Recently I had coffee with a guy who asked me a question along the lines of "How can we get people to value theology?" He had been interacting with another Christ-follower who was indifferent (at best) towards theology. From the sound of it, this third individual wanted to get along with "loving Jesus" and "doing His work" - and he saw theology as a distraction to these other goals. My guess is that this third individual heard the word "theology" and associated it with dryness, division, and distraction.
I mumbled out some sort of halfway applicable response that probably wasn't super clear, and we got along with our coffee. I've thought through this question "How can we get people to value theology?" a bit more since then, so when I have this sort of conversation again, here's how I hope I respond:
identify how people are currently thinking about theology.
Before we can help people value something rightly, we have to identify how they're approaching it currently. We can't just say "value theology," if someone thinks of words like "dry" and "divisive" when they hear the word "theology." It's like telling someone to value going to the dentist (sorry, dentists). As most good teachers will acknowledge, unlearning the wrong things is often as much a part of teaching as helping students to learn the right things.
If we can identify wrong ways people are approaching theology, we're better able to intentionally counter them with the truth about what theology really is. So if someone misunderstands theology to be dry, let's show them all the ways it should be doxological - how it should stir worship! If someone has only experienced the divisive nature of theology, let's help them see how theology can connect believers on mission, and provides a rich source for meaningful community!
Make the Connections Between Theology and Life obvious.
In the interactions my friend had with this third individual, the other person's goals were something like "loving Jesus" and "doing His work." These are great goals, by the way. What I want everyone to see, though, is that theology actually feeds and fuels these goals - it shouldn't distract from them. By studying and applying theology, I get to know the Lord I love better and better, so I relate to Him in the ways He wants me to relate to Him. By studying and applying theology, I'm sent out to be a different sort of person myself (sanctification), to serve the church (ecclesiology) and to help reach the world (missio Dei).
Too often we (I include myself because I'm sure I've done this) have disconnected theology from these right goals of loving God and loving others. However, when we understand that theology doesn't distract from the Great Commission or the Great Commandment - but actually serves them and fuels a right approach to them - then valuing theology becomes a natural response.
Keep At It - Patiently and Graciously.
We need to remember that values are often slow things to change. I think of how applicable Paul's words to Timothy are to this situation, that we communicate God's truth "...with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2).
If I was to trace the development of my own values, I'm confident it'd be more like a slow burn than the flip of a switch. I'm glad people have been patient with me, as my thinking and values have certainly changed over time. As we work to help people value theology differently, this sort of change won't be one conversation (singular), but a series of conversations (plural) and other interactions where others don't just hear about the value of theology. They also need to see it in our actions, our attitudes, and our relationships; they need to see it both in what we initiate and in how we respond to various things.
Be the Example You're Trying to Encourage.
As we encourage others to value theology, let's make sure we're an example we would want them to follow. Let's make sure theology is informing our minds AND shaping our hearts AND influencing our actions. Help people see the connections between your lifestyle and what you believe about God (and sin, and people, and salvation, etc.). Allow yourself to become a sort of display, showing in a very lived-out way why theology is so important.
While teaching and example are essential, by themselves they're not sufficient to change someone's heart so they actually value theology differently. We need the Holy Spirit for that, doing His work of leading us towards truth. So, while we work to teach (either informally or formally) around the value of theology, and while we work to be living examples of the the value of theology, let's never forget to depend on God and His work in the hearts of others - trusting in His ability to shape hearts, minds, and actions for His glory and our good.
If you'd say you already value theology, what sorts of things have encouraged you in this direction? Or, if you'd admit that you don't really value theology all that much, what things do you associate with the word "theology"? Are there certain experiences that have contributed to this?
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