You can all be good in Christian theology. This is what 20+ Bible scholars, Christian authors, and bloggers I interviewed said, “Read your bible seriously.” Not only that but more.
A cold breeze hit on my cheeks as I walked to my sons’ daycare. It was well after 4 pm and I was running late. In the afternoon rush, an unwanted thought entered my mind, “If I could write only one thing in my lifetime, what would it be?”
No, I wasn’t planning on dying, I wanted to know what matters to me. With each step and passing second, the train of thought became more morbid, “What do I want to be written on my epitaph?”
He raised good Christian theologians.
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I don’t have a theological qualification serve for a certificate in biblical studies and a couple of online classes I am taking. How can I help people become good in Christian theology? But that’s my dream. This is what I long for, I want God to use me to raise a generation of young people who glorify God through good Christian theology.
Why is this important to me? The church today is suffering because we have more customers than contributors. God gave each one of us gifts to serve one another for Christ’s glory. Yet, these gifts suffer a stillbirth or get abused because of a poor knowledge of the Father. Theology matters.
The rampant rise of false teachings in both the Global North and South churches testifies to the lack of sound theological grounding in the body of Christ. Theology has been archived in Divinity Schools and Seminaries and taken out of churches.
Theology belongs in the pew. Theology belongs in your family home. Theology belongs to your workplace. And theology belongs to you.
The question you need to ask yourself isn’t, “Should I be a Christian theologian?” You’re already a theologian. But what type of Christian theology do you believe in? The most important question you should ask is, “How can I become good and scripturally grounded in Christian theology that honors Jesus Christ?”
God called you to be excellent in Christian theology. He called you to reason with him, about him and for him. Christian theology is not an end in itself but a wonderful tool for knowing intimately the Father, enriching our relationship with Jesus Christ and strengthening our fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
How can a layperson become a good in Christian Theology?
Walking back from daycare with my kids sitting in a pull wagon, I had a wonderful idea.
- Send emails to 50 Bible scholars, Christian authors, church leaders and bloggers.
- Ask them only one question: how can a layperson become a better theologian?
- Explore the tips in my life and compile one epic article.
From March 5 to 17, I sent more than 60 emails and 10 Facebook direct messages to professors of Christian theology, Christian authors, church leaders and bloggers. Here’s the breakdown of the responses
- 29 people replied to my messages
- 4 people were busy or had other commitments
- 3 people replied but didn’t send me their answers in time
- 1 person responded but said he doesn’t do blogs.
This last email came from a Bible scholar I admire a lot. It was very discouraging. I want to thank Kevin J Vanhoozer whose email commending me for engaging Bible scholars encouraged me to continue with this project.
As I was compiling this roundup, I came across Whitney Woollard’s article Redeeming Theology. The article was perfect as an introduction to this compilation. I sent a tweet to Whitney asking her if I could share an excerpt from the post. She was gracious and gave me the permission to use her article.
JD Greear, Mark Dever, and Conrad Mbewe were busy with other important things. But their ministry assistants took up the challenge by answering the question (Chris Pappalardo and Francis Kaunda) or referring me to other people (I was referred to Jonathan Leeman by Charles, Mark Dever’s assistant).
Preparing this article was great fun. I had the opportunity of learning from exceptional men and women right in my inbox.
How to be a good in Christian Theology
All in all, I can sum up all their answers into one image.
They are some people who are very good in the basic tenets of Christian theology. They study theology under famous theologians but reject God. The aim of this article is to help you become good in articulating and understanding Christian theology.
It is the duty of a witness to be articulate and confident in their testimony. Believers are witnesses of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. For that reason, you should strive to get better in your understanding of Christian theology.
So what did the experts say about getting improving one’s knowledge on Christian theology?
Everyone agreed: The Bible is the primary companion of a sound Christian theology; not a theological degree. Yes, Bible scholars with multiple theological degrees also said that. Shocking, isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not against enrolling for seminary. If you have the desire and the resources, please go to seminary or school of divinity. But for the rest of us, read your Bible.
I promise you’re going to find awesome tips below! I have also included a brief bio of who our top notch advisors are, in case you have never heard of Don Whitney, John Koessler, Greg R. Scharf, Tim Challies or Qaphelani Ngulube.
