A good Biblical theologian is a faithful theologian. Whether or not you recognize it, everyone is a theologian of sorts. We all have thoughts about God whether a Christian, an atheist, a Buddhist, or a Muslim. Everyone speaks words about God. Our concern then with being good Biblical theologians lies within the idea of faithfulness.
In what follows, I will give six characteristics of a faithful theologian in order to extrapolate this idea. I hope that these six characteristics encourage and challenge you as you continue on your journey to truly KNOW God.
1. The faithful theologian understands faithful reason.
First Corinthians 2:14-16 tells us that “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things but is himself to be judged by no one. For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” The mysteries of God are not able to be understood by the unregenerate for these things are “spiritually discerned.” Thus, faithful theology is done with a regenerate mind.
But, this passage points out that we have been given the mind of Christ, thus we ARE able to understand and speak of the things of God with our regenerate minds. Augustine argued that “our hearts need to be cleansed first by believing, that we may be able to see with them” (Exposition of the Psalms 33-50, Psalm 44:25). It is our faith that seeks understanding, not our understanding that gives us faith.
2. The faithful theologian’s life is affected by his/her theology.
Theologians have often been characterized as pious academics who sit in their ivory towers and write philosophical musings about God that no one outside of said tower can understand. Sadly, I have seen this to be true of many of my theology students. However, this should not and MUST not be the case if we are to be faithful theologians.
Martin Luther says, “It is through living, indeed dying and being damned that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading, or speculation” (Martin Luther, Operationes in Psalmos). We should not be able to speak about God and study who God is and not be completely changed. Kelly Kapic argues that “attempting to separate life and theology is to lose the beauty and truthfulness of both” (Kapic, Little Book for New Theologians, 42). Our theology MUST affect the way that we live and interact with others. J.I. Packer argues that “if our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility it inevitably feeds pride” (J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 1990. 15). Faithful theology is LIVED theology.
3. The faithful theologian is committed to prayer and study.
Karl Barth says that theology “does not merely begin with prayer and is not merely accompanied by it; in its totality, it is peculiar and characteristic of theology that it can be performed only in the act of prayer” (Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963. 160). How can we be doing faithful theology without submitting ourselves to God’s revelation and asking God to continually reveal himself to us as we continue our theological study?
The faithful theologian will be continually submitting themselves to God in prayer asking for his guidance and illumination as they seek to know God as he reveals himself. Kapic argues, “theological reflection can and should be a rigorous, authentic, and humble dialogue with God…Our study informs our prayers and our prayers enliven our study. We cannot choose between prayer and study; faithful theology requires prayerful study” (Kapic, Little Book for New Theologians, 82).
4. The faithful theologian approaches theology in humility and repentance.
This one should be a no-brainer, however, from my experience, it is extremely easy to allow our knowledge to “puff us up” (1 Cor 8:1). But if we are to be faithful theologians we must be characterized by humility. Psalm 25:9 says that “He leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble his way.” We must approach our theological study in humility so that God can lead us and teach us his ways as Psalm 25 says. When we allow the object of our study to determine our method of study, the result should be humility.
For instance, a geologist, in an attempt to learn what period of history a rock is from, does experiments to the rock in order to draw information from the rock. In theology, we do not draw information from our object of study, namely God, rather, we SUBMIT ourselves to God as He reveals information about Himself to us. The nature of theology and theological study demands that we approach the subject in humility. We can be sure to have an attitude of humility by continually asking God to reveal to us where we have failed and repent of those failures. We must acknowledge that even though we are redeemed, we are continually being conformed into his image. The faithful theologian is characterized by humility and repentance.
5. The faithful theologian loves scripture.
Psalm 1 says that blessed is the man whose “delight is in the law of the LORD and on His law he meditates day and night.” The word used for man in these verses is referencing a godly person. If one expects to be godly, to be conformed to the image of Christ, they will love Scripture. If faithful theology is only done by one who has been regenerated, then a love of Scripture has to be characteristic of them.
How can we expect to do faithful Christian theology without a love of the word of God which reveals to us the Word of God? Let us be more like the Psalmist in Psalm 119:162, “I rejoice at your word, like one who finds great spoil.” The faithful theologian loves scripture.
6. The faithful theologian is filled with wonder.
The final characteristic of a faithful theologian is that they are filled with wonder. Karl Barth says, “If anyone should not find himself astonished and filled with wonder when he becomes involved in one way or another with theology, he would be well advised to consider once more, from a certain remoteness and without prejudice, what is involved in this undertaking” (Barth, Evangelical Theology, 63). How can we do faithful theology and not marvel at the majesty of God and his creation?
A perfect example of this type of wonder can be found in Christianity Today’s publication called The Behemoth which is a digital magazine designed to “help people behold the glory of God all around them, in the worlds of science, history, theology, medicine, sociology, Bible, and personal narrative.” If you struggle with wonder and awe in your study of God then I suggest you read this magazine. It is filled with wonderful articles of faithful theologians wondering and marveling at the majesty and beauty of God. The faithful theologian cannot help but be filled with wonder and awe at our beautiful God.
Daniel J. Cameron is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Aberdeen specializing in the ecclesiology of T.F. Torrance and serves as adjunct professor of theology at The Moody Bible Institute.
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