You’re a Theologian … But are you a Good One?

“Everyone is a theologian.”

Something about the thin, round glasses hanging on the end of the professor’s nose and the bow tie neatly tucked beneath his white collar made him feel all the more believable.

It was my first day of Bible school. Freshman year held a host of uncomfortable, nervous, and intimidating moments, but this one will always be etched in my mind. His voice reverberated with age and experience and authority, and his words struck my timid heart with surprise and self-doubt.

“Everyone is a theologian.”

He went on to explain that every person possesses a theology – a view of God – whether they know it or not. He contended that we, even at 18 and 19 years old, had a belief system regarding God, the Word, the Church, and other things. We had picked up on teachings, let suggested dispositions settle into our hearts, allowed subtle theologies sink into our minds. “Every one of you is a theologian,” he repeated; “But are you good ones?”

In little time, he became a favorite professor. I ate up what he taught, I asked questions, I requested resources because he was right: I did have a view of God, I was a theologian, but I had not taken the time to be a good one.

You are a Theologian, too. 

I have called this freshmen experience to mind several times over the years. At times when I was exposed to a new conversation, times when I went on a rant of opinions but realized I had studied little on the topic, and times when I couldn’t reconcile two co-existing values in my heart I have revisited the question. Because the question isn’t, Am I a theologian? But, Since I AM a theologian, how can I be a good one? 

The same is true for you. You don’t have to go to Bible school or seminary to posses a theology. Theology is simply a word for what we believe about God, what we believe about His Word and His people, and how we reconcile that in our own lives. No one is exempt from these thoughts; even the atheist has a position, a belief system in place for thinking about God (or the absence of God).

Throughout your day you will think hundreds of thoughts, make thousands of microscopic decisions based upon your belief system: Should my kids read that book? Why? Why not? Should we home school? Should one parent stay home with the newborn? Why? Why not? Should we skip church this Sunday? Why? Why not? Should I eat this cupcake? Should I go for a run? Why? Why not? 

We have unspoken, often unseen belief systems that are coursing through our veins every minute of the day. We think thoughts about faith, family, and God. So, sister, you’re a theologian. But are you a good one?

We are scared of theology.

I remember one Monday night women’s Bible study that I was a part of years ago. It was a beautiful mix of college students and empty nesters that led to rich, fruitful conversation. That particular night we were discussing the work of the Spirit in making us more like Christ. One woman shared her thoughts on how the Spirit convicts us of sin, and argued that because the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ He always works to make us more like Jesus. It was a beautiful rant of the best kind! She was passionate and bold (and right!). She stopped sharply, realizing she had been talking for longer than she planned, threw up her hands with a shake of her head, “But I don’t know, I’m not a theologian.”

I say this with so much love for her, but she was dead wrong! She was absolutely a theologian, and she was doing theology right at that minute (and doing is really well, I might add). What she expressed is what many of us feel: an inherent sense of self-doubt that makes us afraid to use the word “theology.”

The result is that we go about our lives and conversations operating under a false assumption that what we are doing is not theology (or a-theological). But if we are all theologians then whatever we believe is our theology. How we think about our bodies, how we talk to our children, how we read our Bibles (or don’t) is our theology. Since theology touches ever sphere of the Christian life, the stakes are too high for this kind of assumption.

As women in the church we often operate as if theology is the task of our pastors, academics, or even our husbands. While they are certainly called to this pursuit, we cannot leave ourselves out. We have to hold ourselves to the same high standards; we have to believe that good theology – the rich and painstaking process of knowing God through His Word – is for us. At the end of the day we are not accountable before God with our husbands and our pastors, but we stand before God accountable for our own actions, beliefs, and theology.

Getting to the grit of it.

We have some work to do. As much as I love women’s Bible studies, I want to call us to something higher in the local church. There are few things that get me excited more than sitting with a group of women to study God’s Word, but too often I find that we chose spiritual inspiration books, or topical Bible-ish studies instead of God’s Word. We go around the circle allowing each person to have their own interpretation of the Text, regardless of how different they are, and we pass a plate of scones and head home.

Let me say this with compassion and severity: we must do better.

Throughout history women have been the primary proprietors of society. What I mean is this: when women move in a particular direction, society follows. Why? Because women are teaching their children, influencing their neighborhoods, and making moves for change in their communities. The stakes are too high for us to continue operating as if we are not theologians – we must care for our theology, nurture our theology, and watch our theology to ensure that it is good!

This is a call to each of us. It is a reminder for me to study before I give an opinion, to check my gut reactions to ensure they align with God’s Word. This is a call to women’s ministries in the U.S. to put down the spiritual self-help books and dig into the Word that give us life and shows us who God is. And it is a call to you – wherever you are, whoever you are – to seek to know God and to know His Word. It is a challenge and a joy. Because good theology is a trek into the heart of our Lord, it is the journey to know our God more and more intimately every day.

