Theologia est scientia vivendo Deo


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I’ve recently started reading The Pastor Theologian by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, and though I’m not (and may never well be) a pastor, the book is already shaping up to be very helpful. In time I hope to write a review for the book, but right now I’ve only made it a little way in. Nevertheless, I’ve already encountered a small blessing — and that was before I even got to anything written by the authors.

The forward of the book is written by Timothy George, the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture. His forward begins thus:

In 1623, the Puritan theologian William Ames published The Marrow of Sacred Divinity. This became the first theology textbook used at Harvard College when it was founded a decade later. It contains the best definition of theology I have ever found: Theologia est scientia vivendo Deo, which, roughly translated, means, “Theology is the knowledge of how to live in the presence of God.”

I immediately fell in love with this little gem, which is one of the reasons why it has become the new name of this blog. However, the real reason why it is the new name of the blog is the reason why I fell in love with the quote to begin with, and that’s the idea that committing to the idea that, if we are to live in the presence of God, we should be deepening our own knowledge of the Bible.

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The Pastor Theologian deals with the idea of needing to re-attach the roles of theologian and pastor, rather than have them separated as they have become over the last several centuries. Once upon a time the pastor and the theologian were one and the same — the two roles intertwined, and necessarily so: Theology should not be so relegated from the pastoral and the pastoral from the theological so as to create anaemic versions of both.

This is the underlying premise from which Hiestand and Wilson write, and their desire is to create a Biblical case for bringing the theologian and the pastor back together. I haven’t made it past the second chapter yet, but I found myself immediately wanting to put pen to paper, so to speak, because the distance between theologian and pastor has similarly put a distance between theology and the laity — and addressing this issue is something I believe will become paramount in my life.

Theology is for the experts, not for the likes of me,” people are now saying. “Just give me a good sermon” — as if the two are naturally seen to be separated. People are relying instead on watered-down pep-talks and easy-to-read how-to guides to help them on their Christian journey. This isn’t necessarily all the fault of the clergy, or the laity — I think there is equal blame to be shared around. Many pastors have chosen to minimise their interaction with theology beyond the simplistic, while many in the congregation are content to not dive too deep into the Bible, which is probably why they miss verses like this:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. — 2 Timothy 3:14-17

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Many people, if they hear this verse at all, come in around “All Scripture is inspired by God” and therefore expect scripture to be hand-fed to them, with a little bit of rebuking and correcting thrown in when they go astray. It’s a comfortable way to live, to be sure, utterly reliant upon the pastor or various teachers to be your one and only link to the teaching of the Bible. But the passage cannot be wholly given over simply as instruction to leaders, for Paul finishes by explaining that the scriptures are the way for a man of God to be “complete” and “equipped for every good work.”

Look earlier in the New Testament, and you’ll find word of the Bereans, who weren’t all leaders like Timothy, but who still took to examining the scriptures with a zeal rarely identified in the New Testament, let alone today:

“As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea. On arrival, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. The people here were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” — Acts 17:11-12

Such a desire to take teaching and compare it to the scriptures to confirm its veracity is startlingly uncommon today, a problem for both elected leaders and the congregation. Pastors have shied away from engaging too heavily in theology themselves, relying no longer on their own personal exegesis, which itself was backed by years of reading the Bible, not to mention many years studying Greek and Hebrew and hermeneutics and the like; instead, this has been replaced by doing just a little bit of personal exegesis before jumping straight into commentaries written by others — and that’s if you’re lucky.

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By no means are all pastors like this. This article, like most of my writing (hopefully), is not a depiction of a black and white view of the world where all fall into one camp to be suitably reprimanded by someone on the internet. But as Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson make clear in their book, “theology” is much less a part of being a pastor nowadays than it was even a hundred years ago, not to mention “back in the good old days”. The world, as much as personal decisions made by the pastors themselves, has created a dichotomy between the role of pastor and the role of theologian that simply should not be there.

I do not expect Hiestand and Wilson to be calling for a widespread abandonment of the current pastoral model — once again, a black and white view of things does no one any good, and only creates more camps in which people can sit and yell at other camps. Rather, maybe we can begin to allow our pastors the opportunity and encourage them to take the opportunity to delve into the theology more than they maybe have in the past, or were taught to do. Preaching Jesus from the pulpit does not require you to speak to the lowest common denominator, for doing so ignores the role of the Holy Spirit. Look at Paul writing in 1 Corinthians:

“Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” — 1 Corinthians 2:10

The context of this passage is important too, because I haven’t just dragged this out of context to prove my point. Paul here is talking to the Corinthians about How he preached only “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2), rather than “with brilliance of speech or wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 2:1) As the late Verlyn D. Verbrugge wrote, Paul “simply told the people he met in the synagogue in Corinth the story of Jesus and demonstrated by referring to the prophecies of Scripture that this Jesus was indeed the Christ, the fulfilment of OT prophecies (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+18%3A5&version=HCSB).”1

Paul didn’t rely on the brilliance of his speech or how motivating he could be, but rather on his knowledge of the prophecies we now have in the Old Testament and how they related to Jesus — the Holy Spirit did the rest for and in the people of Corinth. He had done the study to allow him to be able to speak confidently, so that the words he spoke were “a powerful demonstration by the Spirit, so that your faith might not be based on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

God can use “watered-down pep-talks and easy-to-read how-to guides” if He wants to, and He does, time and time again — sometimes they are even called for. But we should not be so afraid of deeper theology and Bible study being at the heart of what we teach others that we flee from it altogether. Then, and only then, I suspect, will the people being ministered to themselves begin to see the need for diving deeper into the book that should be our primary way to hear our God teaching us.

  1. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (2008) – Romans ~Galations, Verlyn D. Verbrugge, p.274
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