by Daniel Davalos
When you hear the word, "theology," what image comes to mind? Do you think of a bunch of old white dudes stroking their long white beards as they compete to come up with the most obscure concepts possible? Do you think of stuffy college professors who are overeager to flaunt their intellect? Or maybe you think of that guy down the street who brews his own beer and who wouldn't be caught dead reading anything whose author is still alive.
For many, the word "theology" is as uninviting as a blogger telling people how to live their lives; perhaps the concept itself seems inaccessible, maybe even useless. Why get caught in the seemingly labyrinthine constructs of theological frameworks that oftentimes leave you scratching your head, wondering if maybe theologians should spend less time describing God and more time experiencing him?
What if I told you that theology can actually be vibrant--that studying the attributes of God can help you see different aspects of your Creator--that studying theology can be beneficial to your walk with the Lord? What if I told you that, even just by interacting with God and forming conclusions about him, you've already developed theological constructs without even knowing it? What if I told you that, second only to actually reading Scripture, studying theology during your college years can be one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself as a young Christian?
Below are three of what I consider to be the main reasons why college students should study theology.
1. Theology gives you a framework within which to get to know God.
My own experience with theology is one of wonder and excitement, and not of a deadening of faith or a reduction of God to neat concepts and ideas. If you think about it, getting to know God is inherently a daunting task--he is, after all, the infinite Creator and Sustainer of all things. Furthermore, the Word of God, the Bible, gives all we need to know about God and his relationship to us. But if we are fervently seeking to know the Lord, then perhaps we ought to look at how Scripture speaks about God and his relationship to his people. Reading a book that was written over the course of thousands of years by various different people will gives us multiple, true perspectives of who God is, but studying theology helps us put all those perspectives together so that we may start to grasp a more full, more vibrant understanding of God and faith. The caveat here is that theology is not Scripture, but good theology is rooted and affirmed by Scripture, and the best theology is nothing but a synthesis of what Scripture says.
2. Studying theology allows you to interact with a vibrant, historical Church.
There are many reasons why we go to church on Sundays, but one of them is the opportunity to interact with and worship alongside believers of all ages and walks of life. The Scriptures afford the Christian three avenues of growth: the Holy Spirit, the Bible itself, and the church. Think about it--when you're facing problems or issues it is not uncommon to talk with other believers, perhaps even to seek counsel from a pastor or elder. Studying theology is like doing that, except you're interacting with the Church Universal that spans over centuries. By reading the thoughts and understandings of Christians who have come before you, you are being a good steward of the wisdom and resources that have been inculcated in the Christian community for over two thousand years. Are you struggling with sexual sin? Augustine has some good words for you. Do you ever wonder about God's revelation of himself in nature? Consider reading some Calvin. What should a Christian do in the face of institutional evil? Certainly Bonhoeffer might be able to direct your thoughts.
3. Studying theology helps direct your understanding of culture.
There is nothing new under the sun. Especially on a college campus, where alternative ideas abound and threaten to shake your faith, studying theology can give you a framework for how Christians in the past have accepted or rejected ideas from culture. Many of the modern challenges facing orthodox belief are not so new, and it helps to see how the Church has historically addressed such things as gnosticism, arianism, and more. Furthermore, theology can also shape how you view the world around you--should the Church embrace certain cultural tendencies? If so, which ones? How do we maintain the integrity of the orthodox Christian faith while adapting to changing times? How do we contextualize our hope in Christ to our college campuses, our communities, and our world? How do we approach missions, evangelism, service, and the way we worship? The way you answer these questions is directly influenced by your theology--that is, your understanding of who God is and how he relates to his people.
The three reasons stated above are not an exhaustive list, but they are a launching point. I hope that you will be inspired to study theology, to sharpen your mind, and to fervently test what you learn against Scripture. What you learn about God may surprise you. If you want to find a well of resources, check out our recommended literature.