When I was in my freshman year at VFCC, I shared an apartment with six other young men, two of whom were upperclassmen. One of them, whose name was Matt, turned out to be one of the most influential individuals in my life to date, and he was only in it for a semester, really (though we did, and still do, hang out once in awhile). Anyway, Matt and I were shooting the breeze one day about predestination (yes, people do that at Christian colleges), and he asked me what my major was. At the time, it was youth ministry, and upon hearing that, Matt told me, “Dude, you need to be studying theology.” Not long after that day, I changed my major, and in doing so found what I believe to be my calling (ironically, I volunteer as a youth leader at Middletown Church of God now).
For the next seven semesters, I always had some theology book in my bag, whether for a class or for my own reading. I still can’t get enough of theology, and being out of school made me hunger all the more for it, which led to me exploring all manner of disciplines under the theological umbrella, from the liberals to the conservatives (theologians tend to move on the liberal-conservative spectrum and get annoyed when you fall somewhere in the middle or off center), and my exploration is just beginning. (Wolfhart Pannenberg is on my Christmas list). Theology has brought me to new understandings of what it means to be a Christian and who/what God actually is.
Aside from the above nerd-out, here’s the reasons I read theology.
1) It’s pretty much required. Deep, deep exploration of one’s faith, the men and women who started it, and the men and women who carried on from their is something I think every Christian NEEDS to do as they grow and mature, and I don’t mean picking up a Christian inspirational book every couple months just to make yourself feel better. Many Christians never make it much beyond books like Wild at Heart, Battlefield of the Mind, or I Kissed Dating Goodbye, if they’re younger. While it helped me majorly to go to a Christian college, innumerable writings, videos, podcasts, and audio clips exist out there that do more than just make Christians feel good about being Christian, but that challenge them and help them mature by giving them solid food to consume, rather than just baby food. Some men and women claim to have only read the Bible, and I’d like to think that that’s fine, but there’s a lot of folks who read the same Bible I do who came/come to vastly different conclusions every day, some that can be pretty destructive. You don’t have to go read Barth’s Church Dogmatics right away or anything, but pursuing a faith that goes beyond your emotions is a must.
2) Every theologian views Scripture through a lens carved by environment and study. For some, this is a bad thing, and often becomes the scapegoat for disunity and argument in the church, but I’ve come to see it as a good thing within reason. A good friend of mine is of the Reformed tradition in a big way, and I can tell you right now we don’t see eye to eye on many things, but the fact that we call on the same God each day unites us, and I’m proud to say we each were a part of each others weddings (he was one of my groomsman; I DJed his). The fact that we don’t meet up on some of the particulars doesn’t matter; he’s still my brother in Christ. We’re just looking at the same Source of light from different angles. Do I think every theologian is looking at the same Source of light as I am? Well, not always. I tend to disagree sharply with some of the liberal theologians, or the members of the Jesus Seminar, but would I still honor them for their work? Absolutely. They didn’t come to their conclusions in a vacuum, and neither did I. Respect and honor amongst theologians is one of the things that makes theology great. It’s when it’s not there that we have problems.
3) On the bitter side of this relationship, I made my bed with theology and have to lie in it. Don’t get me wrong, I love this stuff, but sometimes, I think to myself, “What is WRONG with me? Why on earth did I pick this as a career path?” The answer: I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Seriously, there’s just so much wonderfulness about plumbing the depths of Scripture, the Early Church, and the traditions birthed from it that I couldn’t imagine a better place for me to explore and homebrew my faith. I am a theology nerd to the core.
So next time you’re at Barnes and Noble, check out the theology section (skip over Joel Osteen’s books) and see if you can’t find a Bonhoeffer, an NT Wright, a Schweitzer or even St. Augustine. It’s good for you. Might be a little painful, but you’ll love it. I promise.