how to be a theologian

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, and will bring you back from captivity.” – God, Jeremiah 29:10-14

Who is a theologian?

This Sunday my adult ed class asked, who is a theologian? and what is the task of theology? I know that sounds like a mouthful, but it’s not. Because every one of us turns out to be a theologian once we begin to think about God.

I’m not going to summarize the textbook in this post, you can read that for yourself, but I will share some of what I am learning. For me, learning is always the first and most important byproduct of teaching others:

  • Why? Because I am an expert in nothing…
  • because theology does not work when it is confined to a book…
  • because theology is about God interfacing with us and with other people…
  • because theology comes alive when our thoughts about God live in the real world…
  • because my sisters and brothers have so much to teach me…

In fact, that truth (that I am an expert in nothing) may be the best place for all of us to start as theologians, recognizing the limitations of our own point of view and how what we bring with us to the conversation can undo us – if we are not careful – before we even begin.

God has revealed (and is revealing) God’s self in so many dynamic ways. Via creation (the extent and wonders of which we are only beginning to understand), through the scriptures, in Jesus, and as each one of us encounters God in the day-to-day. Yet all of these revelations are experienced, and processed, and remembered, and written, and shared by human beings who are by definition mortal and who see only the hint of a shadow of the glory and the beauty and the magnitude of God’s nature.

This is why, in last week’s post, I pointed out that all theologies are – as the author puts it- “limited, fallible, provisional.”

My lens is unique – yours is too:

When I do God-thought – theology – I do so from the perspective of being white, privileged, and comfortable. My view of God is influenced by my Baptist upbringing, my Presbyterian adulthood, and the years between where I spent some interesting years with Pentecostals, Fundamentalists, and people caught up in the Prosperity Gospel movement. I had and have a great relationship with my parents, that colors my understanding of God. Rebekah and I have been happily married 39-years and our children have grown to become wonderful adults – such an experience colors everything. I grew up in England and have now lived forty-three years in the USA, I have a couple of university degrees, I worked two decades as a school teacher, I am an author and journalist – all this contributes to my outlook. I may have travelled extensively, both in the USA and throughout the world, but there is so much I have not seen, have not experienced, have not read, have not been exposed to – I look at God through this lens too.

In fact, and this will work better than writing another two-thousand words detailing my background and asking you to describe yours, author/theologian C.S. Lewis suggests that our entire self is the lens through which we view God. That includes a multiplicity of factors and variables that make it virtually impossible for any two people to “know” in precisely the same way or to claim the clearest view.

“While in other sciences the instruments you use are things external to yourself (things like microscopes and telescopes), the instrument through which you see God is your whole self.” – Mere Christianity


Doing theology together, then (along with a deep examination of the scriptures and a vital relationship with Jesus), is the absolute best approach to the task. We must – if we are to be good theologians – be “Modest Theologians” (Shirley Guthrie).

When we remember the idea that being Reformed involves always reforming, we also understand the foundational value that insists we continually learn, and learn from one-another, and re-examine the scriptures, and walk with Jesus, and listen to the Holy Spirit…

“If You Seek me – with all your heart”

All this (I’m only just beginning to hit my stride in this post but I should stop!) suggests that our best approach to understanding God, both as individuals and as faith-based communities, is to heed the following words from God via the prophet Jeremiah:

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, and I will bring you back from captivity….”

1-IMG_E1112It’s all about the seeking. We can have all the academic conversations we like about God, but if we seek God with all of our hearts – with passion and discipline and commitment and faithfulness and urgency and regularity and expectation and, well, so much more – then and only then will we become better theologians.

More on this next week, after our next discussion in my class. Personally, I can’t wait!


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”- Jeremiah 29:10-14

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