A Theologian who DOESN’T want us to study theology

In the latest issue of Themelios Carl Trueman,   Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has written a great article on the importance of not studying theology:

It might seem odd to write an editorial for a theological journal on the topic of not doing theology and how important that can be; and, indeed, perhaps it is contrarian even by my own exacting standards. But it is nonetheless important. Let me explain.

The greatest temptation of a theology student is to assume that what they are studying is the most important thing in the world. Now, I need to be uncharacteristically nuanced at this point: there is a sense, a very deep and true sense, in which theology is the most important thing in the world. It is, after all, reflection upon what God has chosen to reveal to his creatures; and it thus involves the very meaning of existence. In this sense, there is nothing more important than doing theology.

But this is not the whole story. One of the great problems with the study of theology is how quickly it can become the study of theology, rather than the study of theology, that becomes the point. We are all no doubt familiar with the secular mindset which repudiates any notion of certainty in thought; and one of the reasons for this, I suspect, is that intellectual inquiry is rather like trying to get a date with the attractive girl across the road with whom you have secretly fallen in love: the thrill comes more from the chase and the sense of anticipation than it does from actually finding the answer or eliciting agreement to go to the movies.

Trueman goes on to speak very practically on the dangers of focusing on theology as an in end rather than a means to an end:

This attitude often betrays itself in reactions to sermons. If the proclamation of the gospel on a Sunday morning is more likely to elicit from you a question as to what the pastor thinks of the genitive construction in the passage immediately after what he has expounded, it could be that you are studying too much theology or at least studying it in a way that is not aimed at deepening your knowledge of God but deepening your knowledge of a technical field, in the way one might deepen one’s knowledge of chess openings, bridge bidding systems, or sports statistics. To put it bluntly, you probably need to get out more, spend time with real Christian people dealing with real everyday situations.

These are helpful words for a student such as myself.  Furthermore, Trueman provides some personal insight on how to avoid the objectification of the task:

Strange to tell, I suspect that having a good hobby or two is critical. These can be important outlets for aspects of our personalities that have only limited and occasional usefulness in theology. I am aware that I have certain personality traits which, when applied to church or my studies, are likely to lead me to bad places. I like my own company; I like to push myself; I like to strategise and plan; and while not a bad loser on the whole, I do like to win. Far better than losing, in my experience. None of these things is bad in and of itself, but I need to make sure that the satisfaction I get from them is not such that it harms the church; and if I have no outlet for them other than theology and church, it will be a disaster. So I run long distances, and after twenty-five years, I have taken up chess again, harmless outlets for personality traits which could otherwise be problematic. On the roads, the trails and the chessboard, I can be alone, I can scheme, and I can win as much as I want without fear of harming others.

I can certainly identify with Trueman especially in having the hobby of running as an outlet!

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