All of the discussion this week has been about theology proper - the academic sort of theology that academic theologians want to convince you is completely indispensable to your understanding of God as a 'layperson.' But I've said all that to say this, and I hope it is an encouragement to you:
You don't need anything special to interpret the Bible. You don't need any kind of formal education to understand how God is speaking to you. In fact, the most beautiful things we've ever learned about faith have come from the un-educated.
The Bible is full of stories of men and women who were never 'educated' in theology, except what they learned by actually encountering the living God. It is full of men and women who faced questions about who their God was or what this or that thing about Him meant and who were able to stand there and say nothing but, "I know what I know by having been loved by Him." That's it. In fact, the only 'learned' persons we find in the Bible either condemned their own learning (Paul) or were condemned by Christ (the Pharisees) because of the arrogance their learning gave them.
The Pharisees spent thousands of hours and many generations perfecting their teachings about sacrifice and giving. They knew down to the letter what they required of the faithful, what would be pleasing to God. Then Jesus comes along and says, "See this poor widow giving her last two cents? That's what sacrifice and giving are about." The Pharisees never learned that, never could learn that, in all their schooling.
Furthermore, we know that God Himself said that even those who don't know the name of the Lord still live by the heart of Him because it is written on everything in creation. Anyone who is living with open eyes can't miss the kind of God that He is because His creation reflects His glory with every cell of it. And we, who would call ourselves faithful, are simply one step beyond this, for we know the name of the Lord our God. And we have His very story to tell us more about Him.
The most beautiful things you are ever going to learn about God are the things you will learn by loving Him and being loved by Him. Plain and simple. And you don't need any kind of academics to teach you that. In fact, it can't. Theology proper can never give you the experience of being loved by God or of loving Him. All it can give you is ideas that may be beautiful, but they pale in comparison to the glory of God in a single flower. Theology can tell you about mercy, but it can't give you shade on a sunny day. It can tell you about grace, but it will never water the dry ground with rain.
And that's the thing that theology proper will never tell you. As much as it claims to be the authority on God, it will always, always, keep you at a distance from Him, wrapped up in ideas and dissertations and theories about theology when the very design of God, from the very beginning, was that we simply walk with Him.
There is no theology that will lead you to carry your son up a mountain, trusting another sacrifice to be there when you need it. There is no theology that can teach you how to fall to your knees and cry out. There is no theology that can bring you to the foot of the Cross. It may show you a video tape of what it looks like to die by crucifixion, but it won't show you what love looks like falling to the ground in beads of sweat and blood. You only get that by going to the Cross yourself. And theology just never lets you do things yourself. It always keeps you an arm's length away.
That's why you don't need it. It can be good and beautiful sometimes, but it isn't necessary. If you want to know God, all you have to do is follow Him. If you want to love God, let yourself be loved by Him. If you want to be a good and faithful follower of Christ, get to know Him. Walk with Him in the Garden, all the way to the foot of the Cross. That's how you come to know God. No formal education required.
We started this week by saying how easy it is to think that 'theology' is only for the learned, but the truth is much, much more beautiful: theology is for the learning. It's for every one of us who would lay down our life, pick up our cross, and follow Him.