Why and How to Study Theology

Theology is a weird word. Think about it. The “logy” part means that it’s the discipline of studying something, and the “theo” part means that what you’re trying to study is God himself. Oh, is that all? I hope you have a pretty good microscope.

Just talking about “theology” raises all kinds of questions. How exactly do you go about studying the almighty God of the universe? Is that even possible? If you tried to understand even a small portion of his infinite being, wouldn’t your eyes start bleeding right before your brain exploded?

Yet all Christians are theologians. Or, said differently, all Christians have beliefs about God that they (should) try to understand better as they grow in their faith. To some extent, then, all Christians need to know something about what theology is, why it’s important, and how to do it well. So a short introduction answering those questions would be a great resource.

And that’s precisely what Kelly Kapic does in A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (IVP 2012), a book that Kapic hopes will serve as a kind of update to Helmut Thielicke’s 1959 classic A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. Thielicke’s book is still a great read, but Kapic has given us another outstanding resource for introducing people to the nature and task of theology. And it’s one that I highly recommend for any Christian.

Summary

Kapic breaks the book into two unequal sections. The shorter first section deals with why we should study theology. Kapic argues that theology is not only unavoidable–anytime we say anything about God, we’re doing theology–but that it’s an amazing opportunity to know God better and love him more deeply. So we study theology as an act of worship! And he concludes with an excellent reminder that theology is a journey that never ends, a pilgrimage toward God.

The longer second section focuses on six “Characteristics of Faithful Theology and Theologians.” Here Kapic unpacks things like “The Inseparability of Life and Theology,” “Humility and Repentance,” and “Love of Scripture” as necessary for truly Christian theology.

Strengths

One of the book’s greatest strengths is its brevity and readability, an absolute necessity for an introductory book like this. Clocking in at only 120 pages (small pages at that), A Little Book for New Theologians is impressively concise. The entire book wouldn’t take long to read. But, to make it even more manageable, none of the individual chapters are more than a few pages long. So the book can be consumed in one big gulp, or sampled slowly in smaller sips. Either way, it works.

Kapic has also done a fine job keeping the book interesting and engaging. He sprinkles great quotes throughout each chapter, including gems like these:

We are called theologians, just as [we are] all [called] Christians. ~Martin Luther

Whether our theology is good or flawed, those we love most will be first to feel the effects. ~Carolyn Custis James

Theologies that cannot be sung (or prayed for that matter) are certainly wrong at a deep level, and such theologies leave me, in both senses, cold: cold-hearted and uninterested. ~J. I. Packer

By knowing God we come to love him, and by loving him we come to know him. ~Ellen T. Charry

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that–and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison–you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. ~C. S. Lewis

I could keep going. The quotes alone almost make the book worth reading. But Kapic’s writes well himself, making the rest of the book a joy to read.

Of course, the content of the book also has to be worthwhile, which it is. I was particularly pleased to see Kapic’s strong emphasis on integrating theology with life, ministry, and worship. It’s clear that Kapic doesn’t see theology as an academic discipline, but as a way living Christianly in the world. In each chapter provides helpful insight into what it means to say that we are thinking and speaking about God himself.

Weaknesses

Honestly, I’m hard-pressed to find too many weaknesses in the book. Its main weakness is the flipside of its brevity. You can only cover so much in 120 short pages. So don’t look here for detailed instruction in precisely how to do theology. Instead, the book focuses on convincing you that theology is important and explaining the characteristics that we should be aiming at when we do theology. If you’re convinced by all of this, you’ll need something more involved to help you take the next steps in actually doing theology.

Conclusion

A Little Book for New Theologians is short, readable, and insightful. Flexible enough to work on many different levels, you can use it on your own, in small groups or Sunday school classes, or even in theology classrooms. If you want to hear a good argument for why and how to study theology, this is for you. I strongly recommend it.

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