How to Spot a Faithful Theologian

Social media today is ablaze with the conflicting views of professional theologians on important matters of faith and morals. How is a faithful believer to determine who is right? Of course, our own personal studies of these important matters, fortified by our faith traditions and teachings, is the key. These studies may be supplemented, however, by looking at the personal qualities of the professional theologians who choose to opine on issues of faith and morals. What should a faithful believer look to in making such an analysis?

In his excellent book, A Little Book for New Theologians (IVP Academic, 2012),Kelly Kapic assists us in our search by identifying several important qualities that a theologian should embrace. These include the following:

  1. Personal holiness. Kapic quotes Gregory of Nazianzus, who stated that for “one who is not pure to lay hold of pure things is dangerous, just as it is for weak eyes to look at the sun’s brightness.”
  2. Use of reason, fortified by faith. Kapic argues that “Faith expands the parameters of reason without needlessly sacrificing it.”
  3. A devotion to prayer. Kapic quotes Saint Anselm: “a theological thought can breathe only in the atmosphere of dialogue with God.”
  4. Personal humility and repentance. As Kapic notes, “Revelation and repentance often come together, as God draws people to a deeper knowledge of himself.”
  5. Compassion. Here Kapic argues that “If we are to pursue theology faithfully, we must contemplate the value God places on those who are most vulnerable and in need.”
  6. Respect for tradition. Kapic states that while tradition should not be blindly followed, nevertheless faithful theologians should “seek the counsel of the saints from both the past and the present.”
  7. Love of Scripture. Kapic states that “good, orthodox and worship-inducing theology must be rooted in, sustained by and continually nourished through Scripture.”

This is an impressive list, and theologians who manifest these personal attributes should be looked to for guidance when their writings are consistent with our Faith traditions and teachings.

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