When I was a college student, my mentor and I had a conversation about the Lord calling me to be a pastor and to be trained for ministry. I told my mentor about my desire to have a better understanding of the Scriptures, how I wanted to learn rich theology and study church history. He was supportive, but cautious. He worried further training for ministry could diminish my love for God and “practical ministry.”
We’ve all heard stories of people who seem to grow cold and hardhearted toward the Lord in the midst of Bible college, seminary or even church-based training. I wondered: “Was my mentor right? Would my training for ministry get in the way of my relationship with Christ?” Even more so, “Could I pursue theological training and grow in my love for God as a disciple at the same time?”
These dividing walls in the church still exist—between the head and the heart, between theologians and practitioners—and these walls must be torn down. I believe there is nothing more practical than learning theology. Here are some ideas that can help the church bridge the divide.
Theology is for everyone.
The word theology literally means “words about God.” This means everybody is a theologian—including you. Every person who has ever lived has ideas and thoughts about God—even an atheist is a theologian. There’s no escaping the task of theology. So, the question is not whether or not we are theologians; the question is, are we good theologians? Do our thoughts and ideas about God conform to the pattern given to us in Scripture, or are they shaped according to our own concepts about God? Are we Christian theologians, or a different theologian altogether? Theology is not just for the spiritually elite, but for everyone.
Theology must be done in the church.
It’s not enough for theology to be done for the church—theology must be done in the church. For 1,600 years, the primary domain of theological formation was the local church. However, over the last several hundred years, the Church hasn’t viewed itself as the place where theology is done first. While I am grateful for seminary and scholarship, we must recover the local church as one of the primary conversation partners for theology. Theology not done in the church, for the church and by the church is insufficient. Doing theology within the context of the church fundamentally changes the kind of theological conversations that are happening. It is important for us to cultivate spaces in our local church and for our members to not just consume theology, but to contribute to theology.
Theology is ultimately about the worship of God.
The whole point of theology is to direct our attention and affections to the triune God. John Webster defines Christian theology as “that delightful activity in which the church praises God by ordering its thinking towards the gospel of Christ.” As theology leads us to an understanding of what God has accomplished for us in Christ, we are led to worship and adoration of the triune God. Our worship (or doxology) of the triune God leads us back to theology because we want to know more of God. Theology and doxology are not enemies—they are two sides of the same coin.
The study of rich theology and the contemplation of God’s beauty reaches not just into our minds, but into our affections and our local church, resulting in greater worship and adoration of our Maker. I can’t imagine anything more practical.