Why We Need Theological Training (Part 4)
We’ve met a few figures from history in the course of this series. Donald Gee and C.S. Lewis helped us think about the need for theological study in Part 1. Augustine helped us see the intertwining of the theological and the practical in effective ministry training in Part 2. And Gregory of Nazianzus drew our attention to the connection between serious theological study and reflection and the Christian life in Part 3. But this link between academic theology and the Christian life of faith wasn’t a crazy new idea that Gregory came up with. It was the norm for theological study for most of the history of the church (and most of the history of academic theology for that matter).
Johann Gerhard, the great theologian of post-reformation Lutheranism, underscores Gregory’s point:
‘Everyone must certainly have three things throughout his whole course of theological study and not just the beginning: (1) the obligation of upright intent, (2) sincere pursuit of piety, (3) the duty of devout prayer.’
Gerhard was a great academic theologian, yet at the outset of His great multi-volume work of seriously scholarly theology, he highlights the need for this sort of academic study to take place within the context of believing prayer and the pursuit of godliness. Academic theological study is of great importance – but it isn’t to be separated from the life of faith and the community of faith.
But what does Gerhard mean by the other thing he says we need – ‘the obligation of upright intent’? He explains it telling us he’s talking about theological study which flows from true faith in Christ through active love and seeks solely the glory of God alone and the salvation of one’s neighbour. So, the great 17th century academic theologian is telling us that, not only does serious theological study need to be done in the context of believing prayer and the pursuit of godliness, but also that it should be driven at all times by faith in Christ and love for Him, and always seek to glorify Christ and draw others to Him.
So, serious academic theology should flow from faith and lead to worship and evangelism.