You are going to learn the following things from this epic roundup:
Pray: The Bible is God-breathed. You need the Holy Spirit’s guidance to rightly divide the word. After all, Jesus promised he will send the Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth. Sound Christian theology is born on the knees and nurtured through the ears.
Read: You cannot claim to be a theologian without a love for the Bible. Good Christian theology is only found in the Bible. You need to read the Bible knowing its dual writing- God and human beings. Christian theology books help us understand the intents of the human author. God helps us understand his intent through confirmation from other scriptures and his guidance.
Live: Theology is best learned by living it out. It’s good to pray and read, but it’s better to live. To live out the faith found in the gospel. To live out the salvation found on the Cross. And to be a book for our communities and a gift for our churches. Theology is best learned in a community.
And for your convenience, here are a few resources you need in your journey to understand Christian theology:
This article contains advice from 21 people. So for your convenience, I have created a list of their names with quick links to their responses.
List of Contributors
- Whitney Woollard
- Jonathan Leeman
- Greg R. Scharf
- Patrick Oden
- Brian Zahnd
- David Shrock
- Chris Pappalardo
- Kevin J. Vanhoozer
- Derek Rishmawy
- Aaron Armstrong
- Tim Challies
- Gerald Hiestand
- Nick MacDonald
- Brittany Ann
- Don Whitney
- John Koessler
- Drew Koehler
- Theology Matters
- Francis Kaunda
- Armchair Theologian
- Qaphelani Ngulube
- Matt Smethurst
Whitney Woollard is actively involved in ministry together with her husband. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and a Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. Whitney regularly contributes at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.
One of my passions is to see theology redeemed in the lives of ordinary disciples. I refuse to believe it’s reserved for brilliant scholars or theology-mongers. It’s for all Jesus-followers. It’s for you! How desperately the church needs good theologians filling its pews today. Can you imagine the transformation of local churches if every Christian became a robust theologian who loved God and people in a biblically informed manner? This may seem like a pie in the sky idea, but it doesn’t have to be. The change begins with you and your local faith family. Take a moment to consider the atmosphere within your home and local church. Does your family and faith family value theological reflection? Have you cultivated an environment that encourages thinking well about God? In what ways are your family and church being intentional about doing theology in the context of community?
You don’t have to be a scholar to begin implementing theological dialogue in these key areas. Take your family for example: If your wife is battling despair, ask how the gospel affects her fight of faith. If you get a bonus at work, ask your family if there is anything in the Bible that informs how you spend it together. If you’re at a stoplight and see a homeless man, talk to your kids about what it means biblically to love and serve someone different from them. Or consider your community group at church. If your group is asked to bring canned goods for a food drive, discuss why Christians should do justice from a biblical standpoint. If someone in your community is struggling with sin discuss what it means to live in the tension of being justified, but not yet glorified. If someone comes to group but not the corporate gathering, discuss why Christians should gather together for worship.
You see, there are hundreds of ways to intentionally practice discipleship through theological reflection in a manner leading to gospel transformation. My hope is that the idea of theology would be redeemed and all would come to see the value that doing theology has for every sphere of life. I echo the prayer of the Apostle Paul asking, “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17) so that you would come to know him more deeply and be motivated by this knowledge to love, serve, and obey him all of your days.
Jonathan Leeman is the editor of 9Marks books series and 9Marks Journal. He holds a master of divinity and a PhD in theology. Jonathan occasionally teaches at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as an elder.
- Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism
- How Biblical Theology Guards and Guides Churches
How can a lay person become a theologian without seminary? Are you kidding? The Holy Spirit doesn’t need seminary! Listen to this: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek. 36:27). When this happens, moreover, “no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Jer. 31:34). No, I’m not down on seminary. I loved seminary! But please don’t underestimate what you have been given in conversion through the Spirit.
Step 1 of becoming a good theologian: get saved!
