To be a theologian means knowing God. In this sense, every Christian has to be a theologian. It is not an option. And yet not every Christian should publicly speak about God. Knowing God is a must but teaching about God takes preparation. James explains, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). But suppose you want to become a theologian who teaches about God, what does that require of you?
To do theology requires holiness, experience, and ability.
Gregory Nazianzen probably best exemplifies both knowing God and making God known. He pursued holiness, a real relationship with God, and could teach. And his advice for budding theologians underscored being still and contemplating God.
Drawing on the psalms, he wrote, “It is necessary to be still and to know God, and when we find the right moment, to judge theology rightly” (Or. 27.3). We come to God in stillness ready to receive of him. Only when we wait on God in this way will find the opportunity to judge rightly.
This is the essence of theology—awe.
We wait on God. We are to be still and know that God is, has been, and forever will be. This is theology.
Gregory may have given limits to those who desired to be theologians and to teach of God, but he lived life in God’s presence and thought that others should too. He once wrote, “For we should think of God more often than we breathe” (Or. 27.4).
If breathing happens unconsciously and necessarily keeps you alive, then how can God be more important? And yet he is. We ought to contemplate God at all times. In the biblical idiom, we are to “pray always.” And the knowledge should lead to a real experience with the living God. All people should pursue this but theologians who teach should exemplify it.
Holiness and experience are what makes someone competent to teach. Hence, the mere ability to speak or write well means little when it comes to doing theology. We first need to be pure as he is pure, holy as he is holy before we can convey the words of life. And we need to truly know God by experience.
And from our spiritual walk and spiritual experience, we speak of God.
It is not an easy thing to speak about God on behalf of God. James rightly warns us of the task. Yet I fear too many Christian leaders receive positions of prominence due of their ability to communicate yet may not meet the qualifications of an elder which are the same for a theologian.
For an elder ought to be either a theologian or pursuing the task of knowing and making God known.
Holiness, an experience of God, and ability mark out a person as being suited to speak of God, of being an ecclesial teacher. Let’s pursue these things to honour God and to strengthen the church.