Seminary Ramblings

Updates from life at seminary

Don’t Study Theology

So, as some of you may know, one of my favorite writers is Carl Trueman, a British expatriate and chair of the Church History department over at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is sharp-witted, funny, often piercing in his cultural critiques, and generally quite cynical (in the best sense of the word). I recently read a short piece he wrote for the journal Themelios on why you shouldn’t study theology. It’s quite searching, and relevant in the extreme for any of us who do undertake this endeavor of theological study (which is all of us to one extent or another). Here is the full article:

Minority Report: The Importance of Not Studying Theology

And a few choice excerpts (note: these really add up to probably half of the article):

“The greatest temptation of a theology student is to assume that what they are studying is the most important thing in the world. Now, I need to be uncharacteristically nuanced at this point: there is a sense, a very deep and true sense, in which theology is the most important thing in the world. It is, after all, reflection upon what God has chosen to reveal to his creatures; and it thus involves the very meaning of existence. In this sense, there is nothing more important than doing theology.”

BUT….

“…intellectual inquiry is rather like trying to get a date with the attractive girl across the road with whom you have secretly fallen in love: the thrill comes more from the chase and the sense of anticipation than it does from actually finding the answer or eliciting agreement to go to the movies. This plays out in theology in two ways. First and most obvious, there is a basic question of motivation which needs to be addressed right at the start of theological endeavor: am I doing this purely and simply for personal satisfaction?”

“Luther was once asked what the difference between what he believed and what the Pope believed was. On one level, he said, there is no difference: we both believe Christ, the Son of God, came to earth, took flesh, died on the cross, rose again, ascended into heaven, and will return. So where was the difference? ‘I believe he did these things for me’ was Luther’s response. The point Luther was making was that the Pope had objectified theology in a way that it no longer had that personal, existential dimension that caused him to revise his own understanding of himself and, ultimately, to bow down in worship and in awe.”

“The answer to such abstraction is not to stop making the study of theology our goal; it is rather to stop making the study of theology our goal. We have a tendency to make the chronological end points—what new things we learn each day—the most important. Yet this confuses the process of learning with the real order of things. The study of theology is not a chase after something or a movement beyond where we start our Christian lives; it is rather a reflection upon the foundations of where we already are. The end term is, strange to tell, the beginning. I start by confessing with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in my heart that God raised him from the dead, and I never actually go any further. All my theology, all my study, is simply reflection on what lies behind that.”

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Study Theology

  1. Reminds me of reading Packer’s Knowing God. I love this. It’s good stuff, and a good reminder to keep one in check. Also, I like that you used the phrase “quite searching.”

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