Good Habits for Theological Thinking
September 10, 2012
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Keith Johnson is Assistant Professor of Theology at Wheaton College and a member of College Church. He is the author of the forthcoming book Thinking After God: The Method and Practice of Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press). I am glad to have Keith guest blog for me today on the subject of theological thinking. Theology is the task of figuring out what must be true about God, creation and humanity in light of everything Scripture says about them. Here are two habits we can seek to develop that will help us perform this task more faithfully. First, we can be intentional about cultivating our love for God and others. The goal of theological thinking is not merely to acquire and organize information about God, but to know God as he is. The Bible connects this kind of knowledge with the act of love, because God is love (1 John 4:7-8). If we want to think theologically in a manner that fits our subject, then we need to be in the habit of cultivating a deeper love for God and God’s creatures. What does it look like to develop this habit? Think of a gardener who carefully protects and nourishes his or her plants so that they bear good fruit. Our hearts, minds, and bodies are like the plants that need cultivating, and our protection and nourishment of them is the key to right theological thinking. We have to be intentional about guarding our hearts from diseases like selfishness, envy, or laziness. Our goal should be to live with hearts wide open, vulnerable and humble before others (2 Cor 6:11). We also should seek to become aware of the presuppositions we have absorbed from the culture around us, the ones that subtly direct our thinking in false directions. This awareness comes from the discipline of filtering everything we see, hear, and think through the sieve of Scripture, so that we learn to test and measure all things by what God has taught us about the true purpose of reality, history, and our lives. We also have to strive to act in obedience to God, since these actions manifest our love for God. Recall how Paul drives home his instruction to “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5) by pointing to Jesus’ obedience, displayed particularly in his death on the cross. The implication is that right thinking goes hand in hand with a life of active obedience in the pattern of Christ. This is why every theologian has to keep his or her eyes fixed on Jesus: on the way that he talked, treated others, used Scripture, prayed, and acted. Jesus shows us what a human life lived in the pattern of God’s love looks like, and so he provides us with an example to imitate as we seek to think from the context of a life that reflects that same love. Second, we can constantly remind ourselves of what God has done for us. We do not approach the task of thinking about God neutrally, as if we were impartial observers pursuing an intellectual interest. Christians approach the task of theology as people with a past and a future. Think about how Paul reminded the Colossians that they “were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,” but now they are those who have been saved by Christ, “reconciled in his fleshly body through death” (Col 1:21-22). The same truth applies to every Christian: we have been brought from death to eternal life through the saving work of Jesus Christ. We have to be in the habit of constantly reminding ourselves of this fact and applying it to our intellectual life. We are the people whose minds, though darkened by sin, can function rightly through the atoning mediation of Christ and the power of his Spirit (1 Cor 2:1-10). The habit of reminding ourselves about our relationship with God through Christ and the Spirit helps us remain humble as we go about the task of thinking theologically. The great temptation every Christian faces is idolatry, which is the act of making God in our own image and using him to serve our own ends. Theologians are especially susceptible to this temptation because we have more tools at our disposal to shape what God has revealed into our own mold. The chief sign of this sin among theologians is pride, which often takes the form of a defensiveness about our ideas and a spirit that is overly critical of others. An awareness of the nature of our relationship with God helps us guard against these sins, because it prompts us to think about God from a position of repentance and gratitude. The proper posture of a Christian theologian is on his or her knees before God, with an open Bible at hand, praying to God to correct our thinking and help us understand what he has revealed through his Spirit. Theological thinking from this posture becomes an act of obedience and service. We seek to learn more not for our own sake, but out of appreciation and praise to God, and with the goal of serving others by telling them who God is and what he has done. This is the kind of theological thinking that truly serves the church. Dr. Keith Johnson, Wheaton College]]>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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