By Amber Riggs
And yet, there is a clear logic to it. One way to learn something is to study an “expert” — someone who demonstrates the skills we want to practice. Watch and learn from them, then train ourselves to live out those practices in the context of our own lives. Musicians, writers, and artists all do this.
Our world needs Christian leaders now more than ever. Not just in the realm of church leadership but in the workplace, community, government, and our homes. We need to study a leadership expert who understands the ins and outs of our post-Christian, pluralistic culture and the hearts of the people who live within it.
In short, we need to study God.
To study God goes beyond memorizing facts about Scripture. It’s one thing to state that Genesis 1:27 says humanity was created in the image of God. It’s another thing to explain the original understanding of this term in the context of the original recipients of the Pentateuch. It is yet something else to reflect on the significance of Christ’s revelation as the image of God (Colossians 1:15) and how it relates to God’s covenant with humans to embody His leadership in the world.
Studying God involves recognizing patterns of His character and interactions with humanity and how, at the core, they defy the bounds of time and culture. Yet it also involves the ironic understanding that, like Moses striking the rock (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:8-12), an action may be obedience to God in one context and disobedience in another.
How then do we approach discerning the patterns of God’s character so that, with renewed minds (Romans 12:2), we can more accurately reflect His image to the world around us?
EMBRACE YOUR IDENTITY AS A THEOLOGIAN.
In Who Needs Theology?, authors Grenz and Olson observe that because theology literally means “God-thought,” and everyone has an opinion resulting from their thoughts or studies on who God is, that actually makes everyone a theologian.
What distinguishes a Christ-honoring theologian from the guy next door? A commitment to comparing theology against God’s revelation of Himself through careful interpretation of Scripture.
STAY ROOTED IN COMMUNION WITH JESUS.
Because Jesus Christ reveals God personally in human form, we can have a living interaction with a living God who has literally walked miles in our flesh. God’s character is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Thus, as we become familiar with God’s attributes revealed in Scripture, we can ask the Holy Spirit to make us aware of His presence and guidance throughout the day.
LEARN THE UNDERLYING NARRATIVE AND THEMES OF SCRIPTURE.
Scripture reveals God through written text and narrative, instructing us as they tell the story of God interacting with humans. Broad themes — like the kingdom of God, community, and God’s covenant faithfulness — run throughout Scripture. Reading individual books and passages within the context of these timeless themes reveals aspects of God’s interaction within the pages of Scripture that are otherwise easily overlooked. For an introduction into thematic study of Scripture, I highly recommend the engaging videos at the bibleproject.com.
BECOME FAMILIAR WITH HISTORICAL THEOLOGY.
The Church has always sought to communicate God’s relevant truth. However, certain doctrines have been affirmed since the first century. Some interpretations of Scripture have proved to be universal and unchanging. Absolute. On the other hand, certain periods of Christianity have embraced or dismissed other issues and interpretations as culturally relevant. Or because they lacked access to Scripture’s original cultural and historical context. We do the same thing today. We may not “lose” truth, but we may focus on different parts of it or interpret it in different ways as we interact with our world and Scripture. Familiarity with historical theology anchors our understanding of God. Introducing Christian Doctrine, 3rd Edition, by Millard J. Erickson, is an excellent introductory resource for historical Christian theology.
STUDY GOD WITHIN A DIVERSE COMMUNITY OF RESPECTED CHRISTIANS.
No individual Christian has a monopoly on understanding God. He is much too vast for that! Thus, we need to value Christian scholars who study God’s character and interactions with humanity in their historical contexts. Likewise, we need other Christians to help us analyze, process, and apply these patterns to the diverse human experience. Fortunately, diversity within the body of Christ allows us to study God from the perspective of brothers and sisters who embody Christ in contexts that fall outside our realm of familiarity.
Studying God is key to our ability to image Him and thus live out our created purpose to reconcile creation to the ultimate leadership of Christ. Studying God goes beyond the facts of who He is to discovering a timeless character that undergirds all of His relationships with humanity throughout history.
But most of all, the study of God — theology — is exciting . . . because we serve a living God.