Knowing God and knowing about God is not the same thing; theologians understand the difference.
I immediately flipped to the first page of the syllabus; yep, it said Christianity 101; I wasn’t in the wrong class. Yet, my professor’s greeting completely caught me off guard. Me, a theologian? Perhaps it wasn’t me who was confused; maybe the professor stumbled into the wrong class. Wasn’t the title of theologian reserved for master's or doctorate-level students?
Eager to dive deeper into my faith, and in an attempt to tackle words such as doctrine, theology, and ecclesiology, I’d signed up for a certificate of biblical women's studies offered by a reputable seminary. I was there to study more about God, so why was I so shocked to hear the professor refer to me as a theologian?
In speaking with the other ladies after class, I realized I was not alone in reluctantly donning the title of theologian. We were gathering to learn more about God, and since theologian is just a fancy word for studying God, that’s what we were! And the good news is you don't have to have a degree, take a class, or enroll in special programs to become a theologian. If you are in the Word, opening your heart and mind to learn more about God, you are a theologian too!
Let's look at what it truly means to be a theologian:
1. A Student of the Scriptures
As I mentioned above, a theologian is a person who studies God. The word comes from two greek words, theos (God) and logos (reason). Put these two meanings together, and we get the word’s meaning: someone who studies (or reasons) the things of God. How do we learn about God? We go to His Word, the Bible. God gave us an entire book that helps us know Him better. We can learn of God’s attributes and nature by studying how He moves and acts toward His children. We don’t have to guess what God is like; He gave us all the answers. We must simply dedicate ourselves to reading, studying, and applying the Truth in the Scriptures.
One thing we must be wary of is in our pursuit of knowing God that we don’t try to “figure out” God. Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Our job as believers is not to try to completely understand God, regulating him to a mystery to be solved. But instead, we are to fear Him and keep His commandments rightfully. But in keeping His commandments, we must know what they are, so we go back to studying the Bible, hiding the words in our hearts so that we may not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).
2. A Humble Learner
Our small group announced we would study the Psalms a few years ago. A (not-so-small) sigh escaped before our leader finished their sentence. I’d just completed a study of the Psalms and pridefully felt I’d learn all I needed from the book.
A quick look at the first book of Psalms says, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2 NIV). The key phrase here is to meditate day and night, not just a one-and-done reading of the text, and move on to the next book.
A theologian digs deeply into the Scriptures to better understand the text. Theologians understand the Bible is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12) and continually look for new ways for verses to speak to their hearts. Through intense prayer and Bible study, they quickly acknowledge their need for daily renewal. A humble learner revisits passages (again and again) with fresh eyes and open minds.
Some of the most well-known theologians were men who dedicated their entire lives to mining the Scriptures so they could understand God better and teach others biblical truths that they humbly approached through Bible study. Charles Spurgeon said it best when he stated, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.”
3. Willing to Share Knowledge with Others
Theologians not only study the Scriptures to understand their faith better but also to disciple and encourage others. A word that often goes hand in hand with a theologian is an apologist. An apologist is a person who can defend why they believe something, or we can think of them as a bold, educated advocate for the gospel. And guess what? As believers, we are all also apologists!
When you have experienced the life-changing, eternal hope, the everlasting joy of the Good News, you can’t help by sharing it with others. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” 1 Peter 3:15 NIV. We can’t be prepared to share our faith if we don’t know what we believe. This doesn’t mean you have to understand every passage of Scripture or memorize an extraordinary amount of Bible verses. We can, however, make an effort to seek a better comprehension of verses that confuse us and challenge ourselves to commit to memory a handful of Scripture to help us share the gospel.
4. A Person with Divine Purpose
While living on earth, we have two responsibilities as believers: to know God and make him known. J.I. Packer expressed, “There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on forever.” As believers, we overcomplicate God’s will for our lives. He desires that we, first, accept Him as Lord and Savior of our lives, and second, we share the gospel with others so they, too, can experience salvation.
As theologians, we understand that before all other studies, we must consider and accept our primary roles as Christians and our purpose for existing. After we accept Christ and begin our personal relationship with Him, we can focus on pursuing a deeper understanding and grasp of theology and doctrine. Let us heed the warning of Jesus to the Pharisees in Matthew 9:12-13: "on hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” But learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
God longs for hearts that are tender to receiving His Word, not arrogant teachers and students of the Bible who pridefully think they are more righteous because of their Bible knowledge. Knowing God and knowing about God is not the same thing; theologians understand the difference.
After understanding what makes a person a theologian, I became more comfortable with the title. Hopefully, now you, too, can embrace your role as a disciple, apologist, theologian, and, most importantly, a sinner saved by grace.
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