Friday, May 24, 2013

Theology and the non-intellectual (me)

I'm no intellectual. Several weeks ago a couple of friends on Twitter were bemoaning the anti-intellectualism that is seemingly prevalent among evangelical women. I had to Google anti-intellectualism, thus proving their point. And mine. The truth of the matter is, if it weren't for Google I wouldn't understand about half of what you people talk about. I'm serious.

Yet, I'll confess freely and often: I love theology. This passion for the study of God ("theology") has been tepid, or even nonexistent, in years past. In other words, you'd be more apt to find me poring over the Pottery Barn catalog than the Word of God much less any of the theological tomes that now clutter my bookshelves. My love for theology has been a journey, one I stumbled upon by accident. It found me when I wasn't even looking.

I'm a self-described stumbling theologian, meaning that I never set out to become a student of doctrine nor even a teacher of the Scriptures. Talk of this theological truth or that doctrinal interpretation bored me and seemed, frankly, rather irrelevant (see "anti-intellectual", above). I remember years ago chatting on the phone with a long distance friend and the subject of Calvinism entering our conversation. In what context I don't exactly remember; she was a seminary student at the time so maybe she broached the subject. At any rate I remember saying "I just don't see how it matters, really. What's the big deal?"

How little did I know.

To my way of understanding the most crucial theological question had been answered: I was saved. And, hello, I knew it was Jesus who saved me. Beyond that, well, I knew what I'd always been taught and I knew more or less what my denomination was purported to believe and I did love the Lord Jesus and I tried really, really hard to be good and do good. But to me, even though I had no clear idea of what theology was and was not, it had no bearing on my real, day to day life.

How little did I know.

I now know I was a moralist, doing my best to be my best. I was also a pragmatist. Theology didn't "work" in my real life--or so I thought--so I had no need for it. Don't get wrong, I engaged in "bible study" but the sort of hunt and peck approach intended to offer therapeutic answers to my perceived need of the moment.

Ah, but the Lord. Graciously He allowed me to come to the end of this moralistic pragmatism. My do-better, try-harder brand of Christianity left me wanting. I found myself desperate for something more, something better, something stronger, something solid and satisfying. I wanted, I needed, a truer, broader understanding of the Lord and His ways.

Quite by accident, as I said, or so it seemed to me, I stumbled into the sea of theology and doctrine, discovering as I did so there was far more to know of God and His Word than I’d ever imagined. I became determined to know His Word. I was shocked--delightedly so--to discover it affected my reality in profound and unexpected ways.

What a revelation! I'd spent years--years!--trying to make sense of my life based on what I thought I knew about God and His ways. Do not hear me say that all that I'd been taught up to that point was heretical and insufficient. No doubt I was privileged to learn from many serious teachers of the Word who carefully expounded the truth of Scripture. I daresay the fault lay with me and my reluctance to submit to the Word.

But, the Lord. As my understanding grew, I saw that my desperation was not for better mothering practices or five steps to contentment or even a spiritual gift inventory. No, what I needed in my mothering, for example, was the gospel truth that there is grace for desperate, deficient moms. What I needed in my fight for contentment was to realize God owns all and rules all; He is sovereign. What I needed as I looked for my place of ministry was a sense of vocation, that all I do is service to my Savior.

These are theological truths. As I clean house, do laundry, serve in my church, meet a friend for lunch, whatever it is I find to do, it is affected by my theology. How I live reflects what I think about God and what I think about God affects how I live. Theology and reality necessarily intertwine. Thus we are all theologians in one respect or another. The question remains: what kind of theologians are we?

It is true: I'm no intellectual. I am continually reminded of my own lack of knowledge. More often than not I feel rather dumb and a little silly before those who are far more theologically profound. I still sometimes prefer to discuss lipstick and hairstyles than certain Biblical passages. And, yes, Google is my friend.

But the Word of God has changed me far beyond mere therapeutic and pragmatic ramifications. Not only has the study of theology affected my reality but it has transformed my affection. The more I engage in Bible study, the more I know the Lord, and the more I know the Lord, the more I love Him, and the more I love Him the more I want to know Him. Glory to God, theology is not a dry academic exercise reserved for the intellectuals among us. It is for ordinary women too, nay, even the non-intellectuals like me, and by it we are changed from glory to glory as we behold the face of Christ! Yes and amen!

13 comments:

  1. The flip side of anti-intellectualism is, of course, intellectualism, and the reliance on being intellectual as opposed to a woman of theology. I think one can be very intellectual and understand nothing of the practical implications of theology. Being intellectual can turn into arrogance pretty quickly. We all need to remember that knowledge puffs up. Thanks for this post, Lisa. Between this one and the one about blogging earlier this week, you've really been an encouragement to me this week!

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    1. Thank you, Kim! I completely agree. That is an excellent point, one I should have expressed more clearly in the post.

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    2. I would not say you are a non-intellectual, Lisa. You don't wear it like a badge of honor, more like just a part of who you are. I liked that about you.

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  2. Excellent, Lisa! Theology found me as well. I was looking for answers to a situation in a trial and found them answered, to my great surprise, by doctrine.

    I agree with Kim's comment. There is a difference between intellectualism and the desire to know God out of love for Him.

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    1. There is a vast difference, you and Kim are both correct, and I would have done well to draw the distinction a little more clearly. Thank you for helping me in that regard!

      Being surprised by doctrine, yes indeed. Our God is gracious and good!

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  3. Love this! Understanding who God is, impacts everything all day. Being able to apply the gospel to the little things as well as the big things is how God truly transforms his people! Glad I stopped by today!

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    1. Thank you, Danielle! I am glad you stopped by as well :)

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  4. I felt joy rising as I read this post. Or maybe it was my heart singing. :)

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    1. Joy rising, heart singing--me too, friend! The Lord is good!

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  5. "The question remains: what kind of theologians are we?"

    That's money. :) My husband and I were doing the math, and in our immediate family, we have something like ten post-graduate degrees, with mine in a few years making number eleven. Most of those degrees are in theology. And yet, my husband and I, and my family, have been going through some pretty tough waters spiritually and relationally because of that very issue. We've been pretty poor theologians. *But*, we are in the same process you've gone through - of discovering how much we thought we "knew" hadn't really permeated our minds, which had been deceived into thinking they were a lot more astute than they were. We remind ourselves that the greatest commandment is to LOVE the Lord. When the pursuit of Him with our minds results in more love, for Him and one another, that's when we'll know we're becoming better theologians.

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    1. Thank you, Rachael. I appreciate your insight here and I am thankful for the Lord's faithfulness to us both!

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  6. Lisa, you may not be a "public intellectual" like Albert Mohler, but among the masses of humanity, you are definitely intellectual! :)

    You post reminds me of the book, When Life and Beliefs Collide by Carolyn Custis James, which I read back during the Logoscentric days.

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