At this point you may be thinking I’m starting to sound like Paul, because that’s what I’m thinking – with this litany of semi-accomplishments – you know, like he did in Philippians 3:
Though I myself have reasons for such confidence … circumcised on the 8th day, etc., etc.
A litany of sorts to secure my spot in the theologian world.
And oh how easy it can be to grow confident in your own eyes — whether it be with big titles, great theological works, journal articles, knowledge of ancient languages, or people who will actually listen to what you have to say — I don’t need to re-read humpty dumpty to know that pride truly does come before a great fall. But like Paul, I have an Achilles heel – more like several of them.
One being, I think I’m the most non-academic woman in the world – and not just because of my limited time spent in a college classroom – but because I really am very non-academic – I struggle greatly with understanding or retaining most theological & theoretical texts. I’d much rather get my theology from reading a Francine Rivers’ novel than reading Calvin. And, I can’t help but recall the free tutoring I received weekly from my fellow classmate (the brilliant theologian Garnet Slatton). He was great at explaining the answers to the Systematic Theology quizzes. Oh how he could make the complicated simple for such a non-academic student.
Two being, much study wearies my soul. (Now that’s one quip from Qoheleth that I agree with.) I can spend just so much time in a book before I need people interaction. All the theologians I know personally prefer to spend hours with their writings and books – and could probably go for days without seeing another human. My limit is 3 hours.
Now before utter humiliation completely overtakes my soul, I’ll stop with two.
But here’s the thing, when I truly ponder what a GOOD theologian looks like, I don’t think it is really about the amount of time they spend in the study of theology – but what they LOOK like after they have spent all that time in the study of theology. Hence my justification for Ephesians 5:1 and 1 Corinthians 15:10.
A good theologian will imitate the One they are studying more and more the older they get. And, the grace that God bestows on them will become very effective, hence its results will be quite obvious in even their briefest encounters – my personal example being my very brief but wonderful encounter with Dr. Torrance. (I also had one of these brief encounters with Dr. Waltke. Talk about a gracious man!)
And then there are my lengthier encounters with theologians like Carolyn James, who takes me into her heart every time we are together. Or, Dr. MacKenzie who has been described as a modern day pied piper because theology students just can’t help but follow him all over a seminary campus. I took Dr. MacKenzie to the airport over 13 years ago—before 9/11—when you could still walk your loved ones all the way to the gate – and he finally said, ok, you may go now. My response was: I don’t want to go! It’s those people, the ones with whom you can’t help but want to remain in their presence, because I do believe if Jesus were walking this planet today, we’d feel the same way.
Please don’t make me leave you yet.
And then there’s H. Wilbert Norton, Sr. – with more accomplishments in one lifetime than I’ve ever seen in one human, yet at 99 years old, he will still spend much time with me over the phone now that he’s moved hundreds of miles away to a retirement village in Oklahoma. I have a strong feeling the greatest theologian in Dr. Norton’s life is his one hundred year old wife, Coleen. I’ve often thought that God has kept them alive just because they pray for “us” daily. For some reason, I have the comforting feeling that God hasn’t brought destruction on America all because these two saints are still living in the land.
Yes, these are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight. And then there are my daily intimates: my mom who can’t go one minute without bringing her every thought captive to her heavenly Father. She embodies that verse, “pray continually.” Or my personal saint, Elsie, whom I go to every time I want to know where some gem is located in Scripture. She wants to spend eternity sitting at the feet of every Puritan she’s ever read – and yes, I’m sure she’ll be at Jesus’ feet as much as he will allow. And I’ll stop with one more example — the one that hits closest to home — the man I sleep with every night. At 80 he is still in great demand for the wisdom he exudes which he lovingly lavishes on anyone who asks.
That, my friends, is how I see it. That’s what a good theologian looks like to me. The embodiment of what I envision Jesus to look like with skin on. Those people whose side you never want to leave because they are infectious. The ones who let God have great effect on their lives and take pleasure in pouring all that effectiveness out on me and others!
You see, I don’t think it has as much to do with how much you know of God and his Word – as what kind of effect all this knowledge has had on you. It’s about who you are becoming. Paul says it so beautifully with his preface to the “Love” chapter in 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
These are they—the ones who love well—the saints in the land who I long to emulate the older I get – because I can’t help but think they have done an excellent job of imitating and representing well the God of the Universe. These are they who have not brought the way of truth into disrepute.
So, am I a theologian? Did T. F. Torrance see any of that in me during that brief encounter? I doubt it – but perhaps what he saw was desire – and one month into seminary, perhaps that was enough to bestow on me the title of theologian. I don’t know. But what I suspect is that to really know the answer, I will have to wait until I’m at least 70. In the meantime, I only pray that I am heading in the right direction.
He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1:6)