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So you're about to start studying theology...?

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

For all those about to start a degree in theology (or biblical or religious studies too), here's part one of John Frame's 30 pieces of advice to theological students and young theologians:

1. Consider that you might not really be called to theological work. James 3:1 tells us that not many of us should become teachers. And he says that teachers will be judged more strictly. To whom much (Biblical knowledge) is given, of them shall much be required.
 
2. Value your relationship with Christ, your family, and the church above your career ambitions. You will influence more people by your life than by your theology. And deficiencies in your life will negate the influence of your ideas, even if those ideas are true.
 
3. Remember that the fundamental work of theology is to understand the Bible, Godís word, and apply it to the needs of people. Everything else: historical and linguistic expertise, exegetical acuteness and subtlety, knowledge of contemporary culture, philosophical sophistication, must be subordinated to that fundamental goal. If it is not, you may be acclaimed as a historian, linguist, philosopher, or critic of culture, but you will not be a theologian.
 
4. In doing the work of theology (the fundamental work, #3), you have an obligation to make a case for what you advocate. That should be obvious, but most theologians today havenít a clue as to how to do it. Theology is an argumentative discipline, and you need to know enough about logic and persuasion to construct arguments that are valid, sound and persuasive. In theology, itís not enough to display a knowledge of history, culture, or some other knowledge. Nor is it enough to quote people you agree with and reprobate people you donít agree with. You actually have to make a theological case for what you say.
 
5. Learn to write and speak clearly and cogently. The best theologians are able to take profound ideas and present them in simple language. Donít try to persuade people of your expertise by writing in opaque prose.
 
6. Cultivate an intense devotional life, and ignore people who criticize this as pietistic. Pray without ceasing. Read the Bible, not just as an academic text. Treasure opportunities 40 to worship in chapel services and prayer meetings, as well as on Sunday. Give attention to your ďspiritual formation,Ē however you understand that.
 
7. A theologian is essentially a preacher, though he typically deals with more arcane subjects than preachers do. But be a good preacher. Find some way to make your theology speak to the hearts of people. Find a way to present your teaching so that people hear Godís voice in it.
 
8. Be generous with your resources. Spend time talking to students, prospective students, inquirers. Give away books and articles. Donít be tight-fisted when it comes to copyrighted materials; grant copy permission to anybody who asks for it. Ministry first, money second.
 
9. In criticizing other theologians, traditions, or movements, follow Biblical ethics. Donít say that somebody is a heretic unless you have a very good case. Donít throw around terms like ďanother gospel.Ē (People who teach another gospel are under Godís curse.) Donít destroy peopleís reputations by misquoting them, or quoting them out of context, or taking their words in the worst possible sense. Be gentle and gracious unless you have irrefutable reasons for being harsh.
 
10. When there is a controversy, donít get on one side right away. Do some analytical work first, on both positions. Consider these possibilities: (a) that the two parties may be looking at the same issue from different perspectives, so they donít really contradict; (b) that both parties are overlooking something that could have brought them together; (c) that they are talking past one another because they use terms in different ways; (d) that there is a third alternative that is better than either of the opposing views and that might bring them together; (e)that their differences, though genuine, ought both to be tolerated in the church, like the differences between vegetarians and meat-eaters in Rom. 14.

HT: Rev Dr James Dobson via Andy Naselli