“So, you are doing a theological education. Good for you, but I prefer to just love God and His people.”
This is one conversation that I have with many people. In fact, I do find that there is a strain of anti-intellectualism in our churches today among the common members. Many people seem to think that theological education is not for them. I beg to differ. If you are a Christian, you ought to receive some form of theological education, whether formal or casual. Theological education is not just for monks and priests.
What is theological education
Theological education, in short, is a form of systematic education that educates the Christians in the following:
- Biblical Interpretation
- Systematic Theology/Doctrines
- Practical Theology such as pastoral counselling, leadership and discipleship
- Historical Theology and Church History
- Biblical and Expository Preaching
Such theological education, by virtues of modern technology, can be attained in two ways: standard classroom learning in bible colleges and seminaries or online learning through programmes such as Logos Mobile Education.
There are at least three reasons I can think on why such education matters to even the average Christians.
1. Theological education is a form of discipleship
Paul, towards the end of his life, appealed to Timothy to keep what he heard from Paul as the pattern of sound teaching (2 Timothy 1:13, NIV). He further charged Timothy to proclaim the word in all seasons, in anticipation of the day when people will not put up with sound doctrines anymore (2 Timothy 4:2-3, NIV). The crux of this is that Timothy needed to pass down sound doctrines to the church so that they may live a godly life.
In some sense, this is the duty of the church today – to disciple their disciples so that they may obey the teachings of Jesus Christ. To flip things the other way, the Christians need to receive sound teaching so that they can live a godly life which stems from sound understanding of the Scripture. Therefore, when a Christian receives theological education, he gains the teachings that allow him to reflect on the implications of what he is believing in. More importantly, when we learn about biblical interpretation, systematic theology and others, we gain the tools to better read the Bible and assess the teachings we receive.
This brings me to my next point.
2. Theological education provides the tools to assess false and wrong teachings
As Christians who are rooted in our traditions and churches, we may also attend many other conferences and gatherings who invite other speakers from other places to talk about many other topics. I used to work for an organisation which invites some of these people to give seminars and plenaries. My ex-bosses used to do the same thing as well.
What I observed from these conferences is that most of the time, people are generally not critical in assessing the teachings. Take for example, a few years back, I attended the Festival of Praise and they invited Phil Pringles to preach. I didn’t realise it back then but he was preaching how Psalms 23 sounded so aloof from God in verse 1. It was only a few years later that I realised that when the Old Testament says “the LORD“, it is actually referring to the personal name of God, YHWH. Contrary to what Phil Pringles had preached, it cannot get any more personal than this.
So, having a theological education provides me to tools and the knowledge to assess the teachings I receive. This is consistent with the teachings in the New Testament, when Paul told the Ephesians that the fivefold ministries are given so that we will not be swayed by all forms of teachings that come our way (Ephesians 4:14, NIV).
3. Theological education creates a learning community
The last thing that I think a theological education can do for Christians is that it fosters and creates a learning community within the confine of a faith community. What do we mean by this? We know that God intends to root Christian in a community. No Christian is meant to be a vigilante Christian who live and serve alone. To fully live a Christian life, we simply need to root ourselves in a community who shares our faiths. That is why local church membership is so important.
One of the most important things that come out from my theological education in Acts College is that I find myself in a learning community. This community is one that is safe and promotes mutual learning and encouragement from one another. It is one where I feel secure to share my views. This is one where I know the people will spur me towards greater understanding of my own theology.
As a Christian, it is important that we find ourselves in a community which promotes learning. I find that some people in the church may find themselves in a fellowship which pities one another. I know of a friend who hangs around with people in the church and all they do is to complain how life has been unfair to them. But is this the life and fellowship we want to have? At the very least, a learning community is one where I know I will gain encouragement when I need it the most.
Where do we go from here?
One may then ask where do go from here?
As I mentioned, there are two types of theological education. Your church may have a structured way of providing theological education, as my church does. But another way of receiving theological education is to do it through a part-time course with a bible college. You might also want to ensure that you get trained in your own tradition first. So if you belong to a Pentecostal church, then probably a bible college such as Acts College is a good starting point. If you belong to a Bible Presbyterian church, then Far East Bible College may be good for you.
An alternative will be through some form of distance and online learning. Logos Mobile Education provides some good (but expensive) materials. The thing for them, however, is that the courses are taught by experienced and established scholars, not your normal conference speakers who may not know a single thing about biblical interpretation.
Brothers and sisters, it is important to get a proper theological education. Right living precedes right thinking. And right thinking stems from right understanding. Unless we understand what we believe, it will be difficult to live rightly. At the very least, we may just cruise by. But what if the worst case scenario happens? What if our experience does not match our theology due to our wrong understanding?
So what are the other ways that you have gotten your theological education? Share them with me in the comments below!