Step 2: join a healthy church, particularly one that will “train the saints for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ…so that we may no longer be…carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:12, 14). I’m presently a member of a church full of theologians. Good ones! How? The elders work hard to teach and teach and teach. The Sunday school hour is like a mini-seminary, with classes on Old and New Testaments, church history, biblical theology, systematic theology, evangelism, God’s will, parenting, courtship and marriage, worldview, money, and more. The sermons last an hour. The pastors continually hand out books. Lots of young people are given the opportunity to teach. And in general, we have a robust discipling culture. So maybe “join a healthy church” sounds like clichéd advice, but if you’ve been a member of one, you would know what I mean.
Step 3: recognize that Jesus has tasked you, as a member of a church, with guarding the who and the what of the gospel (Matt. 16:18; 18:18; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). Together with your whole church, you are responsible for making sure the gospel’s ministry remains steadfast in your location. If someone preaches a false gospel, you’re to act (Gal. 1:6-9). If a fellow member is living like a hypocrite, you’re to act (1 Cor. 5). This is your job! What that means is that you need to study the gospel, know it, consider it, and devote your own life to living by it. A true theologian doesn’t just know doctrine, he or she lives it.
Greg R. Scharf chairs the Department of Pastoral Theology and is a Professor of Homiletics. He previously served as a pastor for two decades and holds a masters and a doctorate in ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
- Let the Earth Hear His Voice: Strategies for Overcoming Bottlenecks in Preaching God’s Word
- Prepared to Preach
Lay people are well placed to become better theologians. The key is Bible reading in both big chunks such as following M’Cheyne’s daily reading plan and in looking at smaller portions of Scripture such as preparing to teach a Bible lesson.
I have found that interrogating each Bible passage is a skill that can be employed by anyone who can read. Ask:
- what sort of a text is this, functionally?
- What is it talking about?
- What is it saying about that subject?
- What response does it call for?
- How does it elicit that response?
- Crucially, how does this text fit into the drama of redemption?
Then, over time, one learns to think theologically by assembling the building materials of a sound theology–namely scriptural affirmations and valid inferences. This is what I recommend to people who only have access to the Bible. Others can find valuable resources in print to supplement careful and sustained Bible reading.
When a lay person asks me what single book I think will help them most, I recommend J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology. It has the great advantage of offering very short chapters on many biblical ideas, arranged systematically. It is clearly written and well documented from Scripture. For a year or so when our sons were still at home, we read a chapter each morning at the breakfast table as a way of trying to give them a theological framework.
A volume that comes at the same subject from a completely different angle is James Sire’s Universe Next Door. It helps the reader locate biblical theism in the contemporary marketplace of ideas. That can be especially helpful to thoughtful people who have only had a shallow exposure to other world and life views.
Perhaps the second most important counsel I could offer is to encourage people to pray for wisdom as we are invited to do in James 1. God delights to make himself known. The most important advice is to obey what we learn. John 7:17 and Colossians 1:9-13 make it clear that growing knowledge of God and his will is available only to those who by faith obey him.
Patrick Oden is an Assistant Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. He holds two bachelor’s degrees from Wheaton College, and a master of divinity and a PhD in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. Patrick enjoys writing and tree watching.
I had some time to think more about this topic and a few elements came to mind.
First of all, being a better theologian is about learning to listen. Included in this are a few elements. Part of learning to listen is being willing to read theology from different eras. Now there’s so much to read, where does a person start? Start with someone who resonates. It’s hard to start reading theology if it’s opaque or frustrating or disagreeable. Find someone who is writing about a question or an issue or in a way that fits one’s own questions, or has a shared perspective on understanding God. With this, we learn how to express our own issues and questions better. And in doing this, the writer gives us a map of resources. Follow the trails of sources and find those who inspired the writer that is inspiring you.
Get to know a few theologians well and that’s really an amazing start. Get to know someone contemporary and someone ancient. Practice hearing what they are saying and getting into the conversation as it developed over time.
Listening isn’t just about reading. It’s also about engaging our own contexts. Listen to those who are nearby and try to see what their core issues and questions and approaches are. Theology is about learning an increasing amount of content, but it is also about using this content to reflect on contexts. When we are attentive to our contexts and willing to listen to those around us, we then have a set of issues and concerns that drive us to seek answers or ways to talk about it.
