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What I wish I'd known before I started studying theology...

09:18 02/09/2019
What I wish I'd known before I started studying theology...

We asked a few of our authors the five things they wish they had known when they started studying theology. Here's what they said.

Karen O'Donnell, Sarum College (author of Broken Bodies)

  1. There’s no such thing as theology, only theologies plural. This is very liberating!
  2. Whilst there is a canon of stuff all theology students do need to read (Aristotle, Aquinas, Barth etc), this canon tends to be very white, male, Western, and dead. There’s plenty of important theology that looks and sounds very different that should also be read!
  3. The best theology (in my opinion), comes out of the places where we hurt. This is the theology that really matters.
  4. No one knows what they’re doing in those first few months (or even years!) of studying. We work it out along the way.
  5. It really matters who your mentors are. Look not just for big, famous names, but for theologians who have a reputation for excellent teaching and time for their students.

Simon Cuff, St Mellitus College (author of Love in Action)

  1. Studying theology is learning how best to speak less badly about God. Christ is the only word about God that expresses him completely. We’re trying to do our best with the tools we have been given. Let God do the rest.
  2. Studying theology isn’t something you can do alone, because you’re drawn more and more into the wider body of Christ, the sisters and brothers in the faith who began thinking and speaking theologically before you.
  3. Studying theology challenges the status quo, forcing you to confront the ways that the Church and the world are not pointing to the subject of theology and are not as God intends. A theology that doesn’t let you leave the leave the library probably isn’t much of a theology.
  4. Studying theology is unsettling, as it requires you to be open to letting go of the ways you’ve encountered God before, to see where he is asking you to encounter him anew.
  5. Studying theology only makes you love God more, as you blow the cobwebs off your idols of him. Theology at its best is worship. 

Eve Poole, Third Church Estates Commissioner (author of Buying God)

  1. You're now sorted for dinner party ice-breakers when the 'what did you do at university?' question comes up
  2. Even basic Greek and Hebrew will give you an amazing angle on the Bible that would otherwise be invisible to you
  3. You don't need to read all of those books on the reading list, but probably more of them that you think you do
  4. Right now you have no idea how very useful this esoteric mixture of subjects will prove to be - it's a uniquely broad education for life
  5. Everyone else has those 'meaning of life' conversations in the bar late at night after they've written their essays: but you get grades for it!

Michael Leyden, Director, St Mellitus North West (author of Faithful Living, published December)

  1. Be brave: read widely and with a posture of generosity. There is something to learn, even from unexpected sources, because God is bigger than we might like to think (John 3:8).
  2. Ask questions and really pursue answers: there is joy to be found in thinking hard about important things; it is a kind of worship (Matt. 22:37). Consider the practical implications of your conclusions.
  3. Confessional theology is not less rigorous or less interesting/important than deconstructive theologies that are suspicious of faith. They have a different purpose and goal. Take the Christian tradition seriously by scrutinising it.
  4. How you do theology is never objective or value-neutral. Method is theological.
  5. Theology is a human attempt to eff the ineffable; it is not license to hate, ostracise, or harm. What we have we have received as a gift so be kind (Matt. 10:8) even when you‘re sure someone else is wrong!

Liz Shercliff, Director of Readers, Diocese of Chester (author of Preaching Women)

  1. The Charlie Brown cartoon in which Snoopy decides to call a book of theology he is writing “Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?” should be at the forefront of the theology student’s (and lecturer’s) mind.
  2. No matter how respected a theologian might be, I won’t agree with everything they say.
  3. No matter how respected a theologian might be, they were writing at a different time and place, and from a different experience from me.
  4. Theological study is challenging and disturbing – and that’s good.
  5. Women theologians are only niche on library shelves, so don’t dismiss them.

Nicola Slee, Queen's Foundation (author of Fragments for Fractured Times - coming 2020)

  1. Some of the best theologians are and were women. 
  2. Some of the best theologians are and were black. 
  3. Some of the best theologians are and were gay/lesbian.  And so on.
  4. Some of the best theologians are and were poets, artists, musicians, novelists, etc., and would never have thought of themselves as such. 
  5. It is possible to write theology in myriad ways, and it is possible to do theology in more ways than writing it. I.e. through prayer, social and political action, caring for others and so on.