Learning Theology, and Knowing Where to Stop

Well, I finally finished the book on systematic theology! When I last wrote about it I told you I was about a third of the way through, that it was slow going, but it was made easier by my familiarity with the conclusions. Guess what? The last two-thirds was not so familiar and it turned into very slow going indeed.   Nevertheless, I finished and am glad I persisted.

Like before, I’m asking myself, what have I have learned here, and what am I taking away from the experience? The answer is: I’m taking God, scripture, and theology in general a lot more seriously, and I have a renewed sense of the need to integrate faith into all aspects of my life. But I don’t think I want to be “a theologian.” There was a good bit that I struggled to understand, without always succeeding.  The material was perhaps too advanced for me, or at least too advanced for me right now.

That said, one of the things I liked about the book was the author’s humility. In many areas he was content to suggest that reasonable students could disagree or that there existed a range of acceptable views. On multiple occasions he pointed out that man can never really understand God and our understanding may only advance as God chooses to reveal additional understanding to us. I like that!

Anyway, it got me thinking, how much is too much for me? Where should I draw the line in trying to understand God and heavenly matters? At some point, trying to “figure God out” could become a sinful exercise of hubris. I don’t want that.

Also, understanding God is not nearly as important as knowing God. You and I may differ in our knowledge of God, but still be devoted disciples growing in the Holy Spirit. Given our differing intellectual abilities and interests, it would seem inevitable that all of us might always be on slightly different theological planes.

Here is a graphical representation of how I’m thinking about it:



Basically, studying theology is man attempting to bring his understanding of God in line with God’s understanding of himself. We start at the bottom and move up as we increase in knowledge (blue arrow), progressing in truth through various levels from basic to advanced, or even to exceptional (the Apostle Paul, for example)

But learning is rarely a straight-line process. We can have wrong ideas, or take the wrong direction, along the way. Without periodic course corrections we could progress on the wrong heading and wind up outside of the acceptable understanding into “heresy territory” (red zone).   So it seems to me slow going is reasonable. We need to make sure we have a firm grasp of the lower levels to be directionally correct as we work on the next higher level.

Also, we simply cannot ever get to God’s understanding, and to try would be sinful. Each of us has a limit. Our limit tomorrow may be higher than today, as God grants us understanding, but we will always have a limit. I think this book got me to mine early! Yet theology is important. It is good to learn and understand the doctrines of our faith. So I don’t want to give up; I just don’t want to push it.

What’s my next step? Prayer and Bible study can’t hurt. I also like the teaching of R. C. Sproul at Ligonier Ministries. Dr. Sproul’s new theology book is Everyone’s a Theologian, which is written for laypeople. It should be coming in the mail any day now.   Perhaps I will be a theologian after all.


  1. Thoughtful. Our sermon-study tonight included the difference between knowing “about” God and actually knowing Him. They can go (grow) together, but are not the same thing. But Pastor Bill did recall the old song “To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him…”

  2. Peter Weiss says:

    Thanks Diana.