Being a theologian is not just about confirming our own ideas it is also learning how to listen to those we may disagree with. Once a person gets into a rhythm of listening and reading, they should expose themselves to alternative voices, not so much to point out why they are wrong, but to learn what motivates them, what they are trying to address, and in this get a sense of their contributions. I tell my students that whenever they read they should always look for elements they can affirm and elements they can critique, and this goes for both texts they like and those they dislike.
Second, being a better theologian involves taking risks in exploration and communication. We have to trust in God enough to challenge some established boundaries, willing to look for better ways to understand God’s work in this world and our context. For a layperson, this means being willing to keep an open mind while gaining a stronger sense on what is truly core to Christianity and what have been contextual ways of explanation.
Read the Bible, read early church writings, find a particular theologian or movement to explore more deeply and then follow the trail of their influences. And ask questions, and be willing to find answers.
On top of all these things, helping them find fruit, pray and keep praying. And be involved in a community of people who are genuinely seeking God.
Brian Zahnd has been pastoring in Missouri for the past 35 years. He loves reading theological literature and hiking. Brian has written several thought-provoking books including Farewell to Mars.
- Water to Wine: Some of My Story
- From Word-Faith to Church Fathers: A Conversation with Brian Zahnd by Trevin Wax
My short answer is to read better books. In the current state of affairs in the American church scene, there is a fairly wide gulf between our best theologians and our most prominent pastors. There are many reasons for this, and we don’t have the time to delve into these reasons, but the gulf between robust thinking about the Christian faith and the popular treatment of Christianity from high profile pastors is rather pronounced.
The Christian who is serious about becoming a better theologian will have to move beyond pop inspirational religion and begin to explore some serious theology. I really don’t know how this can be done apart from reading serious books. Admittedly there are books of academic theology that are beyond what most lay people can probably tackle. But fortunately, there are number our top theologians who also publish books that are accessible to most lay people. I will mention three of these theologians and recommend a couple of their more accessible works.
N.T. Wright. The most respected New Testament scholar of our era. I regularly recommend his books Surprised By Hope and How God Became King to lay people.
Walter Brueggemann. The most respected Old Testament scholar of our era. His books The Prophetic Imagination and Truth Speaks to Power are a good place to start.
Miroslav Volf. A Croatian from a Pentecostal background, Miroslav Volf is the Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School. His books Exclusion and Embrace and Free of Charge are superb.
Finally, if a lay person is interested in someone who blended both a pastoral vocation and substantive theology, the best example is Eugene Peterson. Regarding his books, I recommend them all!
David Schrock holds an M.Div. and PhD from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He currently serves as a pastor in Virginia, assistant editor of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at a couple of colleges and seminaries.
- Delight Yourself in the Lord. Good theology begins with a soul satisfaction in the Lord. Often heresy and errant theology (which is not the same thing as heresy) is produced by men who are embittered towards God. In other words, because biography shapes theology, it is possible for bad theology to crop up from some misunderstood crisis in life. At the same time, good theology is sweetened by the grace given in times of suffering. Martin Luther said suffering was essential for making a theologian. A good theologian, by implication, must think rightly about God in trying times. And thus, he or she must begin with delighting in the Lord.
- Saturate yourself with Scripture. There is no good theology without a broad understanding of the Bible.
- Listen to good expositional preaching. Bad theology is typically the fruit of bad interpretation. Because good hermeneutical principles are often better caught that taught, the best way to grow in interpretation is to read and listen to good expositors.
- Read good books. There are lots of mediocre Christian books. Since we only have limited time, aspiring theologians should discipline themselves to read the best.
- Think of yourself theologically. Many put off theology because they think “I’m not a theologian. I’ve never had training. Etc.” This is a wrong way to think. Made in the image of God we are by nature theological. The question is not, “Am I a theologian.” You are. Everyone is. The question should be, “Am I a good theologian.”
- Talk to others about what you are thinking, reading, studying. Theological growth is best conducted with others. Seminary is great for this, but so is a theology breakfast, a Puritan book club, or a weekly Bible study that studies Scripture and looks for theological truths. Don’t do theology alone.
- Find good teachers. Ideally, theologically-minded teachers are in your local church. If not, find a few trusted pastor-theologians whose writing stir you to think more biblically and worship more passionately. Learn from them. Go to a conference where they speak; build friendships with others.
