Being irenic means that we approach people peacefully. It is the opposite of being quarrelsome. It is wonderful when individuals are passionate about their beliefs but, ironically, these passions can often make a person so militant and hostile no one else wants to listen to him speak! A good theologian always keeps his cool. He does not let the polemics of others cause him to sacrifice his level-headed calmness. When correction is necessary, tact is defined by gentleness. We have to love truth so much that we are gentle.
2 Timothy 2:24-26
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil. 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2Ti 2:25-26)
1 Peter 3:15
But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1Pe 3:15 NAS)
For the theologian this includes the willingness to admit it, when you don’t know things. The mark of a theologian’s influence is not simply in how much he (or she) knows, but how much he realizes he doesn’t know. The theologian’s job is not to have an answer for every question, but to be able to handle questions in an honest way, since he has wrestled with the issue himself. A good theologian always recognizes his finitude in the face of an infinite God and it shows. Are you a perplexed theologian? Good. Join Paul and Peter.
2 Cor 4:7-9 7
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Pet. 3:15-16
And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand . . .
Are you willing to change your position? What if the evidence was not on your side? Are you led purely by your emotional convictions? If you cannot change, what gives you the right to require it of others? Theologians should always be adapting because they know they don’t have it all figured out.
One of the great illustrations of this is St. Augustine who, at the end of his life, wrote a book called “Recantations.” What courage it must have taken to admit the need to change and adapt so late in life! Good theologians should have a good list of recantations. And you know what? You must be ready to recant your recantation if need be! I find so many people who “convert” to one position or another and wear their conversion as a badge of authority, as if the fact of the change itself evidences the truthfulness of their new position.
Show yourself to others, warts and all. You are not on a pedestal, polished and clean. You are filled with iniquity, the flesh, and brokenness. The good theologian needs not merely to teach cold hard facts, but to teach by example and identity. If people don’t see their wretched lives represented, at least to some degree, they will be nothing more than a gawked at example. Become real. Walk with a limp and talk with a lisp. Yes, it will take courage, but you need to quit holding your hair back when you vomit. People need to see the mess and smell the stench.
Look to the Psalms for encouragement. Look to Paul’s limp in Romans 7.
You don’t know that much. You are not that smart. The body of Christ is a body, even in the world of theology. You will never be an expert in every area. You need to know who to trust and be willing to lean on others who are “experts” in areas of your ignorance. A good theologian is networked. He or she reaches out to others for help. Build a community that you can bounce ideas off of. Require this community not only to encourage you, but to reprove you when necessary. Oh, and just because someone is dead does not mean they should not join your network.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.
Believe it or not, it is often hard to find theologians who are doing what they do for the right reasons. Though I don’t necessarily consider myself a theologian in the proper sense, I can lose sight of my mission; I can leave my first love. Your passion for theology must come from your passion for God and people. If you don’t have this as your primary motivation, then you need to step back and take ten. It is not about being right, it’s about changing lives.
1 Thess 2:7-8
But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
7. Dependent on the Holy Spirit
Oh, yeah. Then there is that. Follow one through six and you qualify for nothing. The Holy Spirit is our only hope to energize us toward understanding God. We are fallen, sinful, manipulative, and downright cranky. Doing theology in the flesh is possible. I have seen it. I have done it! I may be doing it right now. Hold on . . . let me pray. . . Okay, back now. Stop every chance you get and bow before God and ask that the power of the Holy Spirit would give you the ability to understand and yield to the truth.
1 Cor. 2:14
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
Was going to put, “A good theologian watches his spelin and gramer close”, but changed me mind.