Let’s make the journey, all of us, together.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Heyyyy Amy! I read this and LOVED this and am shouting “AMEN” we do have to do better! Now, after reading your post I’m left wanting more… More details as to “How”. How can the average woman who sits on the pew who may or may not be intimidated by the Bible “do better”? Heck! I graduated from Bible College & Seminary and am still constantly trying to figure out how to do better when it comes to studying the Word… I know that from my experience in women’s ministry this has been the question that I’ve wrestled with… I’m currently leading a small group of around 17ish women we’re reading through a book called “Wild & Free”..I chose it because the author runs a scripture print shop and the book is rooted in the Word and you really have to dig into the Word to get everything you can out of the book…. I’m hoping that once we finish we can go into a specific Bible Study… However, I’ve found that the ladies in my group all have varying levels of familiarity with the Bible and so reading a book grabs there attention and makes them feel so much more confident that they’ll get it as opposed to if I recommend a specific Bible Study by someone. I also want to note that personally I’m not a fan of MOST (basically all) Women’s Bible Studies that have been written…so when it comes to walking through the Bible with a group I’m often left wanting or forced with the notion that I will have to create the Bible Study… Anyways I say all this to say “What would be your recommendations to the woman who wants more?” I know the obvious pick up your Bible, but I’m curious as to what other advice you might have to offer… How can we guard against falling into the cycle of sharing opinions, reading books, and passing scones. How can we raise up women who are not afraid of the Bible and know how to study it for themselves and with each other?

    • Tiffany! Thanks for your comment! I totally understand the feeling: saying “YES! THIS IS IT!” and then wondering, “Wait … but how do we get there?” I love the question and the heart behind it! I have really enjoyed Jen Wilkin’s latest books. Her book “Women of the Word” is a very basic “how to study the Bible” study book. It is a great starting place for women (and for seminary grads!) who want some practical steps to studying their Bible both accurately (in context, historically, etc) and with an end goal of worship (the proper end-goal of all theology). I am currently doing Wilkin’s most recently study on 1 Peter. I’m in the early pages of the study, but so far I’m really enjoying it. I will likely use it in women’s ministry in the future. Regarding your question of how to focus a women’s study group on the Scriptures, I have found a few things helpful. First, I limit our prayer request time to the last 15-20 minutes. While this seems a bit unkind, our main goal at our studies is not necessary to connect on a personal level (though, thankfully, that happens through the study). We have regular social events where the main goal is relational connecting; this frees us up to have Bible studies that keep the Text the main thing. Secondly, if we’re studying a short book (example: we recently did Philippians) I ask every woman to read the entire book every day for the duration of the six week study. This is such an effective way to help things that come up in discussion to connect to other parts of the book, rather than connecting them to other stories we have heard or things we feel. Lastly, I just had to come to terms with pointing out when something isn’t biblical or the main point of the Text (example: talking through James 1, I have had women say “God helps those who help themselves”, which is not only not true, but not founded in the Text). I have just gotten pretty comfortable saying, “I appreciate your insight, but that doesn’t seem to be what the author is getting at in this verse” or asking “where do you see that in the Text?” Is this helpful, Tiffany? I’d love to know what kind of study you’d find really helpful for women’s ministry! What questions would you like to see someone ask? What format do you think would be most helpful? I’m trying to find some for my own use, too! 🙂

  2. Important article, Amy! For miore, read When Life and Beliefs Collide (Zondervan, 2000) about the importance if theology for women. You’ll find it resonates w/the point you’re making. Even makes the point that the first great Nee Testament theologian was a woman.

    If you do read it, I’d love to hear from you.

    CJ

    • Thank you so much for reading, Mrs. James! I’m have really enjoyed your work, and am humbled that you found and read my little-known blog. 🙂 I would LOVE to check out When Life and Beliefs Collide (I just started Half the Church and have found it intelligent, challenging, and helpful). I will pick it up, read it, and reach out when I’m finished.

      Amy

  3. Hey Amy, I’m picking up what you’re putting down. You have many, many points that I am in total agreement with. I do believe that there is greater opportunity for the Holy Spirit to move in the lives and hearts of women as they study the Word, soak it in, memorize it, etc. But, some women also need scones and some chatting to feel they are in a safe, warm, welcoming place before they will divulge their heart, uncertainties and lack of knowledge. Patience and the work of the Spirit moves them, grows them and keeps them returning for another taste of the Lord’s goodness in His Word.
    On a related sidenote…sort of…. I just had a discussion with a BIL regarding the differences in theology between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Their theological differences manifested itself in two completely different lifestyles and outcomes. It makes a difference in what we believe and how we live it out.

    • Jeanette, such a good word. Thanks for sharing! Absolutely, we need to create social on-ramps for women to get into spiritual communities (like we said at the Town Square, to build spiritual friendships), and scones and tea are a personal favorite way of mine. The point I’m making here is that, if we stop there, if we don’t move beyond our polite conversations and brunch foods, we have missed the point. Your thoughts on this are just one of the reasons that I am so thankful to have women like you in our local church ministry! xo

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