We Are All Theologians
When life is tough, we need more than just sweet thoughts about God.
Do you think of yourself as a theologian? When we hear the word theologian, we often we picture some older intellectual man—a professional academic sitting behind a desk piled with thick books in ancient languages. And there certainly are professional theologians who fit this description, busily teaching at seminaries and writing books. But theologian is a label that belongs to all of us because a theologian is simply someone who knows God. Theology is what we believe about God—whether it is true or not. Every Christian—male or female, young or old—is a theologian, and we were each made for that very purpose.
Adults are forever warning children about strangers. The message is not that all strangers are dangerous, but that you can’t trust someone you don’t know. When we don’t take the time to get to really know God in deep ways, we put ourselves in the impossible situation of having to trust a stranger.
When we go through a crisis or a devastating situation in our lives, we lean on our theology—whether it is true or false. Will it be something we’ve constructed ourselves? Or will it be the result of really knowing God? When a storm strikes your life, whatever it is that you believe about God is what your faith will have to grasp. This is where it gets dangerous. What if you’re holding on to wrong ideas about God, like “He doesn’t really love me” or “I don’t matter” or “He isn’t good”? That poor theology will only make your struggle worse.
It’s vital—it’s urgent—for women to go deeper spiritually and theologically. We can’t coast through life on sweet thoughts about God. All of us will face trouble in this life, and when that happens we need to know the truth about God and who we are in him to help us navigate those storms.
Mary of Bethany is one theologian in Scripture who inspires me. When we look at her whole story—not just one little piece—we can see how theology looks in a woman’s life. First, we see Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet-- first-century language that describes a rabbinical student. Against cultural pressures for Mary to remain within the “proper” sphere for women, Jesus defended her choice to sit at his feet and learn. And Jesus who had come to “show us the Father” and always talked theology, was teaching the same deep theology to Mary that he taught the men. Her story sends a message to us that making time and effort to know God deeply is every woman’s first priority. This is a striking image of theological training.
But theology moves beyond the classroom and into real life when Jesus doesn’t come in time to save Mary’s brother from dying. Now, in her grief and disappointment, Mary must grapple with what she’d learned about Jesus and how it meshed with the deep pain of what was happening now. This is where Mary’s understanding of Jesus—her theology—deepens. She discovers Jesus is Lord of life and death and can be trusted, no matter how bad things get. This too is a picture of theology; theology is both learning and wrestling.
Finally, we see her anoint Jesus. This was more than just a radical act of affection and gratitude. Mary’s actions here show us that you don’t just learn theology—you live it. As the cross loomed for Jesus, Mary boldly (and one might add, outrageously) anointed him for his burial. Far from conceding victory to Jesus’ enemies, Mary was affirming Jesus’ mission and standing with him as he faced the battle ahead. Mary was living her theology—believing what Jesus had taught her and trusting him in this dark hour. Her theology made a difference to her and to Jesus who said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”
Since we are all theologians, how do we become better theologians? Certainly we should avail ourselves of opportunities to learn from scholars and professional theologians through books, classes, or seminary, for they can profoundly enrich the depth of our intellectual and spiritual understanding. But this is no substitute for what we can do on our own.
As we read and study Scripture, the most important question we can as, and one that will yield fresh insights about God, is, “What does this tell me about God?” The Bible is the revelation of God. It is infinite and the depth of the subject matter it deals with is infinite, so we can always dig down, peel back the layers, and go even deeper.
We can’t afford not to become better theologians. As women, we need to pursue a robust theology for ourselves. No matter how good and helpful the theology of others may be—that of husband, pastor, or friend—the theology we turn to when we’re in trouble is our own.
So how are you growing as a theologian? When has a solid theology helped you navigate difficult storms in your life? How do you desire to grow in your understanding of the God you know and love?
Carolyn Custis James is a speaker and author of several books, including When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference and Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women. www.whitbyforum.com.