I am always asked these questions: “Why should I study theology if I want to be a pastor? After all I have been taught the bible since I was in Sunday school? The bible is freely available and I have been reading it ever since I learnt how to read. Why spend years studying something that I already know about? Moreover, I have a close personal relationship with Jesus. Why should I get lost in theology?”
Sometimes these questions are asked by those who wish to enter ministry but who regard theological training as superfluous, unpractical and a mere academic exercise which has little to do with practical Christian ministry. They say they have read quite widely over the years and have nothing new to learn. Their acquaintance with Scripture is sufficient for them to enter into ministry.
For some energetic young people, anxious to just get into a pulpit and preach the Word, the three or more years of attending classes and writing assignments in the seminary seem like a waste of valuable time.
Even worse, some believe that theology is a dangerous subject, which exposes students to some unorthodox teachings, and questions some basic tenets of the Christian faith. It is thus dangerous to one’s spiritual health, they argue.
However, theological studies should, in fact must, be undertaken by anyone wishing to get into Christian ministry.
Theological education provides the framework for a proper understanding of Scripture. Theological education helps one to grasp the overall structure of God’s revelation and its historical development. One begins to understand where the various pieces of the story of our salvation fit in.
To understand a biblical passage properly, it is essential that we understand the meaning and significance of the words used, in their original languages, the context in which these words are found in the bible and the background against which they were written.
We often hear preachers pluck out phrases or sentences from the bible and put them in a wrong context altogether. We have all heard sermons, which either have no relation whatsoever to the text, or which present a message quite foreign to that intended by the original author. The end result is malnourished church members fed with half-truths.
The other reason for the study of theology is to understand Christian doctrine. There are many theological terms in the bible which require careful study such as salvation, redemption, covenant, etc. The bible does not say everything about any one of these concepts in one place. Moreover, when mentioned, they are not clear. It is the purpose of theology to clarify them.
There are other concepts that are not in the bible but which are central to the Christian faith, for example, “Trinity”. It would be very difficult to know, let alone understand such concepts without theology.
Moreover, there are some theological views which, on the surface, appear to be biblical but on closer examination, can be seen to be heretical. Theological training equips us with the tools we need to examine and judge the authenticity of these concepts.
The study of theology is also important for the defense of the Christian faith. 1 Peter 3:15 urges Christians to provide answers to questions of the hope that we have. It is not enough for Christians to be able to state what they believe, but more importantly they must be able to articulate why they believe it. Unfortunately, when Christians answer questions about their faith, they often give poor and confusing answers, all because they have not taken time to study theology.
Theological study is cross-disciplinary. It interacts with disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, politics, history and many others to bring the best of human thinking to bear on the meaning and presence of the divine in the world.
In that way theological study does not shy away from the difficult questions facing humanity. It leads to thinking and involvement in issues of inequality, injustice, environmental degradation, racism, human sexuality, violence, poverty, among others. It also works to uncover how theological reflection has been complicit in these dark chapters of human history and how it can provide an alternative vision for the future.
Human beings tend to be swayed easily by new ideas, a leader’s personality, new encounters, or experiences that fascinate us. New religious movements and their ideas are appealing and they lobby for our attention as we seek the latest and greatest. But what we see as great is usually not that great, after all. When theology disappears from the church and its leaders, we will have a “free for all” of what we think is the truth. God will be moved to the backseat, replaced by the god of self or of the favoured trend of the day as the central focus of our faith.
Today many Christians are literally taken captive, cheated, robbed and abused by many pastors, churches and TV ministries that make exclusive claims to salvation. Outside their church, they are told, there is no salvation. Theology gives us a sound biblical foundation and protects us from false doctrine, false teachers, and deception in its various forms and manifestation.
Today we live in a highly complex world and our pastors need to have an education that is deep enough, wide enough, and good enough to minister in this world with all of its complexity. It is sad when pastors have not attained a comparable level of proficiency in their line of work.
God has called you to serve Him, and now you need theological training and formation to pursue that call. Far from being a waste of time, theology is an essential part of one’s relationship with God in ministry.