- Crucify amusements. A-muse literally means to not think. Television, Facebook, video games, and addictions to sports, politics, etc. are the best way to avoid growing as a theologian. Reading is imperative for knowing God and thinking can only be conducted with a commitment to shutting down distractions and devoting time (in the morning, at night, in the drive) to meditating on God and his word. In short, it is impossible to become a theologian without a commitment to reading.
- Repeat. Theology takes time. And the best theologians may not be the ones who read the fastest or understand the quickest. The best theologians abide in the presence of the Lord. They don’t think of theology as a subject to be mastered, but a Master to be known and adored.
Chris Pappalardo is JD Greear’s right-hand man. He’s the Lead Researcher & Writer at The Summit Church and is currently working on his Ph.D. at SEBTS. Chris writes regularly at JD Greear’s blog.
- Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary
- Was Mark’s Jesus Different From John’s Jesus
First of all, it’s encouraging to hear that you’ve read through Gaining by Losing and Jesus, Continued. Those both represent areas that we, as a church, have learned a lot recently, and J.D. helps to capture a lot of that learning process. Thanks for letting us know that they’ve helped enrich you as well.
As to your question about being a better theologian, I’m not sure if you even care about the opinion of J.D.’s right-hand man, but I thought I’d offer you something. You can take this as a faithful representation of what J.D. might have said, if he weren’t out of the country. 🙂
Martin Luther once said that the best method for going deeper in theology was to follow these three rules: oratio, meditatio, tentatio (prayer, meditation, trial). I’ve read entire books on theological method, hermeneutics, and a host of other theological topics, but that threefold process still strikes me as incredibly fruitful.
Pray: despair of your own pride, your own cleverness, your own reason, and kneel before God in humble submission. A humble heart will carry you further in theology than reading 1,000 books.
Meditate: as in, meditate on the Word. Read it, memorize it, talk about it, treasure it. The greatest wealth of theology is the Bible itself, and we can never fully plumb its rich depths.
Trial: bring your knowledge of the Bible into your actual life, apply it, and let the resulting friction continue to teach you. Suffering, temptation, and trials are where the head knowledge of theology become the heart knowledge of godly wisdom–if we’ll let the Spirit guide us through those dark valleys.
Kevin Vanhoozer is a Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. With graduate degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary and Cambridge University, Kevin has written and edited several critically acclaimed books.
- What are Theologians For?: TEDS Lecture Series
- Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and Wisdom
Theology is the attempt to understand God, the world, and ourselves by attending to the Bible as God’s word about his plan for the world summed up in Jesus Christ. Laypersons can become better theologians by pursuing this matter on a daily basis, preferably with other in the context of a local church.
The key thing to remember is that the understanding theology seeks is not simply theoretical, but practical: we only truly understand what God is up to in the world when we display our understanding by participating rightly in the great thing the Father is doing in the Son through the Spirit.
Laypeople can read the Bible for themselves, and other books too. Anyone who is serious about the call to discipleship has to think theologically: “What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ in the 21st century?” is perhaps the ultimate theological question. I’ve written a couple of books that help disciples how to do this:
- Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine suggests that disciples are actors in the drama of redemption, with Scripture as their holy script and doctrine as their (theatrical) direction for playing their parts well.
- Everyday Theology: How to Interpret Cultural Texts and Influence Trends is all about trying to understand culture (e.g., films, trends, gender, racism, the Super Bowl, etc.) theologically. Apart from my introduction, it was written by laypeople (my students at Trinity), who each chose something in culture to interpret theologically.
Once you realize that culture too is in the full-time business of spiritual formation and theology – that culture is trying to shape our spirits to worship something, whether it be money, power, or sex – then it’s easier to see how being a lay theologian means being a prophet who names the idols and points people instead to the only possible source of true fulfillment: the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus Christ.
Derek Rishmawy is working on a PhD in systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He writes for his blog, Reformedish and also contribute at The Gospel Coalition and Christianity Today.
My best advice for becoming a better theologian as a lay person? Well, a few things.
