4 Most Common Comments From “Regular People” About Studying Theology

"In the summer of 2020, I led an online theology class for people in the church I pastor. I was blown away that over 1000 people engaged in the class, asked thoughtful questions, and walked through the material each week." - Eric Geiger

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T Howard's picture

Quote:
4. The Reading Was Too Much for “a Normal Person.”

I think this comment is somewhat of a cop out. People spend hours a day surfing the internet, reading their facebook news feeds and instagram, but they can't spend 30-minutes / day to read a chapter or two a week? Of course, I don't know what resource Geiger used. If he was teaching through Erickson's Christian Theology, I could understand the comment.

With that said, I've found Grudem's Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know to be both helpful and approachable for new and younger believers. As you go through each chapter, you can supplement with other resources as needed. When you get to a doctrine where there is a lot of interest, you can mark that and after working through the book, take people deeper in that specific doctrine.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

T Howard wrote:

Quote:
4. The Reading Was Too Much for “a Normal Person.”

I think this comment is somewhat of a cop out. People spend hours a day surfing the internet, reading their facebook news feeds and instagram, but they can't spend 30-minutes / day to read a chapter or two a week? Of course, I don't know what resource Geiger used. If he was teaching through Erickson's Christian Theology, I could understand the comment.

Theology can be tough going.  I'm not a theology student myself.  However, due to my knowledge of German (and, basically being available), I have helped two different students finish their ThD degrees (or whatever they call a doctorate in theology these days) at Southeastern.  I ended up reading large passages of some of the German sources they used, and helping with translation and understanding.  Neither of them was fluent in German, but both spent large amounts of time trying to improve their German and understand it better.  Still, that stuff was tough going for me, and I've been working on learning, speaking, and being fluent in German for about 35 years.

I can say that a lot of the source material that was used for papers (including their dissertations) would have been a pretty good slog even in English.  In either German or English, theological language is a lot like legalese, just specialized for a different field.  The higher-level stuff is not easy to read at the best of times.  Maybe you guys who studied theology find it easier, but for the rest of us, it takes a lot of work.

I can certainly agree that people find plenty of time to read what they like when they want to do so, but news articles, FB posts and messages, etc., are pretty easy to digest quickly.  Even those of us that have done study beyond the bachelor's level (I have an M.S. myself), and had to learn to do a lot of tough reading back in school, don't really find it easy to tackle a lot of similar works any more.  Life just has too many things (like family, children, church, work, etc.) that take time, even if you cut out any personal entertainment time, and it's tough to find the time to really digest a deep work.

Like the example you pointed out, I think that classes that do theology for regular church people will need to use a lot of more "popular"-level theological works to be accessible even to most of those lay people who want to take the time to learn it.  Yes, people will need to read less FB and watch less TV if they want to spend time with something like theology.  However, even that well is not bottomless.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

I found that reading Calvin's Institutes is a much harder slog, even in translation, than most modern writing.  Same thing with Dabney's lectures on systematics, but not to the extent of Calvin.  Good theological writers tend to take a longer time to develop ideas, use the technical terms, and more, and hence those of us weaned on most Christian literature are going to find it difficult.  There's a huge difference between popular and academic theological literature.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:
Good theological writers tend to take a longer time to develop ideas, use the technical terms, and more, and hence those of us weaned on most Christian literature are going to find it difficult.  There's a huge difference between popular and academic theological literature.

The first systematic theology text I read was Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology (1st ed). I was in my mid-20s. Grudem's text was approachable, compelling, and thorough. Most people would be scared off by its 1,290 pages; but honestly, if you're a literate, semi-mature believer, you would have no problems with Grudem. I thought Ryrie and Berkhoff were also pretty approachable.  However, Calvin, Strong, Feinberg, Erickson, and Lewis & Demarest would not be texts that I'd recommend to "regular people." Although, I do remember hearing one of the older celebrity reformed pastors comment that he taught Calvin's Institutes to his youth group when he was a youth pastor.

That must have been interesting.

AndyE's picture

I don't think I would ever teach through any one particular systematic theology book for a class.  When I have tackled theology topics, I either do a series on a particular topic (e.g., bibliology, trinity, or whatever) for a bit of a deep dive, or I pick a passage that covers the doctrine that I want to teach and attack it that way.  So for example, I've used Romans to teach elements of soteriology such as redemption, justification, propitiation, etc.  If I ever decide to do a broad overview, I'd just develop the material from all my systematic theology books, rather than just follow one guy.

T Howard's picture

AndyE wrote:

If I ever decide to do a broad overview, I'd just develop the material from all my systematic theology books, rather than just follow one guy.

At my former church, I and a BJU MDiv graduate friend of mine teamed up to teach a 12-week systematic theology class. Each week, we covered a different theological area. To your point, we developed our own curriculum from the theological texts we both had. We developed interactive handouts for each week and walked the class through them. It was a good experience.

JD Miller's picture

I would not put systematic theologies in the same category of challenging reading as Calvin's Institutes.  I think part of the reason is that many of the systematic theologies have been written more recently and we do not have the "language barrier" of evolving entimology that we have from reading something hundreds of years old that was originally written in another language.

I would however recommend reading systematic theology over time rather than in one setting.  I think that gives the ideas time to settle in and to be contemplated.  Scripture uses the phrase meditate.