The Final Step in being a Better Theologian
Here is a partial list of the hardest things in sports. Returning a Venus Williams serve. Hitting a Nolan Ryan fastball. And hitting the golf ball like Jack Nicklaus.
Nicklaus’ drives would explode off the tee like a rocket. And he used this little wooded driver with a face no bigger than a baby hand. Straight and long. I figured I could do that. No problem! No problem until you try doing it. I quickly learned I had a re-occurring problem anytime a drove a golf ball. It is called topping the ball. Basically, it means that instead of hitting the ball squarely with my club, I was catching the bottom edge of the club at the top of the ball. Not only was it infuriating -- it occasionally hurt my hands. I had to figure out how to fix it!
One day, I asked one of my buddies to stand across from me as I drove the ball. I figured he would watch and tell me what he thought. He watched me on all 18 holes. I kept pressing for him to tell me and he just kept watching. After 18 holes, we went over the driving range for him to show me what he had learned.
My first problem was how I lined up the ball in reference to my overall body. It was too far forward in my stance. I was on my upswing before I even got to the ball. The second issue was a bit harder to work on. I never have had an exceptionally smooth golf swing. But the big problem with my swing was I lifting my left shoulder. That in turn raised the golf club. Which in turn resulted in a lot of topped balls.
Over the last few weeks, we have looked at ways to be better students of the Scripture. First, you must be aware of God in all that you do. Next, is that you must learn the language of study and theology. The third is getting the right equipment. Finally, it is listening to others.
While asking my friend to watch my swing was a big step forward, the bigger step was implementing what he suggested. Over the years, I have learned there are three types of golfers. The ones who buy clubs, go hit balls once or twice, put clubs in a closet. The second is the guy who goes to the greens often but never gets any better. And the third is the one who goes often and hires a coach to help him get better.
Doing theology follows the same process. Some people buy a book – say something Pete Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” Maybe a friend recommended it, maybe you read a review of it and it seemed interesting. Anyway, you bought it. Did you put it on the shelf? You are like the first golfer. Did you read it and try and put some of Pete’s ideas into practice? Then you are like the second golfer. But did you read Pete’s book, ask questions of yourself, maybe enlisted other people to help you? That is why the third golfer gets better. He enlists the help of other people and then acts on the responses.
There is a discussion between Jesus and the Sadducees about the resurrection in Matt. 22:23-33. At the end of the exchange Jesus makes this statement, “Have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”
The saints who have gone on are not dead, they are alive. And for those who have written books, they are still here with us. What are you needing help with? Spiritual formation and the disciplines of the faith? Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Thomas a Kempis, Teresa of Avila, or John of the Cross will help you. Are you struggling with doubt or pain? C.S. Lewis will certainly talk with you. Looking to learn theology proper? This list gets large here – Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, Thomas Oden, Gregory the Theologian. John Calvin. Augustine. Perhaps you are looking to integrate what you have learned about the Spiritual Disciplines and Dogmatic Theology, then you need to talk to John Wesley and John Bunyan.
And this does not even take into account the men and women who are alive right now like Hans Kung, Simon Chan, Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, or Diane Leclerc.
The point is that it does little good to say you want to be a better Christian or a better theologian without doing what it takes to be better. Again, that is why Gospel Lighthouse has invested in the Faithlife Study Bible and made it available for our entire congregation. Our leadership team wants you to move through all four steps – time with God, learning the language of being a Christian, having the right equipment, and having access to the men and women of faith who can help you grow in your faith and knowledge.
There is one final objection I would like to deal with. Over the years I have heard people say something like “I am not a reader” or “I do not have time to read.” I get that to a certain extent. But the resources are there if you want them. There is an ever-increasing library of books that is available in audio format. There are biographical movies galore of men and women of faith.
The issue is not one of time or ability. And the question could be re-phrased not in terms of being a better theologian. The question could be re-phrased as to whether you want to be a better Christian.