21 Suggestions for Theological Study

OxfordSome time back, Joseph Torres published “30 Suggestions for Theological Students and Young Theologians” by John Frame. Below, I offer 21 suggestions for theological study, admittedly from the perspective of someone who could only be called a theological student and/or young theologian.

  1. Make God revealed in Christ the focus of your theological work. The fundamental work of theology is “faith seeking understanding”, to seek God and communicate His reality to humanity. If your theological project is not furthering God’s Kingdom, you’re not doing theology.

  1. Value your relationship with Christ, your husband/wife, your family, and your church above your career goal and ambitions. The people closest to you are of far greater (and lasting) importance than the people who know you through your books, articles, or blog posts.
  1. Know what you believe. Know what you are arguing for. Advocate for those beliefs. Don’t just quote people you think are important. Think.
  1. Develop your intense devotional life. Pray without ceasing. Read the Bible devotionally, not just as an academic text. Give attention to your spiritual formation. Pay no attention to people who criticize you for making your faith life important.
  1. Speak and write as clearly, cogently, and concisely as possible.
  1. Be generous whenever and wherever possible. This applies to resources and criticism. Be gentle, gracious, and conciliatory unless you have unmistakable evidence for behaving otherwise.
  1. Don’t assume everything from your tradition or perspective are flawless and that ideas from other traditions or perspectives are necessarily flawed. Be teachable. Listen before speaking. Examine your own presuppositions and conclusions with a critical eye.
  1. When controversy strikes, do not be keen to join sides right away. Step back from the fray, examine the evidence, and look for insights that might be being missed. When you enter the controversy or find common ground with one side or another, remain humble and speak lovingly to the other side.
  1. “Guard your sexual instincts. Stay away from Internet pornography and illicit relationships. Theologians are not immune from the sins that plague others in the church.”
  1. “Be active in a good church. Theologians need the means of grace as much as other believers. This is especially important when you are studying at a secular university or liberal seminary. You need the support of other believers to maintain proper theological perspective.”
  1. As you study theology, if you are ever reading other books more than the Bible, find a new place to study theology. The Bible has stood at the nexus of theological study for over two millennia. There is good reason for that. And if you are reading more new books (less than 100 years old) than old books, find a new place to study theology. There are exceptions to this (such as studying modern Church history, contemporary Christian worship, American Christianity, etc). But most theological work needs to be rooted in the wisdom of the past before it considers the whims of the present.
  1. Listen to the wisdom of non-academically trained Christians, especially those who are older, wiser, and more experienced than you. Don’t look down at people from what Helmut Thielicke called “the high horse of enlightenment.” Simple believers often know God better than you do. Learn from them.
  1. Learn when you should say “No” to an opportunity.
  1. Take into account the insights of other fields. Augustine says, wherever Truth is found, it belongs to its Maker.
  1. Be wary of the latest trend and the need to create endless “original thoughts.” Do not reject new perspectives or ideas simple because they are new, but subject them to discernment, wisdom, history, and truth. Cultural savvy-ness and appeasement do not last. Be informed before you adopt the latest and greatest “label” for your perspective and work.
  1. Be skeptical of skeptics. No one is right 100% of the time.
  1. Respect your elders and those who have gone before you. They may have been trained before personal computers where in every office, but they know the field better than you (and everyone in it too). Listen to their decades of experience and learning.
  1. Consider that you might not be called to theological work. Everyone who is a Christian is called to ministry—to love God, love people, and proclaim the Gospel. But not every ministry takes place within the confines of the Church or the Academy.
  1. Place your work in proper perspective. Not everyone is the next Pope, Martin Luther, or Martin Luther King Jr. Figure out what work you are called to, work as hard as you can, and be satisfied with where God calls you. Let others decide how influential you are.
  1. Don’t lose your sense of humor. God should be taken seriously, not our personal projects and egos. If Jesus could pun, so can you.
  1. Never forget who you are seeking to understand. Subject all that you do to Him.

What other advice would you add? What would you change or clarify?

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