19 July 2008

The Proper Study of Theology

I'd like to commend to you an article in the recently published issue of Themelios titled An Augustinian Mindset by Peter Sanlon. The thrust of the article is that we who study theology should not let our studies be purely academic endeavors rather, we should be embracing in our hearts the theology that we are studying. The author outlines Augustine's thoughts in his De Doctrina Christiana. Perhaps a few quotes will give you an idea of the importance of this and entice you to take a few moments to read and give thought to it:
... De Doctrina Christiana I has its own purpose of immense value to scholars, students, and preachers. This purpose fits with the structure of the work as a whole and meshes with Augustine’s theological outlook. The original contention of this article is that Augustine intended the first chapter of his book to promote a mindset conducive to understanding the Bible. The hermeneutical principles outlined in the following chapters would be worse than useless to the student who did not first foster an appropriate posture and mindset. The work follows a logical order—first develop the mindset appropriate to the reading of the Bible, then learn the principles of interpretation and lastly study how to communicate what has been learnt to others (pg. 40).

We are ourselves torn and divided, our own habits and desires making us wander obsessively away from our home. For some the control exerted through shiny electronic toys distracts from the journey. For some the forgetful ecstasy of sexual relationships enthrals off the path. For some the study and teaching of the Bible itself becomes an arid wind that blows us off course. Whatever the specific means by which we get lost, in every case the result is the same: spiritual, inner blindness. Our "inner eyes are weak and unclean."15 So we find that when we try to study the Bible, it no longer makes sense. Those who fail to approach the Bible with the correct mindset—a due sense of being on a moral journey and being lost—find that their ability to understand fades (pg. 41).

So we find that when we try to study the Bible, it no longer makes sense. Those who fail to approach the Bible with the correct mindset—a due sense of being on a moral journey and being lost—find that their ability to understand fades (pg.41).

A merely intellectual grasp of this journey is however not enough to acquire the Augustinian mindset. It is not sufficient merely to understand the Christian story of sin and salvation. Augustine takes considerable pains in De Doctrina Christiana I to foster a sense of the beauty of Wisdom’s healing journey: "Just as when doctors bind up wounds, they do not do it untidily, but neatly, so that the bandage, as well as being useful, can also to some extent have its proper beauty, in the same sort of way Wisdom adapted her healing art to our wounds by taking on a human being" (pg.43).

In order to read Scripture fruitfully, we need the mindset of conscious existential appreciation of the beauty of God’s gracious journey to us in Jesus 9pg. 44).

The urgent need to foster an Augustinian mindset in our approach to the theological task may be emphasised by considering the horror of people attempting to live out the lessons of the other three chapters of De Doctrina Christiana without the mindset demanded by the first chapter. Imagine scholars adept in handling the Bible as a work of ancient literature, interpreting with academic precision, but lacking the mindset to do so for the reasons God gave us the text: no appreciation for the beauty of Jesus’ saving work, no thirst to know him better, no value judgement passed on intellectually weak rejections of him.... Augustine was surely right to insist that his students develop a healthy mindset for approaching Scripture. We embrace interpretation and persuasion without it at our peril.
Such a mindset will show itself in at least two important areas: love and humility. have seen that our lostness can be mapped as disordered loves, preferring to enjoy that which should be only used and neglecting the great goal of life: the love of God. Often as children of the enlightenment we suffer from a theological tunnel vision. We focus on details and miss the big picture. analyse individual facts apart from the central reference point, rightly ordered love for God and our neighbour (pgs. 44-45).

Essays, books, marks, promotions, languages, and computerised lexicons should not be enjoyed in and of themselves. God created them to be used as means for enjoying Him. If we prematurely foreclose our thoughts by resting happily on the means of academic study, we are in danger of becoming infatuated with the transport. We should be obsessed with getting home to the one we love. Such an obsession will develop a mindset that leads to fruitful theology (pg. 45).

May we all take some time to reflect within ourselves as to what we're accomplishing when reading all these books and ingesting all this knowledge. Are we reading for knowledge sake alone or are we applying the truth to our lives for the glory of our risen Saviour?


Anonymous said...

Might want to check out Dr. Frame's stuff, too... one of his big emphases is theology as knowledge of God applied to our lives.

Reformed Renegade said...

Oh yeah, I'm familiar with Frame. I've read a ton of his stuff. My introduction to Frame came back in the 80's from a teacher, who was a student of Frame's, so much of his thought followed Frame's. So, I've been a student of his for many years.