Friday, July 29, 2005

On the 'Study of Theology'

Why Study Theology?

Theology is often referred to as the "Study of God". This is too simplistic an answer, but will suffice for the lay person, unless he/she is interested to find out more. In general, a lot of people will be surprised when anyone decide to take a step towards doing something like theology. Afterall, not much money can be made from it, and theological qualifications are sometimes not recognized for purposes of visa applications by secular governments.

Some Common Accusations
A common accusation at people studying theology is that it merely increases 'Intellectualism'. In some ways that is true, as it requires lots of the use of the mind power and reasoning. (However, it only becomes intellectualism if the buck stops there.) Furthermore, isn't studying theology a waste of time, when one can study the Bible for himself and totally depend on the Holy Spirit? Why can't one just study the Bible with all the available Bible tools? Isn't it that a waste of time and money?

To let the accusations above stick without a response will do gross injustice to the schools of theology and students world-wide. If anyone think that studying theology is merely intellectualism, I would say that is not true theology, for true study of theology involves BOTH heart, mind and soul in thought as well as in practice. If one were to read Ps 119 through, one will soon realise that it is a PRIVILEGE and imperative to study theology. The Psalmist even said "Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts dliligently" (Ps 119:4). We have to know the Word, and to keep it diligently, and such require discipline and hard work. We need to know the Word that we may not sin against God. Of course we can still do theology on our own at home. The biggest problem with this argument is that by studying alone, one will miss out on the community life that a theological school provides.

Below are my other responses:
A) Because we love the Word of God.
The Psalmist states 'And I will delight myself in the commandments, which I have loved.' (Ps 119:47) Why should I be accused of doing something I loved to do? If those who loved to fly, goes to flying school; and those who loved to cook, learns recipes or go to cooking classes; those learning business processes do an MBA; why should theology students be treated any differently when they pursue their love wholeheartedly?

B) Because We want to learn from our Forefathers, and their experiences
It is a pity that man has a 'glorious' history of re-inventing the wheel. Instead of learning from what our forefathers has agonized and thought through, some chose to struggle themselves through. Their time would be better used to try to research and tackle the many mysteries and issues that remained unresolved. In this way, not only will they get up to speed quickly by learning from the ancient Fathers, they will also help accumulate learning and knowledge for the benefit of future generations. There is much more for us to learn from our Protestant heritage. Understanding the context of how the historical Church has grown helped us to be careful of spiritual potholes. For example, learning about the Methodist heritage, John Wesley, gives us insight into the problems of society at that time and how the Church has helped.

C) Because we seek to lead others correctly
The Psalmist said "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Ps 119:105). We need to avoid becoming the blind that lead the blind. As we let the Word of God illuminate us, we can help others to be guided by that light as well. People need directions in life. Direction setting need leaders to set forth and provide. Leaders need to be trained and guided. This training and guidance comes from God, through His revealed Word. The theological community from different races, walks of life, interdenominational forms a rich collection of experience and lifestyle that one will benefit richly.

D) Because We need Time to Study
Any diligent study of the Word need time. It is true that we spend regular time on daily devotions. However, do we really have time to study the History of the Christian faith, different schools of religious experiences, different ethical aspects of faith pertaining to daily life and work, the various denominational differences learnt through interactions with people outside our typical one-Church setting? We know that the busyness of life, family and work can easily swamp anyone. So much so that for some, the only spiritual input is the Sunday sermon (if he/she attends in the first place). Theologucal education is not cramming all the knowledge in within the timeframe of the programme concerned. It is the daily contemplative and diligent study + interaction that shapes the person to become even more grateful of the gift of life God has endowed upon us. Afterall, life is a gift.

E) Because of the Community of Like-Minded People
Nothing helps the study of Theology more than the presence of a community of like-minded folks. How often in the Church setting, when one attempt to do serious discussion on the doctrine of salvation but are not able to find sufficient interest among Church members to engage and guided in the proper manner? Sometimes any attempts to think and discuss more is brushed off as an exercise in "Intellectualism" or something too "chim" (deep) to understand and has no practical use. In a Christian college setting, there will be a community of individuals to spur each other to learning not just the mind but how they lived out that learning in their service and lifestyle. We fellowship and understand the Anglicans, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Methodists, Free Evangelicals, Brethren, and many others worldwide. It is also good to note that even within each denominations, there are subtle differences based on countries, theological inclinations, or other factors.

In this simple summary, I think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages of studying theology. If anyone can afford the time and energy, he/she should do some theology at least during a part of his lifetime, say few days, few weeks, few months and better still few years. But underpinning these efforts, there should be a clear love for the Lord and His written Word.

In summary, I personally feel that the study of theology suffers from the 'lack' rather than the 'more'. By this I mean, the need for Churches everywhere is actually for more theological grounding. Open up the directory and point to any Church, and one of the top concerns is Christian Education. I like this saying by Abraham Lincoln:

"Colleges are places where pebbles are polished and diamonds are dimmed."

A Happy and Grateful Theological Student,

Regent College

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