Why Gentleman Theologian?


In the spirit of the “Gentleman Farmer”, who, according to Merriam-Webster is “a man who farms mainly for pleasure rather than for profit”, I am not a theologian or pastor by vocation. By that I mean I do not earn my living by theology or through pastoring a local church. However, vocation means calling, and by calling I am theologian. If you are a Christian, you are as well. I value those who have given themselves to the ministry, who are shepherding and teaching. The body of Christ certainly needs them. But it is my conviction that all Christians should be engaged in theology, (which is properly the study of God) to a much deeper degree than many are. My reasons for this are several:

THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVER’S REQUIRES IT. In his excellent book, The Emergence of the Laity in the Early Church, professor Alexandre Faivre shows how the early church knew no division or different class of believers. At first thought, one may think his book should have been called “The Emergence of the Clergy in the Early Church”, but this is professor Faivre’s point: all were clergy (i.e., “the called”), and a separate class of ministers with special rights and prerogatives was unknown to the New Testament. This is what Paul says at the start of Romans. “Among whom are you also the called (kleros) of Jesus Christ.” Note that the translation of “including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” is a faulty one. The words “to belong to”, or “to be”, are not in the original. Ask yourself whether the professionalization of a clerical class has been a good thing for the body of Christ? Has it been helpful to believers to leave deep study of the Bible only to those with seminary training? The exhortations of the New Testament are to all believers; that each of us should desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, and this comes only by the study of the Word with the Spirit’s aid.

CONFRONTING HETERODOXY REQUIRES IT. This is not new but seems to be accelerating. Back in 2010, the Barna Group did research that found a rather poor understanding of theology and the Bible among self-identified evangelicals. The summary of the report was, “The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency.” (Barna Group, “Six Megathemes Emerge from Barna Group Research in 2010”). A more recent study done jointly by Lifeway Research and Ligonier Ministries found these trends are developing. There is greater theological illiteracy, more infection of ideas from the surrounding culture, and an abandonment of the unique message of the gospel and the person and work of Jesus Christ. Pastors and full-time theologians cannot combat these trends alone. It requires all believers to study and to speak the truth in love. Knowing the truth is a prerequisite to that.

EQUIPPING THE BODY OF CHRIST REQUIRES IT. When Paul outlines in Ephesians 4 the goals of achieving spiritual maturity, reaching the stature of the fullness of Christ, and not being tossed about by every wind and wave of doctrine, he is making a plea that the whole body is equipped, not just those who hold office in the local church. One of the ways this happens is by study. This means reading books about the Scriptures that go beyond what you find at the usual Christian bookstore, but those that engage the Bible in a deep and detailed manner. In other words, the gentleman (or gentlewoman) theologian need not have attended seminary to make use of the books and materials that are the typical seminary fare. If you are literate, you have the tools you need to start the task. The goal is to move past popular-toned theology toward theological gravitas. There is nothing wrong with a popular presentation of truth, but it sometimes stops short of a deeper engagement with the text of Scripture. Our goal is to facilitate greater knowledge of the Bible, which is itself to facilitate greater conformity to Christ. This is not elitism, but rather, a pursuit of God that continues to strive for more and greater understanding of Him. It is a falsehood that scholarship and transforming faith do not go together.

THE GLORY OF GOD REQUIRES IT. The Bible is a unique book, telling a story that demands our attention. The salvation of people depends on knowing this, and on knowing Jesus Christ, whom “to know is eternal life.” God is glorified by his Son, and by his gospel. A right understanding of that gospel and a right relationship with the Savior at the center of that gospel is likewise glorifying to God. Knowing more of God is a form of worship, and that too is glorifying to God.

These are reasons why every believer should be a theologian.