Theology is, simply put, the study of God. Every person on this planet does theology of some sort. Some may believe that we are all gods. Others may believe that the physical earth is god. If you have some sort of belief concerning God then you are doing theology. Even if that belief is that he does not exist you are still doing theology. Thus, as Evangelical Christians, we must do what we can to be faithful when we speak about God based on Biblical revelation and Jesus Christ. What follows in this post are six characteristics of a faithful theologian.
#1: The Faithful Theologian Understands Faithful Reason.
First Corinthians 2:14-16 says “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged my no one. For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” The faithful theologian understands that no one will ever be able to reason their way to God no matter what philosophical ponderings they try. The things of the Spirit of God are not able to be understood by the unregenerate for these things are “spiritually discerned.” Faithful theology is done with a regenerate mind. This passage points out that we have been given the mind of Christ, thus we are able to understand and speak of the things of God with our regenerate minds. St. Augustine argued that “our hearts need to be cleansed first by believing, that we may be able to see with them” (Exposition of the Psalms 33-50, Psalm 44:25). If we have the mind of the world we cannot faithfully reason concerning otherworldly things.
The faithful theologian understands that we do not grasp onto God with out reason. Rather, we grasp on to God through faith and thus, reason is simply in service of our faith. Kelly Kapic points out that “Intellectus without fides leads to rationalism, fide without intellectus falls into emotionalism…What unites these efforts is a commitment to begin with Divine revelation rather than merely self-enlightenment” (Kelly Kapic, A Little Book for New Theologians. Downers Grove: IVP, 2012. 52). Theology is different from all other sciences for in the physical sciences and object is being studied and examined by us, but in theology, the faithful theologian submits himself firstly to Divine revelation. The faithful theologian submits himself to the object of study (God) to learn as the object reveals Himself to us. If we are to reason faithfully then, “our approach to God must acknowledge that our reason works properly only when it is full of faith. Reason apart from faith is empty, just as faith apart from reason can be blind and lead toward idolatry. Faith must precede reflection for true Christian theology to occur” (Kapic, Little Book for New Theologians, 55).
#2: The Faithful Theologian’s Life is Affected By Their Theology.
Theologians have often been characterized as pious scholars who simply sit in their ivory towers and write philosophical musings about God that no one outside of their tower can understand. Sadly, this has become true for my students of theology. However, this should not an MUST not be the case if we are to be faithful theologians. Theology is scientific in one sense (as discussed above), but true theology, faithful theology is LIVED theology. Martin Luther says, “It is through living, indeed dying and being damned that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading, or speculation” (Martin Luther, Operationes in Psalmos). If we are to be faithful theologians, our theology must affect our lives. We should not be able to speak about God and study who God is and not be completely changed. Kelly Kapic argues that, “attempting to separate life and theology is to lose the beauty and truthfulness of both” (Kapic, Little Book for New Theologians, 42). If we are to be faithful theologians who are continually maturing into the image of Christ, then our theology MUST affect the way that we live our lives and interact with others. J.I. Packer argues that “if our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility in inevitably feeds pride” (J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 1990. 15). The faithful theologian allows their theology to change them and mold them more and more into the image of God.
#3: The Faithful Theologian is Committed to Prayer and Study.
Karl Barth says that theology “does not merely begin with prayer and is not merely accompanied by it; in its totality it is peculiar and characteristic of theology that it can be performed only in the act of prayer” (Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963. 160). When someone begins to do theology and their life is not characterized by prayer this should be a red flag that their theology is being done without thinking about the place of reason in theology as discussed above. How can we being doing faithful theology without submitting ourselves to revelation and asking God to continually reveal himself to us as we continue our theological study? The faithful theologian will be continually submitting themselves to God in prayer asking for his guidance and illumination as they seek to know God as he reveals himself. Kapic argues, “theological reflection can and should be a rigorous, authentic, and humble dialogue with God…Our study informs our prayers and our prayers enliven our study. We cannot choose between prayer and study; faithful theology requires prayerful study” (Kapic, Little Book for New Theologians, 82).
#4: The Faithful Theologian Approaches Theology in Humility and Repentance.
This one should be a no brainer, however, from my experience, it is extremely easy to allow our knowledge to “puff us up” (1 Cor 8:1). But if we are to be faithful theologians we must be characterized by the pursuit of humility. Psalm 25:9 says that “He leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble his way.” I have been the supervisor at my current job for several years now and have worked with many different individuals and have noticed that the people I have worked with that had an arrogant streak in them were the hardest for me to lead because they always knew what was right. We must approach our theological study in humility so that God can lead us and teach us his ways as Psalm 25 says. One way that we can be sure to have an attitude of humility is to continually ask God to reveal to us where we have failed and repent of those failures. We need to acknowledge that even though we are redeemed, we are continually being conformed into his image. The faithful theologian is characterized by humility and repentance.
#5: The Faithful Theologian Loves Scripture.
Psalm 1 says blessed is the man whose “delight is in the law of the LORD and on His law he meditates day and night.” The word used for man in these verses is referencing a godly person. If one expects to be godly, to be conformed to the image of Christ, they will love Scripture. If faithful theology is only done by one who has been regenerated, then a love of Scripture has to be characteristic of them. How can we expect to do faithful Christian theology without a love of the word of God which reveals to us the Word of God? Let us be more like the Psalmist in Psalm 119:162 “I rejoice at your word, like one who finds great spoil.” All other scientists have to start from zero in learning about the object of their study, theologians have been blessed that God reveals himself to us and we just have to submit ourselves to Him and His word. This is where the secular sciences and theology as science differ the most drastically.
#6: The Faithful Theologian is Filled with Wonder.
The final characteristic of a faithful theologian is they are filled with wonder. Karl Barth says, “If anyone should not find himself astonished and filled with wonder when he becomes involved in one way or another with theology, he would be well advised to consider once more, from a certain remoteness and without prejudice, what is involved in this undertaking” (Barth, Evangelical Theology, 63). How can we do faithful theology and not marvel at the majesty of God and his creation?
A perfect example of this type of wonder can be found in Christianity Today’s publication called The Behemoth which is a digital magazine designed to “help people behold the glory of God all around them, in the worlds of science, history, theology, medicine, sociology, Bible, and personal narrative” (www.christianitytoday.com/behemoth/help/faq). If you struggle with wonder and awe in your study of God then I suggest you read this magazine. It is filled with wonderful articles of faithful theologians wondering and marveling at the majesty and beauty of God. The faithful theologian cannot help but be filled with wonder and awe at our beautiful God.
The six characteristics mentioned above are only six of the many characteristics that should characterize the faithful theologian. I chose these six because I believe that they promote faithfulness in all areas of the theologian’s life. After reading this post, I suggest that you take the time to pray and ask God to reveal to you which of these do not characterize you. Here is the greatest thing, we do not have to cultivate these characteristics under our own power, they are Spirit cultivated characteristics. Recall 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things but is himself to be judged my no one. For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” We have the mind of Christ and we must continually submit ourselves to the Spirit if we are to do faithful theology. So ask God to cultivate these characteristics in you so that you can be as faithful in doing theology.