I was at a meeting the other day where a committee from the board asked some students to come in and share their experiences and provide input. One theme that came up, was the importance of integrating what we learn in seminary with tangible ministry. Otherwise, all we have is head knowledge.
This is a common theme. I have heard it many times from a diversity of Christians from various places. Learning theology is head knowledge. It is just obtaining information. Unless, we are participating in some form of ministry and downloading the information, theology is useless. Now, I don’t think it may be articulated in these exact words and will vary depending on the person’s background. For those more attuned to learning theology in context of academic learning, it may be expressed through the urgency of application. The exhortation is to not let it stop at learning. For those who are opposed to any type of academic discipline related to the study of theology, the cry of head knowledge might be even louder. Read your bible, pray, live out your faith and let the Spirit be your guide. That is what is needed for an authentic Christian walk, not head knowledge.
While I would wholeheartedly agree that the tangible outworking of our faith is important, I think the statement that theology is nothing more than head knowledge is a mis-statement and does a disservice to actively pursuing the knowledge of God. Whether you engage in the academic discipline of theology proper or simply live out an experiential form of the Christian faith, you are engaging in the task of theology. To the extent that you utilize tools available to engage in learning about the Christian faith, is to the extent that you are learning theology.
Everyone is a theologian. Everyone has a theology of some sort – Everyone. Why? Because of what theology is. It is the study of God – theo (God) plus logos (reason, wisdom or thought). Theology is reasoning about God or “God-Thought” . It is how we learn about God and think about Him. To the extent that we are engaged in this task, is to the extent that we are thinking and learning about God.
Whatever methodology is employed to grasp the study of God, will shape how we think about him. I recall someone saying to me some years ago, they did not understand how we can be so arrogant as to study God. But God, in his infinite wisdom has revealed himself through 66 books, telling of his ultimate revelation through his son. What he has revealed he wants us to know about (Deut 29:29). How we work towards understanding what he has revealed is tremendously important, especially in context of how others have considered the foundation and finer points of the Christian faith throughout 2,000 years of church history. Voices of the past can be excellent teachers but that does require learning and gathering facts.
Shunning any type of theological study as just gaining head knowledge is saying that learning is not important and maybe even irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that head knowledge is important to learn about anything. Information informs decisions. It provides the tools for evaluation. If you were shopping for a car or a house or any other large investment, you would not hesitate to get as much information as possible to make an informed decision. But the information serves a purpose and that is to apply it by making a decision regarding the best investment.
What greater investment to acquire knowledge about than the triune God, how he has acted throughout history, his ways and expectation towards his people. What greater investment than especially obtaining information through some formalized instruction whether through the local church, Bible institutes or colleges, on-line programs like the Theology Program or even seminary.
You may be asking, “but what about those seminary guys who engage in debate but don’t live it out through Christian service and especially prideful interactions with not a trace of Christian love?” I agree that there are those who like discussion for discussion sake, who learn and have a greater interest in proving their point than about directing learning towards I think those actions in and of themselves is a telling sign of what is viewed about God – he cares more about truth than about grace and not so much about application. Learning can be a substitute for, rather than a path towards a strengthened relationship with God. For such a one taking this position, that is their theology. But on the flip side, the interaction and knowledge should be a means to an end, that transforms our thinking about God, leading to greater worship and humility.
Theology is practical. Theology is useful. Theology will be lived out, whether we participate in formalized ministry or not. It is not just an intellectual exercise relegated to the halls of academia. It is more than just gathering facts but putting those facts into action by informing how we see God and what he has provided through his son. Theology is more than head knowledge – it is faith seeking understanding that should cause us to be reflective Christians that care deeply about the Christian faith enough to gather as much information as we can about it.
Grenz and Olson say it best,
Engaging in theology is finding answers to questions that arise in the course of living the Christian life in contemporary culture. Any person seeking to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ in today’s world will encounter questions…[but] theology is not so much a set of pat answers to these and other similar questions as it is a way of thinking toward answers. The only alternative to honestly seeking answers is refusing to live Christianly in public and thus refusing to engage in discussions with questioning seekers. This alternative is hardly compatible with authentic Christianity.
 Grenz and Olson, Who Needs Theology?, pg 14
 Ibid, pp 138-139