20 Theses on the Solitude of being a Theological Student (In a Largely Evangelical World)

This is something I wrote back in early 2009.

  1. Studying “Theology” for an Evangelical is largely considered Academic and thus irrelevant for ‘normal Christians’.
  2. Studying “Theology” outside ‘sanctioned’ Evangelical circles is considered anathema.
  3. Believing that “Theology” is something that is organic and fluid is considered ‘suspect’ because it challenges the “Evangelical” assumption that theology is “received” (handed down from one generation to the next [e.g. the generations starting in and around the 1930’s]).
  4. Learning theological terminology (as developed by ‘the church’ in the past and into the present), and then using it, is considered “anti-spiritual” and “elitist.”
  5. Anyone who studies historical theology, and believes that this has impact on how we think theologically and even biblically today, is suspect; since the only faithful witness to Christ has taken shape within the ‘Fundamentalist church’ of the 20th century (and now into the 21st century).
  6. Anyone who wants to be a Sunday School teacher at church needs to dump everything they learned in seminary, and learn how to speak the language of the common man (since apparently the common man is too stupid and lazy to understand anything beyond ‘Jesus loves me’ — at least so the assumption goes).
  7. If an Evangelical Pastor finds out someone is a ‘theological student’ in his church he typically relegates that person to an category of “too heavenly minded (or intellectually minded) to be of any earthly good” (but not quite that spiritual).
  8. Studying theology has nothing to do with growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, it is only useful for “egg-heads.”
  9. Studying theology is not an act of worship, and does not lead to worship; but leads to a puffed-up head.
  10. People, in the Evangelical church, who actually spend the time studying theology are few and far between (probably for some of the above reasons), thus it is not easy to find others who appreciate this discipline (thus blogging is a good outlet 😉 ).
  11. Studying theology is frowned upon from the pulpit of many Evangelical churches, thus the people aren’t encouraged to do it.
  12. Evangelical Pastors often don’t study theology because they are busy with the “important” things of ministry — like growing their church.
  13. Most Evangelical churches offer no classes for in-depth theological and biblical study.
  14. Evangelicals often believe that “practicing” Christianity is separate from “studying” Christianity — and that the former is what is spiritual and important.
  15. Mentioning the names of theologians when talking about the Bible (unless they are the “approved” theologians) is tantamount to being a Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox Christian.
  16. The belief amongst Evangelicals that studying theology (if done at all) should be left to “the few,” and that studying theology is not really that important for the “normal Christian.”
  17. The belief that Christianity is a “private affair,” and that me and my relationship with Jesus takes precedence over that of my brother’s and sister’s.
  18. The belief that theology is part of the “formalities of religion,” and not the stuff of being a ‘Mere Christian’, spiritual.
  19. The belief that scholarship and spirituality are at odds with each other.
  20. The belief by Christian scholarship and leadership that the people are just too dumb and not motivated enough to think theologically (but who’s fault is that).

These are generalizations, but for my two cents, much of the above is very true; and plagues Evangelical Christianity. Most of what is noted above can be blamed upon the impact that pietism (as a system of thought and theology) has had upon Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christianity. And some of what I am talking about can be blamed on simple laziness. All of the above can contribute to the solitude of the theological student, especially for students who are still living in an “Evangelical World.”

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5 comments

  1. The problem is that a lot of the critics you’ve listed can be right: the study of theology can lead to arrogance, ‘scholastic’ mannerisms, elitism, used as a block to genuine piety and action, a means for divisiveness, etc.

    We need to mourn the fact that the rigid ‘orthodoxies’ of the 17th century created the framework for the murderous 30-years War.

    Personally, I’ve found the wrong engrossment in theology numbs me to life problems, makes me distracted, and becomes an intellectual sparring ground. However, the study of theology is healing for my soul, an act of worship, the pursuit of fides quarens intellectum, an aid to growing my love of God (and, thusly, my love for others).

    So you’re absolutely right in your rebuttal. Like most things, the flesh (and the words of the Devil) creates a pendulum swing. We go from quarrelous elitism to anti-intellectual rejoicing-in-ignorance. The former create an knowledge-based hierarchy out of passages praising wisdom, and the latter create an oppressive mob-mentality out of passages that rejoice in God’s choosing the foolish things.

    Yea, even the Devil can quote Scripture to malign the very Son of God!

    Suffice to say, I feel ya Bobby. I don’t know many people who are deeply interested, and it’s a patient project. I’m at a different edge in our milieu, where a general biblical literacy is something that is not a given. But, as a Pastor in Inner-City Jersey said, if Muslims can get their people to learn Arabic for the Koran, we shouldn’t think people can’t understand words like ‘justification’, ‘resurrection’, ‘regeneration’ etc.

    In the end though, if it’s a consolation, a friend gave me a diagram: he drew three figures, one with a big head, a normal heart, and normal feet, one with a normal head, a big heart, and normal feet, and one with a normal head, a normal heart, and huge feet. His point was that some people are gifted with ‘regular’ amounts of intellect(understanding), compassion, and mobility, while others have exceptional amounts (an extra blessing if you will!).

    We need to rejoice in all gifts and be able practice all gifts, even if we’re not all given them in the same proportion. To call someone an egghead for wanting to worship God in such ways is not only to deny the big-heads among us, it’s saying we all ought to be decapitated!

    All’s this to say, I’m with you and empathize with the struggle.

    cal

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  2. Cal,

    I wrote this in 2009. I would phrase things and emphasize things differently if I wrote something like this now. But in general it still captures the reality we face in evangelicalism. I see theology as discipleship. I don’t see it primarily as a speicalist thing; even tho I think there is a place for specialists. People need to become theologically literate if for other reason that they might worship God in both spirit and truth! Evangelicalism is almost teetering on non-existence at this point, and I would argue it is because it has no sense of history nor the heritage of confession and belief that stands behind them through the given reality of the church through the given reality (by God in Christ) of her teachers etc.

    But this list was simply a personal reflection; not a prescription for the evangelical church. I am speaking from my experience as a theological type in an evangelical milieu. And it is a lonely outcast place in many respects; a place where you get ostracized and told that my craft is simply good for a hobby (which is bull crap!). This solitude, though, is a symptomatic result of being part of an individusalistic faith that prides itself on personal faith and me and my Jesus approach; none of which is biblical.

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  3. This is why church-communities need to have a diverse leadership. People like you need a seat at the table to make sure that this important discipline is not forgotten. Other peoples have burdens for other deeply needed practices (hospitality, pastoral care, growth (defined by faithful presence and outreach), expansion (faithful church-planting), social awareness (justice issues), etc.) All need seats at the table so that all may never forget these practices. Sadly, in many church communities some of these burdens are elevated to the exclusion of others. Some neglect all biblical dictates for worldly marks of prosperity and fashion (numbers, aesthetics, outward appearance, social acceptability etc.)!!

    The church in America is a mostly dead husk, with all its roots completely shriveled, waiting for a sledgehammer to knock it over. But there are roots of hope! I trust the Spirit maintains a remnant. Christ’s Body will never be overtaken. It is lonely, but the Lord provides (even through unstable means like the internet).

    cum maxima amore,
    cal

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  4. And when I say “people like you” I don’t mean someone who uses his intellect to pursue His Redeemer, but people who have a burning and burden for others to do so too.

    cal

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  5. Cal,

    Thanks, good words, and couldn’t agree more! We are the body, and we all have our parts … it is just that some of those parts have lost their apparent usefulness in the evangelical church. But I have hope!

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