taking the words of Jesus seriously

Dear Christian Theologians (and anyone else who discusses theology),


Be Understandable:

Theology is worthless if it can’t be understood. There are times and places to use fancy terminology and complicated jargon—academic journals, professional debates, and thesis statements— but for the rest of us, please try to be as clear and concise as possible.

Almost everyone in the world is not a religion professor, does not have a doctorate degree in philosophy, did not study the Bible in college, did not learn Greek or Hebrew, and has little or no “official” theological training.

Sometimes complexity cannot be avoided, but avoid using exotic words and convoluted explanations just to appear smarter. Jesus was successful by using a variety of techniques to clearly communicate to diverse groups of people. Jesus’s goal was to create knowledge, understanding, clarity, and wisdom—not confusion.

Unfortunately, much of today’s theology remains unknowable to the average Christian, not because they’re stupid or ignorant, but because it’s been poorly communicated. Additionally, those that have succeeded in connecting with the masses are unfairly labeled as being “superficial, ” “watered-down, ” and “spineless.”

Be Humble:

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8 NIV). Jesus, the Son of God, served people, respected people, and passionately loved people, sacrificing Himself for their sake.

Why do so many theologians seem so haughty, proud, and arrogant? We realize that some of you have been published, been interviewed, received prestigious degrees, and go on speaking tours, but please reflect the person of Christ and treat others with respect.

If someone disagrees with your theology, or you disagree with theirs, be gracious.  Don’t use shame, guilt, manipulation, slander, or aggression to gain power or influence (or to take it away from someone else). Be civil while dialoging, discussing, and debating.  Be gentle with those who are struggling, empathetic with those who are hurting, patient with those who are learning, kind to those who are combative, and forgiving to those who are hateful—glorify God through your conduct.

For Christians, theology is not solely head knowledge; it’s about a relationship with God. Personal experiences often trump academic theory, so please provide theological practical applications that can be utilized in our everyday lives.

If theology were simply about identifying things about God, understanding how He works, and remembering facts and figures about His actions, history, and motives, then Satan is probably the greatest theologian ever—does anybody have more experience or knowledge about God than him? But Satan doesn’t love God—do you?

Sadly, today’s theological discussions are often about who can shout louder. They are marked by hate, anger, bitterness, and disunity. Instead of using theology to attract people to God, it’s being used as a weapon to promote agendas and point out the mistakes or “misbeliefs” of others. Rather than being inspired, individuals simply walk away from these encounters with a sense of discontentment, viewing Christians (often rightfully) as being hypocritical.

Theologians, whether we agree with your theology or not, your faith is either authenticated or proven false by your words and actions—the world is watching.

Be Willing to Change:

I don’t expect to fully understand God by the time I’m done with middle school,  high school, college, or when I retire—faith is a Pilgrim’s Progress, a journey of continual growth and maturity. God is too big and glorious to completely understand within a set amount of time, so my ideas, opinions, and understanding of God—my theology—will change.

But why do you remain static in your belief systems? Why do you spend all of your time and energy promoting your theology as being exclusively correct? In the real world, people change. We learn, we grow, and we meet new people, experience different cultures, and encounter transformational events— life happens.

So stop pretending you’re the exception to the rule and have everything figured out. If you’re a human, you don’t know it all, so quit claiming you do.

Also by Stephen: Christianity’s 5 Most Popular Scapegoats

Interestingly, the characters in the Bible who were the most self-confident about their beliefs were usually the ones who were wrong and rebuked by Jesus, while those who were humble and eager to learn were the ones Jesus used in powerful ways. Wise people admit when they’re wrong, but when it comes to theology most people spend all of their time and energy buttressing and protecting their own personal beliefs instead of critically, prayerfully, humbly, and honestly questioning them.

So don’t hate me or call me a heretic if I start to question, doubt, or simply abandon your preferred brand of theological thinking. God may be unchanging, but my theology isn’t.

Be Accessible:

If you believe strongly in something—that it is right and true and good—you’ll do anything to share that with others, free of cost. Refrain from trying to turn a profit and avoid treating people like corporate consumers.

We may live in a society obsessed with money and celebrity but Christians are meant to live differently. Don’t reserve your best resources, information, knowledge, and passion for only those who can afford to attend seminars, buy your books, or travel to conferences. Be generous with your thoughts and ideas.

Start a blog, create a podcast, make public appearances without charging fees, give out free resources, and be willing to lead and disciple others. Do your best to cross over social, economic, and cultural divides. Avoid the temptation to create a brand, market to an exclusive clique, or treat your theology as a product targeted only to specific customers.

Theology is meant for everyone, without any strings attached.

Lastly, I want to thank you. I deeply appreciate your willingness to dedicate your life to understanding (and helping others understand) God better. Whether you’re famous and known by millions, or simply a theologian by hobby and known by only your closest friends, you make a difference. Please continue to pursue this discipline with a loving heart, a passion to inspire others, and a desire to strengthen your relationship with God.

Stephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Sojourners, and The Burnside Writer’s Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at  in St. Paul, MN. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

Photo Credit: / Shutterstock.com

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About The Author


Stephen Mattson is the author of "The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ." Follow him on Twitter (@StephenMattson_)

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