Nathan W. Bingham
Connecting in a Hyper-Connected World

What Kind of Theologian Are You?

All Christians are theologians to some degree. Christians (and even non-Christians) answer questions like, “Who is God?” and “Who is Jesus?”

R.C. Sproul states the following in Knowing Scripture and raises an important issue:

“No Christian can avoid theology. Every Christian is a theologian. Perhaps not a theologian in the technical or professional sense, but a theologian nevertheless. The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians but whether we are going to be good theologians or bad ones.

5 Kinds of Theologians

I don’t recommend Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson’s Who Needs Theology? as the best book on theology, but I found their spectrum of theologies in chapter two extremely helpful as it can help you assess whether you’re a good theologian or a bad one.

Adapted from Grenz and Olson’s five categories, here’s a list of five kinds of theologians:

1. Folk Theologian

The folk theologian doesn’t think about what they believe. They’re enthusiastic about what they believe, but it’s largely made up of Christian cliches. The folk theologian isn’t reflective and their beliefs have often been uncritically inherited from friends, family, and tradition.

2. Lay Theologian

The lay theologian thinks about what they believe. They’re enthusiastic about what they believe, and despite not having all the skills of one who is seminary trained, they seek to have a whole and coherent understanding of their faith. The lay theologian critically evaluates their beliefs and doesn’t simply hold them because they’re the beliefs of friends, family, or tradition.

3. Ministerial Theologian

The ministerial theologian thinks about what they believe. They’re enthusiastic about it, and as they’re likely involved in pastoral and / or preaching ministry they’re practically aware of the value of knowing what they believe so as to pass it onto others. Unlike the lay theologian, they have working knowledge of the biblical languages, the history of theological development, and can find their way around commentaries, lexicons, journals, etc. More than simply critically evaluating their own beliefs, the ministerial theologian also has a strong grasp of other competing theological beliefs.

4. Professional Theologian

The professional theologian thinks about what they believe. They’re enthusiastic about it and have a strong working knowledge of such tools as the biblical languages, the history of theological development, and a wide spectrum of exegetical and research tools. The professional theologian’s vocation is to teach and train all Christians, and especially pastors, in the use of the aforementioned tools.

5. Academic Theologian

The academic theologian thinks about what they believe and beliefs in general. However, their study often remains in the realm of thinking, that is extreme reflection and speculation. The academic theologian’s work is often directed predominately to other academic theologians. Like the professional theologian, the academic theologian has a strong working knowledge of the biblical languages, the history of theological development, and a wide spectrum of exegetical and research tools. Although there may be some benefit to the professional theologian studying academic theology, their work rarely benefits the individual Christian or the church at large.

Two Extremes & The Two Dangers

There are two extremes in the above list: folk theologian and academic theologian. Many would agree and see the danger of purely academic theology. In fact, when many hear the word “theologian” an image of an academic theologian might come to mind. What is often missed is that folk theology can be just as dangerous.

If your understanding of the Christian faith can be summed up on a bumper sticker, printed on a tee shirt, or could make its way into a Hallmark greeting card, you could be in very dangerous place. How do you know if what you believe is actually Christianity, “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3)?

Your average church member isn’t likely to wake up one day and discover they’re an academic theologian, but sadly in my experience, far too many Christians today do fall into the category of folk theologian.

The Need for Theologians

My prayer is that the church of Jesus Christ would be made up of a united front of lay, ministerial, and professional theologians. All of which are helpful, God glorifying, and in desperate need of each other.

So, what kind of theologian are you?

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