There are a number of ways of answering this question. I see the task of a biblical scholar as different from a systematic theologian, but as systematic theologians are taken up with reflection on the doctrine of God, this can’t be done without a deep engagement with scripture.
For me, good theologians are aware of their responsibility to serve the church and of the pastoral implications of their views. In other words, theology done as a purely academic pursuit is something different and someone can be good at that too, but I am answering a different question.
Good theologians are those who are able to think and speak truthfully about God, to communicate that well and to help others to understand God better through what they do.
Consequently, there are pastors who are good theologians and academics who are good theologians. Both pursuits require prayer, humility, listening to God and to others, and study, but how a pastor and an academic spend their days will probably be very different.
An academic theologian will spend much of their time in research, teaching, and writing, which in my view should also be providing valuable resources for pastors.
Good theologians are both passionate about their subject and careful with their words and expressions about God, aware that how we speak of God is re-telling the story of who God is.
So as well as attempting to think and speak truthfully about God I think that good theologians have a sense of the contingency of their work; God has made himself known in Christ by the Spirit, but there is so much yet to discover. This process of discovery constitutes the ongoing conversation.
Becoming a good systematic theologian entails a lot of reading: of the Bible, of ancient texts, of key works throughout the ages, and of contemporary developments and debates. I think only a few people are well versed in all texts and all topics. Most of us can only become “good theologians” in relation to our own small area.
It helps, however, to be aware of the questions that systematic theologians ask and why. Once someone has done that, it’s a case of taking the time to discover how these questions have been answered through the years and what that tells us about God, about the world, and about humanity.
Good theologians are inquisitive, enjoy discussion and debate, are prepared to change their minds, and admit that there is always so much more to learn!
Lucy Peppiatt is the Principal of Westminster Theological Centre in Gloucestershire, UK and the author of numerous books, including Women and Worship in Corinth, Unveiling Paul’s Women, and Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women.