First, get yourself to a good, Bible-preaching church, worship, join a study and plug in. Theology is best done in the community of the Church with the Spirit at work through the Word.
Second, make a commitment to read faithfully. I’d say spend time in Scripture, but not just little chunks in the morning–though that’s good.
- Take an hour a week to just work through a whole letter a couple of times through, or a Gospel, or through one of the Old Testament books. Reading large quantities of Scripture at a time gives you a feel for them in a way that little, bite-sized chunks all by themselves might not.
- Try to read one book a month. For an average reader on an average-size book, that’s maybe 10 minutes a day. But at the end of a year, that’s twelve books on anything from God to Christ, to an individual book of Scripture, or some practical issue of Christian discipleship. Over years and years, that all begins to add up.
If you don’t know where to start, go ahead and ask your pastor to recommend a couple of their favorite works and then work from there. Becoming a better theologian doesn’t have to be an intimidating thing–just a commitment trust the Spirit to work in the ordinary, daily study of God’s Word over a lifetime of faithfulness.
Aaron Armstrong is a blogger, speaker and author of Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty. He’s currently working on his master of arts in theological studies. He writes for his own blog, Blogging Theologically and contributes book reviews at The Gospel Coalition.
There are a number of things laypeople can do to become better theologians:
First, develop a habit of reading widely and broadly throughout the spectrum of Christian thought. Don’t just read within your tradition (as easy as it is) as this will limit your ability to thoughtfully engage with those who might see things from a different perspective.
Second, read old books, and not exclusively books written in the last 20 years. When you start engaging with the works of people who lived 200, 300, or 500 years ago, you’ll be amazed at how many of the questions we face have already been answered (and answered well).
Third, when you read the Bible, do your best to avoid “reading in” ideas or interpretations—take the text on its own terms. For example, when we read a text such as Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose,” it’s important to not read in the word “can” or the phrase “if we let him.” The text simply says He will.
Fourth, don’t treat every Bible verse as a proverb (except the Proverbs). Or more simply, embrace context. Each verse—including the ones we love to post on social media, and put on t-shirts and coffee cups, has an immediate context that informs its meaning. The oft-quoted Jeremiah 29:11, for example, was part of a message and a promise to the captive people of Israel, and a summary of the verses prior. Read in context, it is far more amazing than on its own.
Finally, the most important advice I can give to a lay theologian is to read the Bible with, as one author put it, a “Jesus lens”. This means that our goal in reading the Bible is not simply to find life lessons or personal application, but to learn how the Scriptures either point forward to him or reveal our need for him (and has the added bonus of helping you learn to love a book like Leviticus!).
Tim Challies is a blogger, author, pastor and husband to Aileen and a father of three. He’s a co-founder of Cruciform Press. To date, Tim blogged every day for more than 4,500 days at challies.com.
A layperson who has never had access to a seminary still has many, many opportunities to become a better theologian. The primary way is always to attend a good church and to sit under the week-by-week preaching of a skilled expositor. This exposure to the preaching of the Word will model engagement with the Word–he will learn to think biblically and learn to properly interpret and apply God’s Word.
Beyond that, we have more resources available to us today than at any other time in history. We have ministries like Ligonier Ministries creating excellent courses suitable to any Christian. We have companies like Logos assembling an incredible collection of courses that can be had for a reasonable price. We have publishers publishing hundreds of wonderful, theologically-dense books every year. I suppose I might even say that we have no excuse today not to be knowledgeable theologians.
Gerald Hiestand holds a BA and an MA from Moody Bible Institute and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, respectively. He’s currently working on his PhD at University of Kent, UK. Gerald also serve as a husband to Jill and a dad of three, and also leads ministry staff at Calvary Memorial Church.
- The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision by Gerald Hiestand & Todd Wilson
- Theology Before Exegesis?
I think the most important thing for being a theologian is to read the best theology books of the past, as well as the best contemporary theology books. See C. S. Lewis’ introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation of the Word. There he talks about chronological snobbery, and how we tend to think the newer books are better than the older books, and how this is a mistake.
Nick MacDonald is a blogger at Scribble Preach. He’s currently working on an M.Div. at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Nick is the author of Faker published by The Good Book Company.
