Theology Is Intimidating—But Not for the Reason We Think
It was my first semester enrolled in seminary. Seminary was a distance-learning, part-time thing for me; most days, I was busy teaching Bible, language arts, and speech at a Christian school. At one point during that first semester, I was transporting kids back from a speech competition when one of the students saw the book I had brought along sitting beside me in the car. It was called Systematic Theology. Hard cover. Between 2 and 3 inches thick.
Personally, I felt like it was admirable, if not downright cool, to be seen traveling with such a book, as it gave the impression of intelligence. It was the ultimate humble brag: “Yes, my pleasure reading happens to be an enormous theology book. I know, I know.”
“Yes, my pleasure reading happens to be an enormous theology book. I know, I know.”
The impression I had meant to convey apparently wasn’t working on this particular student because he saw the book and started…laughing. Not the laughter of, “Haha, it makes my heart merry that we are taught by such a wonderful teacher.” No, it was the laughter of ridicule. He followed it up by saying, “Who would read a book called Systematic Theology?!” More laughter.
He wasn’t intimidated at all by the idea of theology. I was, mainly because I had a clue as to what it was. Most of us who are familiar with the term probably feel at least some intimidation when it comes to theology. After all, lots of “ologies” involve smart people, thick books, and lots of learning. And I would argue that theology—the study of God—is the biggest “ology” of all. That’s intimidating.
Yet I want to suggest that theology is intimidating for the exact opposite reason we usually think.
“I want to suggest that theology is intimidating for the exact opposite reason we usually think.”
Here’s the reason many Christians find themselves intimidated by theology: it’s because they don’t feel like theologians. To be a theologian, they think, is to be able to answer all the theological questions in profound ways that impress other intellectuals. To be a theologian involves mastery of foreign languages and cultures, as well as proficiency in dozens of theological topics, along with having studied what other theologians throughout history have said on these topics. Not to mention the pressure many theologians have to come up with something new that other theologians haven’t discovered yet. The theological endeavor sounds intimidating.
Comparing yourself with this fearsome, towering concept of theologian doesn’t end very encouragingly. When you have a memory lapse and find yourself googling questions like, “Was it Elijah or Elisha who raised the boy from the dead?,” you can feel intimidated by trying for something as ambitious-sounding as “doing theology.”
The main reason people typically feel intimidated by theology could be summarized as this: “I’m no theologian.”
Yet a better reason to be intimidated by theology is the exact opposite. Here’s the reason we should be intimidated: We are all already doing theology.
“Here’s the reason we should be intimidated: We are all already doing theology.”
At some level, everyone does theology. After all, theology is thinking about God, reasoning about God, talking about God. From the kid who wonders whether their deceased dog will be in heaven to the atheist who reasons that, from all the suffering in the world, there can’t be a God in the first place, we are all reasoning about God. We’re all doing theology.
It may sound like an inspirational saying that “everyone’s a theologian,” but it’s downright intimidating. Over seven billion people doing theology? That’s a lot of people, many of whom can’t be doing it very well. Every parent passes theology along to their kids—for better or worse. Every pastor feeds theology to their congregation—whether faithful to the Bible or not. Every comforter at the funeral. Every songwriter. Every Facebook commenter. You’re doing theology.
“Every comforter at the funeral. Every songwriter. Every Facebook commenter. You’re doing theology.”
The question is whether you’re doing it well or poorly.
That’s intimidating. But it’s also motivating. It’s no use to put your palms out and say, “No, no. Theology’s for smart people.” You’re already doing theology. It’s an inescapable part of your life’s journey, your conscious thoughts, and your generational influence.
So, if you’re inescapably involved in doing theology, the question you need to wrestle with is how do you want to do it?