As a pastor in a local church, I have met many people over the years who did not grow up going to church and have never studied Scripture or the theology of Scripture. I have also met people who grew up going to church but were never taught how to study Scripture and its theology. Nevertheless, as Dr. R.C. Sproul has said, everyone is a theologian—the question is whether or not we are good theologians. The fundamental problem in our day is that many professing Christians don’t think they need to study theology, while many others don’t seem to care about theology or are simply too lazy to study it. Christians, however, ought to care about theology. How could we not, when it tells us about the One who saves our souls?
Many Christians, particularly young Christians and recent converts, do not know where to begin in their study of theology, and they don’t know how to go about it. I have found that some Christians think theology is only for pastors and scholars, and, what’s worse, some pastors and scholars make laypeople think that they can really only study theology if they work toward advanced theological degrees. I have also found that some Christians think they need to develop their own theology. But God doesn’t call us to develop our own theology—it’s already developed in Scripture. We’re called to study it, understand it, and be doers of it, not hearers only. Furthermore, it’s not our own theology; it is the theology of the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic church. When people develop their own theology, they inevitably develop their own heresy.
The fundamental problem in our day is that many professing Christians don’t think they need to study theology, while many others don’t seem to care about theology or are simply too lazy to study it.
Doing theology means studying Scripture and studying the words of our faithful forefathers who faithfully studied Scripture. It means studying the historic creeds and confessions of the church, which serve as helpful summaries and explanations of what Scripture teaches. It means studying not only books on systematic theology but also biblical commentaries, as well as books on hermeneutics (the method of interpreting Scripture), church history, historical theology, and even Christian living (how to apply theology in all of life), for theology rightly understood is theology rightly applied in life. It also means studying theology as we sit under the ministry of the Word in our local churches, week in and week out, through worship, song, and the sacraments. For when we study theology, we are studying God, that we might rightly know, love, worship, and proclaim the triune God of Scripture, not the god of our own making.
Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is cotranslator and coeditor of A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin.