“You Should Take Care of Your Theologians”
I was in a social setting recently where someone introduced me as a “theologian.” I smiled weakly, fraudulently, unsure quite how to respond. I was flattered, of course. “Theologian” sounds so much more impressive and loaded down with scholarly weight than “pastor” or certainly “blogger.” But while I am well-practiced in fraudulence and generally quite inwardly pleased to have my ego stroked, I have never been particularly good at accepting compliments. So instead of a simple straightforward “thank you,” I awkwardly umm-ed and ahh-ed whilst turning a strange shade of pink and staring at my feet, and mumbled, Ah, well, you see, I’m not really a theologian… I’m at this little church… I have this little blog… But, um, thanks… that’s nice of you to say… even though it’s not technically true… but, yeah, um, thanks.
Very eloquent, I know. A real theologian would surely have had a more coherent and articulate response than, well, than whatever that was.
This week I’ve been reading through Benjamin Myers’ delightful little book, Salvation in My Pocket. Myers is a real theologian. He teaches at a college in Australia and writes academic papers and does presentations at big conferences around the world. He probably even reads German or Latin or something. Myers’ book is (mostly) a collection of blog posts culled from nearly a decade’s worth of material on his popular Faith and Theology blog. As I’ve been following his blog for at least six years, much of the material was familiar to me. But not his little chapter on “theologians” Here’s what Myers has to say:
Theologians are people for whom the Christian faith is especially difficult, incomprehensible, infuriating. As a rule they are not especially talented or spiritually adept individuals….
That is why, as a general rule, you should try to show kindness to theologians. Not because they are necessarily exemplary personalities. Not because they necessarily know what they’re talking about. Not because they are necessarily people of great faith. Instead, you should show them kindness because their faith is so weak and so vulnerable; because they are burdened by the difficulty of God; because they are driven to think about God the way some people are driven to drink. You should take care of your theologians the way you would care for the widow and the orphan.
I thought about my recent awkward introduction and I was, a) less certain that my host was paying me a compliment; and b) more open to the idea that the shoe might just be a fit .
You can read the blog post in which the quote above first appeared here. And if you are not a regular reader of F & T, well you should be.
Great thoughts as usual, Ryan. I can just see you in that response 🙂 and, as might also be usual, I’ll give you a gentle pushback. You are a theologian and one that we take seriously. Maybe that’s at the heart of the discomfort the mantle the label carries for you.
But with that ever so gentle pushback comes an affirmation because your discomfort contributes to your strength. Meyers states “Theologians are people for whom the Christian faith is especially difficult, incomprehensible, infuriating.” If only that were generally true. Far too many theologians are the epitome of the opposite and carry their self assured bombast as a calling card. That said, being nice to theologians is a good thing but it is definitely easier with some than others 🙂
[Awkward umm-ing and ahh-ing…]
[Turning pink, staring at my feet…]
Or, maybe I’ll just say “thank you.” 🙂
I agree with your last paragraph, incidentally. It’s certainly true that this description doesn’t fit across the board. Some theologians are insufferably arrogant and overconfident (or just irritatingly wrong!). Perhaps these would be the “enemies” that Jesus insists I must love 🙂 .
Yup- I’m preaching on love your enemies this week and while I don’t count people I disagree with enemies- actually obeying Jesus’ instruction as it was intended- it THE challenge
A great contemplation, Ryan. I love the Myers quote. I suppose in some way we all are or should be theologians. I can’t help but think of all the religious people sitting in church pews Sunday after Sunday who sadly have not and never will begin the essential Quest of actually dis-covering and solidifying a concept of God outside of the culturally accepted religious matrix.
“Thus, in deliberate theological work the theologian aims to sort out WHAT she believes about various theological topics and WHY. This task may include re-assessment of even her most crucial convictions—which may result in pain and confusion at times. However, in the end, the hope is that theologizing leads to a stronger and wider faith, and perhaps to greater potential for religious ministry.”(http://www.theologian-theology.com)
I have similar thoughts, Mike.
I suppose we must remember that every journey does not look the same or follow precisely the same trajectory. God meets people in different ways and at different times and places. In my better moments, I am actually pretty thankful for this.