Theology Burnout; And Who Cares, Only Jesus is that Important

I remember telling a mentor, former seminary professor of mine (well he’s former now, he wasn’t then) years ago that I don’t really care what people think I care what God thinks as disclosed in Holy Scripture; I still think this. It’s weird, at this very moment I think I am actually struggling with theology burn-out. Meaning, I am coming full circle, rather circuitously, to what I told my prof so many years ago (approx. 15 years ago). I have been reading theologians formally since 1996 (actually earlier than that, but that’s when it really started meaning something to me). I’ve been reading historical theologians, constructive theologians, dogmatic theologians, systematic theologians, pastoral theologians so on and so forth. And at a certain point, this point, I’ve come to the spot where I’m saying: “who cares!” Who cares what x, y, or z theologian thinks; at the end of the day it is theologoumena, or theological opinion. Sure, yes, theology and theologians have their relative place in the church, but at some point they need to finally make their way back to Scripture and exegesis (not just nod the head to it over and over again as a methodology). What I have come to realize is that precisely because of the modern split between biblical studies and theological/confessional studies as distinct disciplines, and precisely because of the rise of super-specialization in various disciplines and sub-disciplines; the Bible and theological formation get thought apart from each other rather than towards and from one another. There are people in the premodern period, like John Calvin, Martin Luther et al who didn’t think this way, but at the same time, even they are simply offering some pretty theological and confessional readings of Holy Scripture. In other words, and this is the source of my burn-out, I think; there isn’t an intensive engagement with the text as text, per se. What I am doing here is betraying my own periodization, as someone who has benefited (at least I think so) from some of the modern approaches to biblical studies. The text-critical approach to Scripture has some advantages: 1) it actually attempts to read the Bible on its own intertextual/intratextual canonical terms; 2) it takes the various literary types, genres, and forms as important for gaining an accurate understanding of what the text is actually communicating; 3) and for many, it believes Scripture, all by itself, can generate the meaning it wants to generate without the help of the theologians creating meaning for it (i.e. through their imaginatively and creatively constructed contextualization apparatuses; through their hermeneutical frameworks; through their layering of traditions etc.).

Now, I have written enough at this point (even my most recent posts) to recognize that I don’t think anyone can read the Bible nakedly (or de nuda scriptura); or untheologically. But I do think that the Bible itself, contextually/canonically (contra confessionally at some points — at least when confession begins to create more meaning than is present in the inner-logic of the biblical text itself) does have the Spirit spirated power to communicate what God wants us to know about himself from himself as Scripture is given reality in itself as it finds itself in the dominion of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ). So don’t take me wrong in this post; I’m not downing the importance or reality of the “theological” in the “exegetical,” but I am saying that there needs to be a much fuller and robust movement of theologians back to the “exegetical” as an emphasis; otherwise, at least myself personally, I am left saying: “who cares, dude!”

We need the Bible. We don’t need people claiming that they can read the Bible plain and simple without any informing theological assumptions (I think of pastors like John MacArthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul et al.), but we still need to make our way back to the Bible (and we should be starting from it, no less). We shouldn’t just constantly assume that as theologians we are just grounded in the interiority of the logic that makes Scripture turn; nein. We should move beyond the divide between super-specialization and actually work at being “generalists;” in the sense that we see someone like John Calvin, Martin Luther, or even Thomas Aquinas doing. These more ancient theologians wrote commentaries on Holy Scripture ; this is what I’m talking about. Let the theological task be about this business; or “who cares!” Karl Barth wrote commentaries on various books of the Bible (Romans, Philippians, Ephesians, I Corinthians, John); if people are to care about what the theologians are talking about, then the theologians ought to care about what the Bible says more than what they say.

I’ll continue to read the theologians, but only very selectively. I think exposure to theologians via social media, on a constant basis, has contributed to my burn-out (nothing personal). Social media has the capacity for some good, but at a certain point, at least given many of my contacts, there comes a kind of imbalance of focus in regard to what is being talked about. So it gives the impression, at least to me, that the theologians think they are more important than they actually are; even if the theologians are relatively important. What is really important is Jesus Christ; I don’t really care about what classes everyone is teaching; what texts they are using; what recommendations they are seeking from their recognized peers; and all of this other type of in-house but almost narcissistic cool kid club rancor.


7 thoughts on “Theology Burnout; And Who Cares, Only Jesus is that Important

  1. Bobby,
    I like your New Years pipe…..but the New Years hair…not so much!

    Have you read Gerhard O. Forde, “Theology is for Proclamation”? He distinguishes between primary discourse and secondary discourse. Secondary discourse is words ABOUT God, and primary discourse is the direct declaration of the Word of God, words FROM God! We, and the poor broken sinners in our pews need to hear the Word of God, that is, to be addressed and transformed by words FROM God…and not by our entertaining words ABOUT God.
    I agree with those who declared that “Jesus Christ as he is attested in Scripture is the one Word of God who we must hear, trust and obey in life and in death”….and were willing to die! And I have a lot of time for TFT whose passion to proclaim Christ reached back to his missionary childhood in China and his harrowing chaplaincy war experiences.
    I do tire of hearing words about God….and I do hunger to hear the Word OF God. Theology must serve proclamation…or it is worse than idle chatter.
    Thanks again for your challenging thoughts!

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  2. Thanks for this irenic rant. You’ve pointed out that the task of engaging with the Bibical text is a difficult one, yet at the same time has a noble goal: to know the Christ of the Word, who is the Word.


  3. Don, yes, there’s a constant battle. I mean God has chosen to meet us where we are in Christ, and as such made it possible to speak about him and in some instances for him; insofar as we actually bear witness to Christ in participation with his life.


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