Whenever my middle daughter and I are talking about a big complex issue, without fail, we reach a point when she gets annoyed with me. “Why do you always have to bring theology into the conversation?” she asks.
“Because I can’t not,” I respond. She doesn’t like that answer, and I try to be sympathetic. But I’m her dad. And a big part of my job as a dad is to help her know who Jesus is—and to help her see how what I believe affects how I see the world, my understanding of humanity, and where I find joy.
If I believe all this stuff I say I believe—if I really believe that there is a God who made everything, who came into the world as the man Jesus Christ to live perfectly on my behalf and die in my place, who was resurrected and will one day return to fully restore all things—how can I not?
The challenge of encouraging a love of theology in others
I can’t make her feel the same way that I do. And truth be told, I don’t try. My job as her dad is to tell her the truth, and remind her of the gospel as often as I can, and trust God with the results.
Maybe you’re in a similar situation. Perhaps it’s with a child, your spouse, or a friend. Maybe it’s a coworker, a neighbor, or even someone who is a part of your church. They might say they believe the gospel, but bristle anytime theology enters the conversation, or they’re pretty open about not actually believing it at all. Whatever the case, we need to find ways to meaningfully engage and encourage a love or respect for theology.
So where does that start?
A love of theology starts with the gospel
A genuine, heartfelt love of theology doesn’t necessarily start with discussions around the Trinity or some hot button issue that might be your particular special interest. We might encourage intellectual curiosity that way, but that’s about it. Instead, encouraging a love of theology begins with the gospel—sharing, reminding, resharing, and praying that whomever you’re trying to encourage believes that Jesus died for their sins and rose again.
We have to start there because that’s the foundation of our theology as Christians. For someone to have a meaningful love of theology, they need to start by loving the One theology focuses on. So that’s where we start—it’s where we have to start and where we have to return to time and again.
Embrace being a theologian (because you are one)
It’s not uncommon for a Christian to say that he or she is no theologian. it’s also not true. Every Christian, no matter our vocation, no matter our education, is a theologian. We all make theological statements, sometimes explicitly, other times implicitly. This is why I love John Frame’s definition of theology as “the application of God’s Word by persons to all areas of life.”1
With every word we say and action we take, we are all telling a story about God. For example:
- The way we speak about our circumstances says something about our understanding of God’s character and goodness.
- How we speak of others says something about our understanding of His creation—and specifically, those created in His image.
- The way we view, use and teach on money and possessions says something about our understanding of His provision and his kindness.
If that’s true, and I believe it is, then we need to embrace that role, and do so with joy. We need to accept the fact that we are all theologians; we are always “doing” theology, even if we don’t realize it.
Empower and model growing in knowledge and wisdom
Here’s what I’m not saying: I’m not saying that the secret to loving theology is reading lots of heavy books about theological issues. That might actually be a detriment, if I’m being totally honest. Far too many of these books are joyless to read, whether because they’re dry, overly academic, or poorly written.2
Instead, we encourage a love of theology in others by helping them see how and why theology matters. One way is by having the kinds of conversations that I have with my daughter. In those, I’m trying to help her see that I take what I believe seriously. That I don’t give a nod to the essential beliefs of Christianity, but I actually try to live in light of them.
Another way is to let others into your world, helping them to see how your convictions developed. Show them the books that shaped your thinking. Lead them through the process of coming to different conclusions. Give people the space they need to ask big questions—and see that questions are welcome!
Keep focusing on the One you love
Encouraging this kind of love isn’t easy. It’s humbling work. It drives us to focus on and rely on God, to help people see the truth, and to continually correct us where we are wrong. To keep reminding ourselves and others that the Father, Son and Spirit are the focus and the object of our theology. That it’s only because of Jesus that we care about any of this at all.
And that is also what makes a love of theology worth pursuing: if our theology is focused on Jesus, nothing else will be as satisfying. Nothing else will sustain us. So let’s embrace that as the good news that it is—and encourage others to do the same.
- John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1987), 76.
- Perhaps they’re even some combination of all of the above.