Studying Theology for Jesus

Posted: August 12, 2011 in education, theology

Yesterday, as I was upacking book-box number 8 (of about 542), I stumbled upon a little pamphlet by John Frame entitled “Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus,” (click the link for the full text).  Frame is a professor of systematic theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary and has written a number of articles related to the study of theology, particularly in the context of seminary (or, by extension, Bible college).  This pamphlet, in particular, is an excellent treatise on the importance and value of theology for all people, seminarians and non-seminarians alike.  He writes,

The term theology scares people. It sounds formidable, esoteric, abstract, technical. Further, many of us have suspicions about the discipline– that it is perhaps irrelevant to our walk before God, or, even worse, a sort of human presumption. How can we dare to think of “grasping” the living Word of God and stuffing it into an intellectual system? Thus was I warned about theology during my youth; and, although I now think the objections to it can be answered, I’m glad I was warned. We should all be a little suspicious of academic theology, because, studied in the wrong way, it can get mixed up with some unhealthy ways of thinking.

The best way to define theology, in my view, is as the application of the whole Bible to the whole of human life. Theology is not an attempt to articulate our feelings about God (Schleiermacher), but neither is it merely an attempt to state the objective truth, or to put the truth in “proper order” (Hodge), for Scripture already does those things perfectly well. Theology is, rather, teaching [1] the Bible for the purpose of meeting human needs. It answers human questions, tries to relieve doubts, applies texts to life-situations.

The broadest term I know to describe everything theology does is the term “application;” hence my slogan, “theology is application.” Of course, the term “application” is susceptible to some misunderstanding. It has suggested to some a type of theology that abhors anything “theoretical” and focuses only on the “practical.” So let me say here that that is not at all what I have in mind. Theoretical work in theology is very important. My only concern is to point out that even the most theoretical sort of theology falls under the label “application.” For why do we develop theological theories, after all? Only because they address real questions people have on matters of spiritual importance. So theory is part of application.

So this way of looking at theology does not elevate the practical over the theoretical in any general way. On the other hand, neither does it elevate the theoretical over the practical. Theoretical and practical questions are on a par with one another, all fair game for the theologian.

I’d encourage everyone to read the rest of the article, as it contains loads of great wisdom.  You might also check out “Learning at Jesus’ Feet: a Case for Seminary Training” and “Covering Ourselves: A Charge to Graduating Seminary Students.”

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