How to Approach Theology

New College CloistersTheology is important. Good theology is even more important. Everyone is called to “do” theology.1 These are guiding principles for my theological work, which I seek to undertake with thoughtfulness, faithfulness, and charity. Of course, to merely say (or write) that theology holds a place of value is not the same as actually living out one’s faith while seeking understanding.2 Too many times in my own life it is at the place where the proverbial “rubber hits the road” that my abstract, intellectualized theological principles fall prey to my sinful nature and laziness. As important as it is to speak truth, it is not enough to merely say the right things. As James says in his epistle, “Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”3

Thus, truly good theology consists not only of thinking rightly about God, but also living rightly (and righteously) in his presence. Of course, this raises that all important question of how: how do we not only think but also live faithfully? In reflecting on this task, I have developed some practice-oriented musings for how we should live as Christians in today’s world, which I now submit as theses for discussion:

1. Make God revealed in Christ the focus of your life. Theologically, this means that you should be seeking God and communicating his reality to your fellow human beings. If your life’s work is not furthering God’s Kingdom, are you really following Christ?

2. 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 your other life goals.

3. Know what you believe. Know what you are arguing for. Advocate for those beliefs. Don’t just quote people you think are important. Think.

4. Develop your intense devotional life. Pray without ceasing. Read the Bible (devotionally, not just as an academic text, something that is easier for some than others). Pay no attention to people who criticize you for making your faith life important.

5. Speak (and write) as clearly, cogently, and concisely as possible.

6. Be generous whenever and wherever possible. Be gentle, gracious, and conciliatory unless you have unmistakable evidence for behaving otherwise.

7. Don’t assume everything from your tradition or perspective is 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.

8. 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.

9. Live purely and seek purity. Stay away from Internet pornography and illicit relationships. Love and prioritize your husband/wife.

10. Be active in a good church. Other believers are necessary to maintain not only a vibrant faith, but also for perspective on important issues. You need to be connected to the communion of saints—both past and present.

11. Your theology should be Biblically rooted. The Bible has stood at the nexus of Christian theological reflection for over two millennia. There is good reason for that.

12. Read more old books (older than 50 years old) than new books when it comes to shaping your worldview.5 Your theology needs to be rooted in the wisdom of the past before it considers the whims of the present.

13. Listen to the wisdom of non-academically trained Christians, especially those who are older, wiser, and more experienced than you. If you’re highly educated, don’t look down at people from what Helmut Thielicke called “the high horse of enlightenment.” Other believers often know God better than you do. Learn from them.

14. Learn when you should say “No” to an opportunity.

15. Discover truth, wherever it may be found. As Augustine reminds us, wherever Truth is found, it belongs to its Maker.5

16. Be wary of the latest trend. 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 often do not last. Be informed before you adopt the latest and greatest idea.

17. Be skeptical of skeptics. No one is right 100% of the time.

18. Respect your elders and those who have gone before you. Listen to their decades of experience.

19. Recognize different types of “ministry.” 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. Serve God wherever you work.

20. Don’t lose your sense of humor, even when dealing with difficulties and stress. God should be taken seriously, not our personal problems, projects, and egos. And on that note, if Jesus could pun, so can you.

What do you think of these suggestions? Do you agree or disagree with any of them? What would you add? Subtract? Change?

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4 thoughts on “How to Approach Theology

  1. Pingback: How to Approach Theology – The Rural Commoner

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