- Knowing Bible Verses Isn’t the Same As Knowing Your Bible
- There’s No Such Thing as ‘Non-Essential’ Doctrines
I would say get to know the main themes of every Bible book, and use resources like The Bible Project to see how the whole story fits together. That way, you’ll know when someone’s quoting something out of context.
Brittany Ann is a Christian author and blogger at Equipping Godly Women. She writes Christ-centered and practical blog posts for women. Brittany is a wife, a mom to three, and an author.
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The best way to learn more about theology, in my opinion, is simply to read, read, read. Start by reading the Bible–cover to cover instead of just in snippets. Read the letters from the early church fathers. Read as many books on theology as you can. Your pastor or priest can probably give you some good recommendations.
Don’t just read books about theology either. Also read books about what life was like in the first century–the customs of the time, the language, the geology. There is SO much we miss by reading the Bible through a modern-day lens. The more you understand the culture of the time, the more you can fully understand the Bible in its proper context and what it REALLY means, not just what you think it means. Suddenly, even the smallest changes can result in major shifts in your theology. It’s pretty scary, but incredibly exciting, when that happens.
Don Whitney is Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He holds a DMin and PhD in theology. Don has written several books such as Praying the Bible.
The best way for a person who doesn’t have a theological degree or might never have access to a seminary to become a better theologian is to better know their Bible. While I certainly believe that a good theological education can enhance one’s knowledge of the Bible, the best theological education only takes one deeper into an understanding of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for a knowledge of the Bible, with or without a seminary education.
Second, they can read the textbooks used in seminary theology courses. Read J.I. Packer’s Knowing God or Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Third, if a person has access to the Internet, they do have access to a seminary. Check out our online programs at Southern Seminary via http://www.sbts.edu!
“I am a follower of Jesus Christ,’ writes John Koessler on his website. John is a Christian author, speaker and currently serving as chair and professor of Pastoral Studies at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois.
Theology belongs primarily to the church and not the academy. This means that every believer has both the privilege and the responsibility of thinking theologically.
The best way to do this is to become familiar with what the Bible teaches and reflect deeply about the implications this truth has for daily living. This is the real definition of theology or what the Bible more commonly calls doctrine. It is helpful to read what others have said about the Scriptures. But the Bible itself is our primary source for theological truth.
A father of 4 and a former US Navy Drew Koehler adds Christian writer to his already busy schedule. Drew writes regularly at The Dirty Christian.
Having a good understanding of theology begins with prayer. That we can commune with the Holy God of the universe and trust in Him to guide our path. The second thing would be to shed our arrogance. Understanding that what we may know or have grown up with could be wrong or lacking.
Having a personal theology is a good way to start but to read the views of pro and con positions is always the best method. Be ready to learn, to ask questions of those who may not clearly explain their methods and above all, scripture should always define scripture. It’s dangerous when we allow philosophy to enter in the ranks of theology.
It should be every believer’s responsibility to never believe in something blindly. As the bible states it’s like being led by a blind man into a ditch.
Theology Matters is a Facebook page dedicated to discussion on Christian faith. You can follow them on Facebook.
The question that you have raised is a good one and I intend to answer it.
First, lay people have the ability to become Theologians because the Spirit is the one who reveals all truth to us.
Second, people need to learn and love to read all things pertaining to God. The Bible, of course, is the most important of all for it is sufficient for all things pertaining to the Christian Religion. I am afraid this culture is getting lazy when it comes to reading or thinking, and there is no way a person can become good in the art of thinking without ever reading. Sermons, podcasts, and videos do not supplement for this.
Third, including me we need to be more humble when we talk about Theology and talk about it in a way that brings Glory to God, and shows us the Gospel in greater ways. Hopefully those little things help answer the question. I am reminded what C.S Lewis said when He states, “All men are Theologians whether they are good or bad.”
- Forgive me for not saying but Prayer is the first one. Always asking God to reveal His word in more ways, and giving us understanding.
Francis Kaunda is Pastor Conrad Mbewe’s Ministry Assistant at Kabwata Baptist Church in Zambia. He studied at Northland International University formerly Northland Baptist Bible College. Francis travels preaching the gospel.
