We’re All Theologians, and That Can Be Dangerous

Everyone is ultimately a theologian. For example, the decision to recycle or not is a theological decision. Your theology might lead you to decide to be a good steward of the earth and recycle, with varying degrees of zeal.

Meanwhile another person will decide the earth will be destroyed, either as an act of divine judgement or a reality of an aging cosmos with no deity or some other conception. Therefore, there’s no need to act as stewards – it will all be destroyed anyway, so who cares? Still others might conclude, recycling is a broken system and its better to consume less in the first place.

All of these are theological decisions, whether the person knows it or not, or has engaged in the discussions around these things or not, even whether they believe in the Christian God or not. An atheist is still a theologian, with obviously different conclusions than a Christian, because their beliefs about a lack of deity, monotheistic or otherwise, impacts their choices.

How We Perceive and Understand Deity

Some atheists adopt a chaos or anarchy theology while others pursue humanist evolutionary theologies (humans take the role of deity as the peak of this cosmos). How we feel about the value of life is a theological decision too. Some will choose to be pro-life, some pro-choice. Some will be for war, others against it. Some will consider plant and animal life as sacred and others won’t.

These are all decisions that are based, in part on how we perceive and understand deity and what deity wants.

The point of all this is not to say there aren’t good and bad answers, but that theological decisions are constantly made by everyone, and therefore we are all theologians. As a result, it is important to recognize the impact theological choices have on our life and outlooks. This in turn should lead us to take theological study seriously and seek to be the best theologians we can be.

[bctt tweet=”Theological decisions are constantly made by everyone, and therefore we are all theologians. – Brian Franks” via=”no”]

The Impact of Our Theology

Yet, just as many people don’t think about the impact their theological conclusions have on their life. They do not see the need to learn to be good theologians. This leads to a wide variety of types and phases of theologians as people grapple with the difficult ethics and decisions in life.

Here are a few theological phases, in no particular order, that I have observed (and some I’ve even been through myself):

The Folk Theologian

This is a person who develops their theology based on ancient religions and philosophies and/or more recent family and cultural ideas. Some of these are followed faithfully to the old ways and others are a hodge-podge of whatever strikes the person as important or interesting. Imagine the impact of such a theology on your choices! Many people are folk theologians.

The Popular Theologian

Another stage is the popular theologian. This person either teaches or repeats the most common theological hopes, desires, wills, and feelings of the time. This is theology by democracy, whatever the most people (but mostly just the people I like) are saying about a topic is right. Unfortunately, much in US politics orients around popular theological approaches.

The Atheist Theologian

As noted already, this person will place themselves or another human or a group of humans in the role of deity and make all the attendant choices that go with such power. They may go the humanist or anarchist route to some degree. If we’re honest, many so-called Christians think and act in a way much more similar to this approach, their pride as their god, than as followers of the challenging sacrificial theology of YHWH God.

The Zealous Theological Neophyte

A more personal kind of phase is the zealous theological neophyte. Neophyte means someone who is new to something. This kind of person decides to jump in with both feet and not look back. Think the Apostle Peter in the Gospels. Although new to being serious about theology, these novices, think and act like their burgeoning research into theological topics is hitting the sweet spot of perfect revelation without error.

As they sort through the excitement and are pushed along by their zeal, they do not see themselves clearly or honestly. They don’t see the wider picture and often cling to the first theological system they encounter that addresses their own biases the best or fastest. They are blind to critique and rarely seek dialogue, especially with an opposing view.

They suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where as a novice to a new an interesting topic, they vastly overestimate their skills or abilities and often downgrade the experts as unintelligent or misguided. They don’t understand the nuances or even the classical and very real struggles of theology. Consistent ethics and logic are usually not even on the table for the person in this phase.

The Sophomore Theologian

The sophomore theologian or the theology student is still another phase. Unlike the zealous neophyte, this person is getting formal training from actual theologians. They read published scholarship and classics of theology that made meaningful contributions to our study of God. They begin to grapple with the issues of theology and the critiques of their positions and others. They not there yet, but they are headed in a good direction.

The Ivory Tower Theologian

This is a person who knows a lot of information about God (perhaps some of it wrong), but does not actually live their life according to the implications of it. They might have good answers but they either do not apply them to their life because they have been jaded or they think just knowing the information is the highest fulfillment of theology.

They live in a far-off ivory tower, but are often detached from what is really happening and needed in life. It’s ironic how bad of a place this person is in if all their knowledge has not led them to a true transformation in the presence of God. These are the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time.

The Maturing Theologian

I think this is the highest stage for us in this life. This person has been humbled by their theological studies. They are awed by God and honestly seeking God in faith that is growing. Their works are those of embodying the theology of the Gospel in their life, not just knowing information about it.

They hear critiques of their theology and respond thoughtfully. They seek consistency in their theology and its implications, then live it out. They recognize their limits and are very likely to say: the most I’ve learned about God, is how big God is and how small I am. Their life is marked by humility, honesty, genuineness, and wisdom.

Our Theology Impacts Our Daily Choices

Certainly, this is not an exhaustive list, but the point is we are all theologians in some way. The theological understandings we have do impact our choices on a day-to-day basis and even the direction of our lives. Therefore, wouldn’t it be beneficial to take our theological studies more seriously?

Although one or two classes will not get you from one of the first phases of theologian to a maturing one, you can start the journey towards being a better theologian by taking THE 201 Christian Theology at Artios. This class goes through a systematic and historical survey of Christian theology at an introductory level.

Find more information on Christian Theology, below:

    • Check out Artios Christian College here.
    • Register for THE 201 Christian Theology here.
    • Check out the Late Winter term course schedule here.
    • Visit the Artios Center for Vibrant Leadership here.
    • Sponsorships are available in some districts. Email Registrar Makayla Ross at registrar@artioscollege.org for more information.
Come to the Mount The Prodigal Daughter

Written By

Brian Franks serves as dean of Academic Affairs for Artios Christian College and as pastor of the Tulsa, OK Church of God (Seventh Day). Brian is a graduate of LifeSpring School of Ministry (predecessor to Artios). He has served as an instructor for Artios and holds a master’s in Education in Online Curriculum and Instruction. He is scheduled to complete a master’s in Divinity in April 2023. He is married and has four children.

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