As we continue to talk about the ways that 'professional' theology has distorted our ability to draw near to God, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. This probably won't be popular with the learned who set up these sorts of institutions to benefit or protect their held doctrines, but I'm going to say it anyway:
As someone who undertook a course of academic theology and now holds a Master's degree in divinity, all that educated theology isn't necessary.
What I mean by that is: none of it has changed the heart of God. None of it has revealed to me that God is something other than I ever thought He was just by reading the Bible, being in fellowship with other Christians, and worshiping Him.
Certainly, it changes some of my understandings. It deepens some of the connections that I have been able to make between God and His Word and God and His world (and mine), but diving deeper into the ocean doesn't change the saltwater that comprises it. Certainly, there are times when this theology helps me understand that God is even more loving, forgiving, compassionate, passionate, near, whatever than I could ever have imagined, but none of it has ever made me say, "Wow. Without this theology, I would have been wrong about God on that forever."
See, the dirty little secret is that as much as we say that a formal education somehow changes our understanding of God, it really doesn't. If three guys wrote Isaiah instead of one guy, or if it wasn't the prophet Isaiah at all who wrote it, it doesn't change the things that are written there or what they reveal about God. If Moses didn't write the Moses story, that doesn't change the Moses story that God's given us.
The truth of God is not changed by our parsing it down to the every syllable. The heart of God is not changed by the tense of the Hebrew verb or the type of Greek participle. That's the great thing, that's always been the great thing, about the Word of God - it's not academic. It never has been. It's only academic now because we've made it that way, and as much as we want to say that that somehow matters, it just...doesn't. God still is who He says He is, and no matter how deep we dive in our academic study of Him, we just find the same truths we always knew. The story of God, the goodness of God, the Word of God is just not academic.
In fact, so many of the authors and professors and preachers that we know and love and love to listen to and read eventually come back to a place in their lives where they confess, they knew it all along. God is as they found Him in the very beginning, before they put a scalpel to everything about the faith. The further they go, the more they come back to the place where they started, which is where the rest of us are without academics at all.
Some of the things that theology proper can teach us are beautiful, and it's a blessing to learn them. But the most beautiful truths about God don't need theology proper. They're already written on our hearts and on every speck of creation, right there for the taking. So never let theology proper convince you that you can't know God on your own because the truth is, that theology is just taking the long road right back around to where you already are.
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