“Everyone is a theologian.”
Something about the thin, round glasses hanging on the end of the professor’s nose and the bow tie neatly tucked beneath his white collar made him feel all the more believable.
It was my first day of Bible school. Freshman year held a host of uncomfortable, nervous and intimidating moments, but this one will always be etched in my mind. His voice reverberated with age and experience and authority, and his words struck my timid heart with surprise and self-doubt.
“Everyone is a theologian.”
He went on to explain that every person possesses a theology—a view of God—whether they know it or not. He contended that we, even at 18 and 19 years old, had a belief system regarding God, the Word, the church and other things. We had picked up on teachings, let suggested dispositions settle into our hearts, allowed subtle theologies sink into our minds. “Every one of you is a theologian,” he repeated, “but are you good ones?”
In little time, he became a favorite professor. I ate up what he taught, I asked questions, I requested resources because he was right: I did have a view of God, I was a theologian, but I had not taken the time to be a good one.
You Are a Theologian, Too.
I have called this freshmen experience to mind several times over the years. At times when I was exposed to a new conversation, times when I went on a rant of opinions but realized I had studied little on the topic, and times when I couldn’t reconcile two co-existing values in my heart I have revisited the question. Because the question isn’t, Am I a theologian? But, Since I AM a theologian, how can I be a good one?
The same is true for you. You don’t have to go to Bible school or seminary to possess a theology. Theology is simply a word for what we believe about God, what we believe about His Word and His people, and how we reconcile that in our own lives. No one is exempt from these thoughts; even the atheist has a position, a belief system in place for thinking about God (or the absence of God).
Throughout your day you will think hundreds of thoughts, make thousands of microscopic decisions based upon your belief system: Should my kids read that book? Why? Why not? Should we home school? Should one parent stay home with the newborn? Why? Why not? Should we skip church this Sunday? Why? Why not? Should I eat this cupcake? Should I go for a run? Why? Why not?
We have unspoken, often unseen belief systems that are coursing through our veins every minute of the day. We think thoughts about faith, family and God. So, sister, you’re a theologian. But are you a good one?
We are scared of theology.
I remember one Monday night women’s Bible study that I was a part of years ago. It was a beautiful mix of college students and empty nesters that led to rich, fruitful conversation. That particular night we were discussing the work of the Spirit in making us more like Christ. One woman shared her thoughts on how the Spirit convicts us of sin, and argued that because the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ He always works to make us more like Jesus. It was a beautiful rant of the best kind! She was passionate and bold (and right!). She stopped sharply, realizing she had been talking for longer than she planned, threw up her hands with a shake of her head, “But I don’t know, I’m not a theologian.”
I say this with so much love for her, but she was dead wrong! She was absolutely a theologian, and she was doing theology right at that minute (and doing it really well, I might add). What she expressed is what many of us feel: an inherent sense of self-doubt that makes us afraid to use the word “theology.”
The result is that we go about our lives and conversations operating under a false assumption that what we are doing is not theology (or a-theological). But if we are all theologians then whatever we believe is our theology. How we think about our bodies, how we talk to our children, how we read our Bibles (or don’t) is our theology. Since theology touches every sphere of the Christian life, the stakes are too high for this kind of assumption.
As women in the church, we often operate as if theology is the task of our pastors, academics or even our husbands. While they are certainly called to this pursuit, we cannot leave ourselves out. We have to hold ourselves to the same high standards; we have to believe that good theology—the rich and painstaking process of knowing God through His Word—is for us. At the end of the day, we are not accountable before God with our husbands and our pastors, but we stand before God accountable for our own actions, beliefs, and theology.
Getting to the grit of it.
We have some work to do. As much as I love women’s Bible studies, I want to call us to something higher in the local church. There are few things that get me excited more than sitting with a group of women to study God’s Word, but too often I find that we choose spiritual inspiration books, or topical Bible-ish studies instead of God’s Word. We go around the circle allowing each person to have their own interpretation of the Text, regardless of how different they are, and we pass a plate of scones and head home.
Let me say this with compassion and severity: We must do better.
Throughout history, women have been the primary proprietors of society. What I mean is this: When women move in a particular direction, society follows. Why? Because women are teaching their children, influencing their neighborhoods, and making moves for change in their communities. The stakes are too high for us to continue operating as if we are not theologians—we must care for our theology, nurture our theology, and watch our theology to ensure that it is good!
This is a call to each of us. It is a reminder for me to study before I give an opinion, to check my gut reactions to ensure they align with God’s Word. This is a call to women’s ministries in the U.S. to put down the spiritual self-help books and dig into the Word that gives us life and shows us who God is. And it is a call to you—wherever you are, whoever you are—to seek to know God and to know His Word. It is a challenge and a joy. Because good theology is a trek into the heart of our Lord, it is the journey to know our God more and more intimately every day.
Let’s make the journey, all of us, together.