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The best place to begin is to define what we mean by the word theologian. Simply put, a theologian is someone who studies theology. This then leads to another question, who is a theologian?
The word “theology” comes from two Greek words found in the New Testament manuscripts that mean “the study of God.” Christian theology is simply an attempt to understand God as He is revealed in the Bible. And this is a responsibility of every Christian.
God wants us to know Him insofar as we are able, and theology is the art and science of knowing what we can know and understand about God in an organized and understandable manner. Therefore, every Christian must be a theologian, and this protects the church from error.
Proper theology is what the Bible is all about (2 Timothy 3:16-17). To know God, and to understand his will requires that we study the Word.
Living in the Middle East where religion is not free, Armchair Theologian writes anonymously to protect his family. He writes, “I do not let my amateur status prevent me from thinking, reading and writing about God, his attributes and religious truth from my untrained perspective.”
At the end of the day everyone’s a theologian, professionals and laity alike. We all believe in something so the question is why and how do we catechize it. How can a layperson become a better Biblical theologian?
Well, the answer is they need to study their bible, submit to it’s teachings, and adopt a Biblical, logical, and consistent methodology for interpreting the scriptures. How do you know when you have done this correctly? Well, I would argue when the Bible starts forcing you to believe things that you personally do not like or agree with then you’re on the right track.
Qaphelani Ngulube is a teacher at a local Bible School in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. He has been actively involved in campus ministries for more than 10 years. Qaphelani is an avid reader on spiritual leadership and growth.
Intentional bible study is the way to go. They are are many tools available today to help aid you in studying scriptures without going to bible school. They’re several study bibles available with middle column references, brief concordance, and extensive footnotes. A good study Bible helps in getting deeper into the word.
You can also use Bible commentaries and dictionaries if you want to grow as a Bible scholar. Good books on different characters from the bible and specific subjects can help you connect to the riches of Scripture. The key to growing as a lay theologian is intentional Bible study, these tools will definitely help you.
Of course, you have to filter and sift through different materials because not all materials are good materials. There’s a lot of chaff out there. Some books might be poisonous to your faith. You need to seek help from other believers who are mature. Such mature believers continually engage in serious personal and sometimes corporate Bible study and truly pursue spiritual growth. You can learn from them.
However, the greatest help every believer need is the Holy Spirit. You might read all the best books on theology but without the Holy Spirit, you’re wasting your time. The word is God-breathed and only the Holy Spirit can reveal the spiritual truths to you. For that reason, prayer has to be a significant component in the whole process.
Becoming a better theologian is vital for Christian life and health. Thankfully, it isn’t as complicated as it may sound. And it certainly doesn’t require a formal degree.
Here are three simple tips.
- Become a student of God’s Word.
We engage in theology anytime we think and talk about God. But how do we know the right (or wrong) things to think and say? How do we know what God is (or isn’t) like, what he has (or hasn’t) done, what he expects (or doesn’t) from us? The answer is his Word. If you want to hear God speak, open your Bible and start reading.
And don’t just read it; ponder it. Pray it. Dive deep. We study what we love, after all. No wonder the psalmist observed, “Great are the works of the LORD; studied by all who delight in them” (Ps. 111:2).
- Pursue humility.
Few things are more grotesque than a proud Christian. The very knowledge meant to humble them has instead inflated them. Scripture makes clear that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). If you want divine grace rather than divine opposition, cultivate humility.
“An angel is a knowledgeable creature,” the Puritan Thomas Watson observed, “but take away humility from an angel, and he is a devil.” Satan knows more theology than you, but he will spend eternity in hell because his knowledge birthed pride, not humility.
- Submit your life to a healthy church.
Our culture is hyper-individualized. Christian growth, by contrast, is not. It is a team effort, a community project. In infinite wisdom, God designed your discipleship to Christ to be anchored in a church—submitted to the oversight of elders and the care and accountability of fellow members.
In the final analysis, your theology is not about you. It’s a stewardship for serving others. As you grow in Christ, then, remember that your theological knowledge is a tool for serving, not a weapon for fighting. Don’t misuse it.
Recommended: Whether you’re a student or not, here are my recommended books for any growing Christian.