Non-elitist Theology, pt I

16 Feb

I want to talk about a couple of different angles of theology that have been highlighted to me recently. Part one is from a comment posted on this blog regarding getting started in theology…

Now, for those of us not blessed with living in KC so we can just sign up for FSM, where do we start? The thought of dropping in to a Christian bookstore and picking up a theology book that reads like an encyclopedia not only intimidates me, but makes me cringe at the thought of the boredom, as well. ….

It’s true that there are a lot of seriously “eggheady” theology books out there. I’m a pretty avid reader, yet even so, I’ve bumped into a couple of books that made my brain hurt. They were so loaded with arguments and comparison of theories and ideas and building up one lofty theological construct and simultaneously ripping another one to pieces, that I had to read each paragraph two or three times just to figure out which way was up. I have also read several books that were very dry, blandly presenting intellectual points and never really connecting to the heart at all.

I think it’s time we seriously revise how we approach theology.

Theology should be exciting more than indimidating. The very name is literally, “The study of God” (theos + -ology). I think there’s still definitely a place for that brainy, super-scholastic stuff, but that’s not the essence of what theology is — or at least, not what it should be. Loving the Lord our God with all our mind is only one piece of the Greatest Commandment. I believe the best and most “on-track” theology engages our heart as well.

In its purest sense, theology means we get to search God out. That doesn’t begin with the top theological dissertations from the super-IQ scholars. That begins with a Bible, a hungry heart, some time in prayer, and missing a meal or two. In my experience, any area of theology where I’ve been able to enjoy the brainiac stuff is an area in which I’ve already connected with the biblical text in such a way that my heart comes alive at the thought of it.

For instance, eschatology was not something I was interested in before I came to IHOP. Most of the way through Track 1, I still didn’t understand why it was important. I had a hard time even focusing on the Saturday night end-times focused services, and I think if someone would have given me a thick, heavy book on the four primary interpretations on the book of Revelation, I may well have chucked it out the window. I didn’t care, and so I didn’t have the energy to engage in the mental wrestling it would take to make sense out of the material.

However, over several years of being exposed to the scriptural foundation of eschatology, and touching a little bit on how we know God in the middle of it, I enjoy finding random (but well-grounded) theology materials about it. The same things that would have endlessly frustrated me three years ago can actually serve to propel my heart deeper into devotion and fascination now that I’ve already fallen in love with the Word.

So my first big recommendation would be to read the Bible. A lot. Find something that moves your heart and begin developing your own notes and meditations on it. Start poking around in a couple of commentaries and find out what some other Bible scholars have to say. Rather than jumping into the theological waters with just the vague sense that you should do it, find a direction you’re passionate about and can run with. The more you spend time in it, and the more you study, the more you’ll run into helpful resources. The deeper you get into your subject, the more you will find yourself bumping into other subjects you didn’t even know you were interested in. Of course, the goal is still not to simply amass an impressive repertoire of theological knowledge. The goal is to encounter God. The goal is to open our hearts and minds to Him in new ways and let it carry over into the way we pray, talk, and live.

Now, there is definitely something to be said for improving upon the kind of theological resources that are so prevalently available today… but I’ll save that for part II in the next day or so.

In the meantime, here are a couple of books that I have really enjoyed, that I find strike a good balance between an intellectual and a devotional approach…

Word of Life by Thomas Oden

The Evidential Power of Beauty by Thomas Dubay

Prayer by Hans Urs von Balthasar

The Prophets by Abraham Heschel

Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias (more apologetic than strictly theology)

*Note: The above books have many things I like as well as several things I disagree with — weigh all of what you read against Scripture, and don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. None of them are particularly easy reads, but I didn’t find any of them to be unreasonably brain-bending.


Posted by on February 16, 2007 in Bible, Knowledge of God, Theology


5 responses to “Non-elitist Theology, pt I

  1. Richard Liantonio

    February 17, 2007 at 11:26 am

    Hey Amanda – I like the direction you are going. Theology definitely strictly means “the study of God.” However, in the same way that biology strictly means (the study of life), there is a big difference between the biology that plants a garden and the biology that develops a cure to smallpox. In the same way that reading a scientific journal describing the latest discoveries related to the inner workings of photosynthesis may be dry and distasteful to your average flower-gardener. a technical theological journal will be by nature dry and distasteful to an average believer going after God. I think neither are intrinsically bad. but are different. There is a distinct quasi-scientific dimension to advanced levels of theological and biblical research that makes it quite different from anything an average person would ever be interested in. In the same way that science makes advancement by reviewing the proposals (arguments) of others and proposing new ideas (arguments), theology works much in the same way. Now granted, it gets confusing with theology because it is not just a detatched discipline, it is a deeply profound matter of the heart. Yet one could say similar things about the relationship between enjoying flowers and researching biological-medical cures. Nature has long been an emotional and even mystical source of captivation for poets, scientists and Christians (like C.S. Lewis and John of the Cross) alike. The heady nature of some theology is NEVER intended to displace the hungry heart that searches out God in the Word. But I would also propose that vice versa is true as well. Theology has become a field of specialist knowledge just like any other field in which one could get a PH.D. I believe this is neither good nor bad. It rather opens possibilities for great good and great evil precisely because it deals with matters of ultimate concern. I am beginning to sense a spirit of rambling coming on me so I will cease shortly, but this is an issue I wrestle freshly with continually, being one who is walking the line between being active both in an advanced biblical studies research degree program and ministry at IHOP. This experience has been helping me remain balanced (somewhat) in my study of theology, but has in no way been easy. It is wrought with confusing conflicts at every turn and I myself have yet to come to a firm conclusion about all these things. Just wanting to help move the conversation forward 😉

  2. Richard Liantonio

    February 17, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    one point of clarification – my analogy between planting a garden and developing a cure to smallpox was not meant to be a distinction of usefulness, but of scientific complexity and technicality (as seen in the fact the analogy morphed into discussing discoveries related to photosynthesis). That could potentially have been read in quite an inflammatory way that was not intended. I hope my main point that one is not better than the other, but both are different came across 🙂

  3. Amanda Beattie

    February 17, 2007 at 4:37 pm


    I appreciate the clarification. This is actually precisely what I was trying to communicate, but I was having a hard time doing so without apologizing my way right out of the point I was trying to make. 🙂

    I definitely agree that the briany stuff is valid and good and necessary (I tried to mention that near the top of my post). But I also wanted to remove the intimidation fractor for people who are totally capable of handling even a lot of the really heady stuff, but are overwhelmed when they first get into it… and I can say with confidence the lady I quoted at the beginning is way intelligent enough to handle any and every theology book she got her hands on. But, I would probably not encourage someone new to the area of theolgoy to kick off their experience with Moltmann… 😀 But at the same time, Moltmann has some great stuff, and when you’ve already got your heart awakened to what he’s talking about, he’s definitely worth reading.

    So again, thanks very very much for the comments. I absolutely agree. Much needed clarification.


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