For the last decade or so, I’ve really enjoyed theology and what it has taught me so far, and I’m constantly excited to find something new to learn about. As I go to share about the exciting things I’ve just discovered with others, I have come to realize sometimes people have a misunderstanding of what theology is and the purpose it serves. So, I thought I would take this blog and take time to debunk theology’s most common misunderstandings.
1. “Theology is for smart people who overanalyze”
Truth is, theology is for everyone. In fact, if you are a person who wants to learn about God and grow in your relationship with him, then technically, you’re a theologian. How can that be? Theology means, “the study of God”. So what one believes about God is his/her theology. Sometimes, it can be intimidating by all the big words, but most of what you believe already has a big word to it, you just may not know it. For example, we probably have all heard the phrase “God-sized hole in our hearts”. We understand this concept, but we may not know there’s a big word for that, and it’s Prevenient Grace. Concepts are more important than big words. And really, big words can be broken down or can be renamed to make it easier. No Ph.D. is required to be a theologian, just a mind that is open and is willing to be challenged about what one already knows about God.
2. “It’s boring. I know everything there is to know about God.”
No one knows everything there is to know about God. I have heard testimonies of others (and my own testimony as well) is that walking into a seminary theological class is a rude awakening to how dynamic and bigger the study of God is! Theology is so far beyond clichés, and easy answers. He is FAR greater than our minds can conceive and He’s constantly revealing Himself. It’s possible to be bored because one has heard the same beliefs several times and isn’t being challenged, but it’s impossible to be bored because one knows everything there is to know about God.
3. “Theology is a bunch of people arguing.”
Well, yes, theology can be a bunch of theologians sitting around arguing, and those are the theologians I would HIGHLY recommend one to stay away from. There are plenty of theologians who are willing to sit down and discuss conflicting points of views without arguing, they just aren’t as visible. Why? Well… because their images don’t sell like those who fight. In Church history, discussions about Jesus happened often and people came with ideas and threw ideas around and that was it—people learning together and from one another. However, our culture has a lot of arrogance and pride in thinking that he/she is right. Stay away from pointless arguing, it’s access drama we don’t need in our lives. Discussion is great for the soul though. And remember, “Agree to disagree” is a great phrase to not only say, but practice as well.
4. “Education can’t teach us about God, only the Holy Spirit can.”
This one confuses me when I hear it. It almost insinuates that the Holy Spirit has only existed within my lifetime, and is only able to talk to me today. Truthfully, the Holy Spirit has been around since eternity, and The Holy Spirit is omnipresent. The Holy Spirit has spoken through theologians such as John Wesley and Barbara Rossing and thousands of others. The Holy Spirit has spoken to teachers who educate at colleges and institutes. The Holy Spirit has spoken to so many people over the years and years of its existence. To say only the Holy Spirit can teach me is to limit the Holy Spirit’s voice by shutting down other believers’ testimony. We need to understand that The Holy Spirit doesn’t only speak to me, but speaks through educators as well.
5. “It’s too confusing and I don’t like it.”
I don’t believe it’s too confusing for 99% of the population. What I really think is behind this statement is that it’s outside one’s comfort zone.
In the church realm, if I don’t like, per say, teaching a 5 year old Sunday School class, I’m told to get out of my comfort zone. Try something new! It’s important to be stretched. But if I bring up a challenging concept of theology, it’s can be shrugged off and everyone is okay with moving on to the next topic. I’m left with this question, “Why is it required of me to get out of my comfort zone when it comes to action but not in beliefs?” But why and how does theology get one outside of his/her comfort zone? Sharon Putt once said, “I think that, traditionally, theologians have always messed around with the doctrines. Our tradition is to continue interpreting and reinterpreting the traditions… It’s our tradition to keep messing with tradition.”
In other words, theology takes us outside of our comfort zone, because it’s challenging what we already know and have made a regular practice in our Spiritual lives. But just for the sake of clarification, theologians don’t stir things up just for the sake of annoying people or making people uncomfortable. No, rather, it’s to make The Bible still applicable today. Our lives around us change from generation to generation, so God is constantly revealing Himself through those changes. And we constantly have to evaluate and reevaluate how God is revealing Himself today verses how He revealed Himself yesterday. And just because one has studied with an open mind about a different theology doesn’t mean one has to readily accept it, that’s not the point. The point is to look at something new. Sometimes change is made, sometimes it isn’t.
So get out of your theological comfort zone! Try to understand and learn something new! It’s good to be stretched! J
6. “Ah, that’s for the pastors. He/she will preach it to me.”
Did you ever watch “Reading Rainbow” or perhaps watch it with your kids? And do you remember how Levar Burton would say the books were great but, “Don’t take my word for it” meaning, you should probably go get the book, read it, and enjoy it for yourself. I feel the same way about The Bible, “don’t take my word for it”. Search it out, seek it out, study it, ask questions, memorize it, critique it, tear it apart and put it back together again (metaphorically, not literally), etc… Trust me, your pastor doesn’t know it all, because us pastors are not God. We don’t know it all. But if you learn some, and I learn some, we can learn and grow twice as much together.
Plus, thinking like this leads to ignorance. Ignorance is not bliss. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” If we open up our understanding to various views of things than we can learn more about people even if we don’t agree with them. Shutting a topic out doesn’t make it go away, but it can make one’s faith pretty insecure and shaky.
7. “If my salvation doesn’t depend upon it, it’s not important.”
Yes, yes it is. If salvation doesn’t depend on it, then it’s not worth arguing and fighting over, however, EVERYTHING is worth a discussion and conversation. Why? Because what we believe affects our actions far beyond what we think or imagine! My biggest character changes have come from changing my beliefs, not from “trying harder” which only lead to failure.
8. “What if I believe something wrong?”
In the strictest form, Orthodoxy is the only place we need to be concerned about what is right or wrong. Orthodoxy is the universal beliefs of every Christian Church. For example, all Christian denominations believe Jesus is God’s Son and He died on the cross and rose again. Not all Christian Churches believe communion is required for salvation, so therefore, that topic is not Orthodoxy. There are tons of topics to explore and draw from, and if you are really concerned, seek out a mentor who is willing to guide you and someone you trust. Discussion is good for the soul.