Many Christians today believe that “theology” is a dirty word. It’s associated with dry, distant academics and spiritual death. After all, all you need, as a Christian, is the Word of God, right?
Well, yes. But, like most things in life, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
What if I told you that the word “theology” comes from two Greek words, “theos” and “logos,” which respectively mean, “word” and “God”?
The fact is, the case for the formal study of theology is made right there in your Bible. To find it, let’s take a look at someone you might be familiar with—Paul the Apostle.
The First Christian Theologian
Paul, who was once known as Saul of Tarsus, experienced a radical, supernatural conversion to Christianity after an experience with God, and immediately began a campaign of preaching and planting churches.
In Acts 26:16-18, Christ appeared to Paul and said these words.
“But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”
Paul felt a responsibility toward the churches he founded, and kept in contact with them through epistles—letters—that corrected, taught, and praised. At least thirteen of these letters are in the New Testament, and possibly fourteen—Paul may have been the author of Hebrews, as well.
If you feel like a divinity degree is useless or harmful, consider this: it is in Paul that we see the model of the theology professor, and the template for formal Christian education.
Jesus Christ was the New Covenant. He lived it. Although Christ did preach and teach through things like the Sermon on the Mount, and the parables, but He mostly performed the New Covenant rather than explaining it doctrinally.
But once Jesus ascended to heaven, it was through the work of individuals filled with the Holy Spirit that the life of Christ, as well as His teachings, were explained and clarified to others. It was through these people—these teachers—that Christ’s life was formed into frameworks that the burgeoning Christian Church could understand and implement.
In the beginning, this fell mostly to Paul, and his letters, sent out to the various churches that he founded, marked him as the first Christian theologian.
And his churches? They were the first theology students.
Paul carefully sets out Christian doctrines such as the nature of grace and sanctification, justification by faith alone, and how Christians are one in Christ. He doesn’t stop there, though. He even teaches on how best to run meetings and other secretarial matters.
And, most pertinent to the case for Christian higher education, Paul stamped out heresies and false teachings. Without his constant, educated intervention, the first Christian Church would have fragmented into a thousand heresies and burned itself to the ground.
Without Paul, the first professor of theology, Christianity wouldn’t be what it is today.
Protecting the DNA of Christianity
Just as our DNA requires protection from damage within our cells as they replicate, the church’s teaching—its DNA—requires protectors as its knowledge is passed down from generation to generation.
And just as in our bodies, if that protection fails, the result is death.
Now that we’ve established that the Bible does embrace the idea of passing on an understanding of Christianity through well-educated teachers, let’s look at how something like a divinity degree actually benefits the Church today.
From the example of Paul, we understand that scripture requires us to have ministers who are able to understand and handle the Word of God, who can teach the truth to a wide array of audiences, and who can refute errors.
This is exactly what a Christian education will give you. This is the purpose of every Christian seminary, divinity school, Bible institute, and Bible college out there. These places of higher education afford students the opportunity to deeply study scripture, and to have theological knowledge—descended all the way from Paul—bequeathed to them.
And for those who are still skeptical, education isn’t just a set of facts—it isn’t simply a professor standing up and telling students how the Bible works from his own opinion. No—it’s about teaching students how to think, not what to think. It’s about showing students how to interpret scripture, how to look for historical context, how to look for who is speaking and who is being spoken to in each and every verse.
This gives students a base that allows for a lifetime of ministry.
God has provided us with two things—thinking, rational minds, and the student-teacher relationship. God can work through any means to educate someone, of course—look at Paul’s miraculous education, for example. But the mode of education that God seems to be putting to use in our own age lies within the classroom.
When we combine a close, personal, and loving relationship with God with the foundational, transformative knowledge of a theology degree, we continue the tradition of Paul in a way that preserves the integrity of the Christian Church.
The Church Needs Leaders Like You
Without leaders and ministers and pastors who are formally educated in Christian theology, the contemporary Church has those same tendencies that the ancient Church did—the penchant for sliding from order into chaos. The Church needs leaders like Paul. It needs those who have been educated through the means that God has provided us in our era.
And if you’re one of those who wishes to lead and direct the power of the Church, it needs you.
If you are still reluctant to embrace this idea, it may be that you’ve had a bad experience with a “theologian”. Do not let those unkind or spiritually cold theologians who have forsaken love and a personal relationship with God scare you off the trail to a Christian degree. These people are not in the lineage of Paul. They are outside of it. They are one of the many sets of false teachers that should be corrected by the truly wise.
What you want is wisdom, and that only comes when the sincere love of God combines with lifelong learning. If you have these things, you have the power to preserve and further the Word of God.
“Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”