the next words out of our mouth literally contradict what we just said about that previous topic. We have to be able to put the pieces together. The story has to make sense from Adam and Eve until eternity with Jesus. If it doesn’t, then we need to rethink our theology. God is the same yesterday, today and forever; and He is a God of order not of chaos. So yes, if something doesn’t make sense or things seem to contradict each other, then the problem is with our thinking, not our God.
Are you ready to think like a theologian?