What makes a theologian a “theologian”? Is it an academic education that makes one a theologian? Is it book knowledge, an analytical mind, or a feeling that makes one a theologian? Generically, those can all add something to a person’s approach to theology, but they don’t make one a theologian. Instead, whoever has the heart of a theologian has Jesus Christ’s blood coursing through their veins. The Spirit of Christ makes what is distorted appear clearly and reveals the truth about what is dishonest. God’s faithfulness makes a sinner a saint and a philosopher a theologian. Whatever we know about God and the world must be revealed to us by God. That’s what makes one a theologian. In essence, a theologian is a passive receiver of God’s active revelation about Jesus Christ, his words, works, and ways.
A theologian does not ask how he or she can know God in a pedantic way, forming an opinion about Jesus, redemption, and eternity based on book knowledge, intellectual prowess, or feeling. Instead, a theologian prays in faith, “Lord, I would have you show me Jesus.”
Morality, virtue, and personal holiness do not make someone a theologian. This is a falsehood employed by sinners to undercut God’s active revelation of himself through his words and gifts. We attach the word “personal” to faith, holiness, and other high-sounding church words when we try to take agency away from God. But what we mean is that we are closing our eyes to the truth because we don’t want to admit that when it comes to seeing things as God does, we are blind. This flawed perspective is then elevated to include morality, virtue, and personal holiness. In this way, we hold our theological perspective as sacrosanct in the name of God, redemption, and eternity, and no other theological assertion is as valuable as our personal theology.
In contrast to the unrepentant sinner’s theology, faith alone, created by God’s faithfulness to his promises, makes one a theologian. A theologian, therefore, does not ask how he or she can know God in a pedantic way, forming an opinion about Jesus, redemption, and eternity based on book knowledge, intellectual prowess, or feeling. Instead, a theologian prays in faith, “Lord, I would have you show me Jesus.” This is the greatest faith, the most honest prayer, and the most profound truth found on earth.
A theologian known by Jesus and who knows Jesus through his words and gifts is true even if everyone else must be declared false. Jesus is the Truth, as he says, and therefore all other claims about whether one’s theology is true or false must be put to the test by submitting it to God’s Word, Jesus Christ. This is faith’s criterion for truth. Our need as sinners to preserve something for ourselves in relation to God is forbidden. Reality cannot be respected if what we call real isn’t subjected to the scrutiny of God’s word because:
The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12).
Our personal value judgments about God’s Word, whether it’s relevant, offensive, vulgar, obscure, or liberating, are stood on their heads by Jesus, just as they were during his earthly ministry. The categories of true and false don’t have legs to stand on when Jesus enters the conversation. More often than not, the categories of true and false are reversed! What sinners call good is evil (because only God is good), and what we call evil (God’s words, works, and ways) is good.
It’s a strange dichotomy, but when we are known by and know Christ Jesus, it’s revealed to us that sinners call what is harmful, “life,” and claim lies as truth. Whatever we sinners use to elevate ourselves, enhance our lives, affirm our personal philosophy and theology, justify ourselves to God, and make ourselves winners is called false because it is not done in faith, and therefore it is not of Jesus Christ.
When we use theology to gain power, influence, popularity, or in any way to enhance our lives, we never need to question whether we are really functioning as false theologians. It is a nihilistic will, not faith, that wants what is at the bottom.
In true faith, we trust that we are known by God and know God so that we may say about ourselves, “I am not a theologian out of conviction, but because of Christ.”
When God’s word, body and blood, and the Holy Spirit take possession of sinners, converting and translating them into the kingdom of Christ, everything that has been corrupted by original sin and everything that is from Christ Jesus’ faithfulness to us is revealed.So if you read the Bible, pray, attend church regularly, and converse with others about Jesus, redemption, and eternal life, don’t worry about whether you’re doing it “right” or not. In true faith, we trust that we are known by God and know God so that we may say about ourselves, “I am not a theologian out of conviction, but because of Christ.” God’s word, works, and ways make one a theologian for Jesus Christ. Or, as the old Lutherans called it: a theologian of the cross.