Read your Bible. Read it constantly. Over and over again. Read it until you know where everything is on the page. Write down big questions. And then read it again. And again.
This is my point: reading theology books doesn’t teach me theology. Reading the Bible does.
What’s wrong with theology books, you ask? The author has done the dirty work; he’s compiled the verses and explained the hard texts. He’s connected the dots and has put together a nice, understandable outline. He’s searched far and wide throughout the Scriptures, spending years traversing back and forth, and, in time, he returns as from a faraway land, bringing precious and exotic delicacies from his travel. Of course we should avail ourselves of the privilege of sitting under such a trailblazer. Right?
But we must be careful about depending on their work. I’m all for convenience, don’t get me wrong, but, as I’ll explain later, sometimes it’s better to do the work yourself. This is one of those cases.
By all means, read theology, but remember the title of this post—I’m talking about developing your own theology. And I’m contending that the best way to do that is by reading and re-reading (and re-reading) the Bible.
If you turn it upside and try to develop your theology by reading theology books primarily, as opposed to developing your theology as you read the Bible, you will not be able to teach authoritatively. Here are some reasons why:
First, if the ideas aren’t yours, the convictions won’t be yours. Second-hand theology enables you to never take a firm stance, and never have real conviction. You’ll always be saying things like, “Well Edwards believes this,” and “Macarthur said that” and “Piper wrote this.” You will maintain for yourself a convenient cop-out when tough topics come up—“Well, I’m just saying what Driscoll said.” It’s easier to read theology books, and it’s easier to stand on other people’s convictions. But know that if you let them develop your theology for you, you’ll end up hiding behind your hard-working theologian big brother. And you won’t be able to say anything with God’s authority behind it.
You won’t be willing to make bold statements unless they’ve been affirmed by (insert favorite theologian). In time, Piper trumps Paul and Macarthur trumps Moses. And if you truly believe in the authority and sufficiency of scripture, you will always find yourself asking the lurking question—is he right? And though that question should drive us to the scriptures, it often leaves us generalizing, never willing to make bold claims. Unless you do the homework yourself, you will stand on the surface begging for pearls from the deep sea divers. Of course, they won’t give them to you. They’ll show them off, and you’ll be able to describe them, but they won’t be yours. You’ll stay dry and safe. And your congregation will know it.
Those you teach will sense the authority behind your lessons. If you plunge yourself into the cavernous deeps of God’s revealed Word, and wrestle with the balrogs from this glorious netherworld, when you come up with bloodstains and bruises, your congregation will know that you’ve found something worth fighting for. Use the treasure maps, but more importantly, go spelunking. And bring your pick-axe.
I think that’s enough metaphors to get my point across. Develop your theology by doing your Bible homework. It’s takes a lifetime, so start now.