What is theological education?

Welcome to The Theology Whisperer,  a series of short blog posts on theology and theological education. Your contributions are important – please join the conversation!

My formal theological education began in 1991, when I opened some mail and began reading a booklet that I had requested from Moore Theological College on the study of the Old Testament. At the time, I was doing full-time postgraduate study in the humanities, developing a modest itinerant preaching ministry, and had recently read Graeme Goldsworthy’s dense little book, Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament.[1]

Graeme’s approach vastly differed from the dispensational perspective on biblical theology I picked up as a child. I was keen to learn more, and to understand why people of such similar living faith held such different views on methods of theological interpretation. What I found, to my delight, was a fascinating bottomless rabbit-hole down which I plunged, and a magnificent vista of mountains upon snow-capped mountains waiting for me to scale.

One of Jesus’s companions, the Apostle John, had something similar in mind when he wrote, at the end of his theological biography of Jesus, “There are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if every one of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25, CSB).

As it happens, I did not proceed with theological education by correspondence (or distance mode, as we might now call it), nor with the Anglican Church. Nevertheless I did proceed, and having completed several formal degrees in theology, it is a pleasant irony that I now work as Research Support Officer at Graeme Goldsworthy’s alma mater, Moore Theological College, where he once lectured in Old Testament, biblical theology and hermeneutics.

For many, “theology has the reputation of being an abstract and arid intellectual discipline, divorced from terra firma and all too often speculating in matters far removed from everyday concerns.”[2] What precisely is theology, and theological education? Whether or not we believe in a supreme or supernatural being, or identify with a community of faith, I would suggest that everyone has a theology. We all hold views about the nature and character of God (or gods) and of God’s relation to the world; and how our thoughts, feelings, words and actions are shaped in response to such views.

Philosophically speaking, it seems reasonable to assert that God is necessarily beyond human comprehension and shrouded in mystery. Yet Christians believe that God is also personal, and chooses to relate to the world, and to the world of humankind, in meaningful ways. Christian theology may therefore be defined as the practice of growth in the knowledge of the God who is revealed in the Bible.

Through study and experience we learn about God’s nature, character and will. Theological education involves clarifying, organising, distilling, constructively refining, and teaching/learning this knowledge and understanding. As our theological understanding grows broader and deeper, we not only discover “facts” about God but begin, if we are willing, to know the God to whom those facts point.

Have you sometimes thought of theology as “an abstract and arid intellectual discipline”? What gives theology this reputation, and how would you go about changing people’s perceptions of it?

More on this topic in my next post in the series.


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References:

[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1981).

[2] Richard J. Plantinga et al, An Introduction to Christian Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 28.

Image source: Center for Baptist Renewal