The Qualifications of a Real Theologian

November 23, 2010 — Leave a comment


Over the weekend I read another book by Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. I would highly recommend his more recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us as well. Both books actually go well together and complement each other. In A Whole New Mind, Pink (not to be confused with P!nk) notes that in light of some of the recent changes in our global marketplace, the way we mentally approach our jobs will need to change.

He makes a distinction familiar to anyone with a basic knowledge of psychology. We have two brain hemispheres (right and left) and they operate in slightly different ways. Many of the jobs that have dominated the market (computer programmers, but also doctors and lawyers) rely heavily on left brain, or what he calls L-directed thinking. This is the analytical, more logically oriented of the two hemispheres.

What Pink observes though is that those types of tasks are not hard to master with appropriate training. Computer programmers are now a dime a dozen and many of those jobs are being outsourced to places like India where they can be done much cheaper.

What then sets someone apart in their field is how well they can appropriate right brain, or R-directed thinking and approaches to their discipline. Pink explains 6 R-directed approaches that he sees as vital to stay ahead of the curve and be relevant rather than replaceable in your particular industry. We need to:

  • Not just create things that are functional, but that are also aesthetically well designed
  • Not just convey ideas in argument but also convey them in more engaging forms like story
  • Not just analyze ideas but also being able to synthesize them with others across disciplines
  • Not just share ideas logically, but also through deepened personal relationships with others
  • Not just focus on the serious, but also be able to playful engage others
  • Not just accumulate myriads of information, but also give meaning to the materials at hand

He abbreviates these as:

  • Design
  • Story
  • Symphony
  • Empathy
  • Play
  • Meaning

A good part of the book is expositing the significance of each of these concepts, showing where they are already taking off, and explaining how you can cultivate them in your own life. His book provides a good mental road map for skills you need to develop regardless of your chosen career path. But his advice is probably most needed for people in fields that are highly L-directed and depend on logic, analysis of data, and presentation of detailed argument. In short, his work applies directly to theologians and ministry leaders.

You probably already made that connection given the picture, but Daniel Pink’s book addressed an issue I’ve been noticing from a different vantage point after finishing up John Frame’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Frame’s book helped put several tendencies in perspective that I’ve noticed in my own life and in other’s lives. Its a tendency that I think we all run up against while going down the Bible Institute/Bible College/Seminary path.

Among other things it is a tendency to only develop intellectually. Dallas Seminary, unfortunately was very bad about this in last part of the 20th century. The saying was that you could tell a Dallas man, but you couldn’t tell him much. The reputation was developed that a DTS grad was a great exegete of Scripture and repository of theological knowledge, but other than that was usually a jerk. It wasn’t so much that they were so heavenly minded they were of no earthly good, it was that they were so academically minded they were of little spiritual good.

Now, that’s a bit of a false dichotomy. You can certainly be both academically minded and spiritually beneficial to those you minister to. But the problem with the curriculum at most Bible college and seminaries is that they support and reinforce strong L-directed tendencies to use Pink’s terminology. Because of all this I would argue that many who will graduate from bible college and seminary will fail to really communicate meaning to others’ lives, even though what they were communicate is true; the messenger may very well invalidate his own message.

In other words, they will fail to really minister to people, although they may succeed in ministering at people.

Now, back to Frame’s book. In it, he argues for a particular understanding of knowledge that incorporates different perspectives on the issue. He says that it is an application of God’s revealed norms for thought (logic) to the facts of God’s creation (subjects of inquiry) by a person qualified to make such an application (character). If we extend this to theology, it would be the application of sound logic and analysis to the data of Scripture by a person who is qualified to make such an application.

The mistaken assumption that many make is that a degree or formal training is all that is needed to qualify for ministry. But on Frame’s analysis, that particular training only covers the first two dimensions or perspectives. It gives you the tools of logic and acquaints you with the subject matter (Scripture, other theology, biblical scholarship) but it does not necessarily impart character. It can, but it doesn’t always pan out that way.

In a book that is mainly devoted to a Christian epistemology (think of a more exegetical Alvin Plantinga), Frame spends a whole chapter on the qualifications of the theologian. To teach in the academy, certainly you need academic credentials. But, according to Scripture, to a be a teacher of the word, in or out of the church, you need character credentials.

Frame cites the credentials listed in 1 Timothy 3:2-7; 2 Timothy 2; 3:10-17; James 3; and 1 Peter 5:1-4. To somewhat collate those together, you’re qualified to be in leadership in ministry if you are:

  • Above reproach
  • Self-controlled
  • Sober-minded
  • Hospitable
  • Not controlled by alcohol
  • Faithful in marriage (or sexually pure if single)
  • Not violent
  • Gentle
  • Not quarrelsome (even over theology)
  • Not a lover of money
  • Able to manage your household affairs well
  • Not a recent convert
  • Well thought of by believers and unbelievers
  • Able to endure suffering well
  • Committed to avoid irreverent babble
  • Fleeing youthful passions
  • Pursuing righteousness, faith, love, and peace
  • Having nothing to do with foolish and ignorant controversies
  • Kind to everyone
  • Able to correct opponents with gentleness
  • Patiently enduring evil
  • Desiring to live a godly life in Christ Jesus
  • Able to competently use Scripture for teaching, training, reproof, and correction
  • Demonstrating meekness in wisdom by your good conduct
  • Not boasting, bragging, or exaggerating the truth about yourself
  • Not driven by selfish ambition
  • Not bitter or jealous
  • Exercising leadership without domineering others
  • Able to submit to those in authority
  • Clothed in humility

In short, you need to be able to communicate the truth of what you are saying by the way you live your life. On the one hand, everyone who is a Christian is qualified for a level of ministry. But if you want to be a leader, a pastor, or theologian in the church, people should be able to see Christ displayed in your life before you are granted the privilege and high calling of displaying Christ to the church in your teaching. Frame puts it this way:

The meaning of Scripture is its use, and therefore teaching of it is best done by word and life (i.e. example) together. The apostolic example shows God’s people how to use the Word, how to apply it. It is therefore an important aspect of teaching, of theology. Of course, not everything a teacher does will be worthy of imitation (not even every apostolic action was normative – Galatians 2:11-14). But a teacher’s life must embody a level of godliness adequate to demonstrate the meaning of his teaching – a way of life dramatically different from that of the sinful world (p. 324)

My plea, along with Frame, and in line with what Pink pointed out in the opening part of this post, is to cultivate, by the Spirit’s power, the list of qualities above. Anybody, even a non-Christian, can get a Bible school degree. And in a sense, people with Bible school degrees and even Th.M’s and Ph.D’s are a dime a dozen. If you all you have are the tools of theology from your degree, you’re nothing special, and you’re not necessarily any more Christ-like than the uneducated person in the pew next to you every Sunday.

Even if you want to teach in the academy, Biblically speaking, you aren’t qualified to do so just because you have the secular credentials. In 6 months or so, I will graduate with a master of theology degree. I will become of full member of the Evangelical Theological Society. As academic credentials go, I will be a qualified theologian. But if my life does not embody the characteristics listed above, or at least shows significant growth in most of those dimensions, I am not really qualified to begin a teaching ministry, in or out of the church.

In the end, I think it might be helpful for all of us who are pursuing the academic credentials and training for ministry to evaluate how we measure up against the list of character qualifications. It may be helpful, with New Year’s resolutions around the corner to devote some thought and prayer to where you are areas of growth might be.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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