Sunday, April 27, 2014

Defining the True Theologian

“First, Owen lived before the concept of a theologian was scaled down to its current, intellectualized, and relatively narrow dimensions, Two centuries ago Enlightenment thinkers set up the curriculum for theological student’s in universities and seminaries as consisting of four distinct fields of inquiry: history and exegesis of the Bible, analysis of the church’s beliefs, church history, and ministerial practice. The new thing in this arrangement, the separation of the studies from each other, opened the door to specialization, which has been acidly but not unfairly described as getting to know more and more about less and less. Specialization produced exegetes who were not theologians, dogmaticians who were not exegetes, and practical theologians to whom past patterns of Christian life and pastoral care were a closed book. Unity was lost, fragmentation set in, and theology as a study came to mean no more than exploring facts and arguments in any or all of these departments from some personal standpoint or other, never mind what. This, of course, exactly fulfilled the freethinking intellectual ideal of the Enlightenment. Today, we children of the Enlightenment are so used to it that we can hardly believe mainstream Christians ever thought of theological study differently. But they did.

From the first Christian centuries down to, and past,Owen’s day, people conceived of theology as wisdom and in personal rather than academic terms: that is, as wisdom of those in whose head and heart, through the power of God’s Word and Spirit, true understanding of God’s revealed truth had taken root. The idea of a theologian was of a wise, godly pundit. Gregory Nazianzus and John Calvin were both called “the theologian” in their own lifetime, and in each case the title meant all of the above. On this view, real theologians embodied the unity of thought and modeled the reality of worship, obedience, and care that together amount to what the Bible means by knowing God. They would use exegesis to buttress their exposition of the faith: their exegesis would reflect and responsibly relate to, their believing sate of mind. They would read historical theology as narrating the wars of the Word in and with the world, and church history as recoding successes and failures in faithfulness to the gospel. The application of truth to life would be their constant concern. Intellectually and attitudinally, the theologian’s wisdom would thus be a single ball of wax, the product of all the disciplines of divinity and devotion operating together in one man’s life. In this sense John Owen aimed to be, and truly was, a theologian.”

Excerpted from: J.I. Packer, “A Puritan Perspective: Trinitarian Godliness according to John Owen”; God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice; Edited by Timothy George, Baker Academic, (2006)

As I read this, I could not help but think of a man who passed away a little over a year ago, who in his life and ministry was a true theologian of the caliber described above. Rest in peace Dr. James Grier.

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