What is a Theologian?


I came across this definition of the vocation of a theologian today on Steven R. Holmes‘ (St. Andrews) blog, and found it both challenging and resounding with truth.

I think a good theologian prays well, first. No theologian who doesn’t has even begun to understand the discipline. And then s/he serves the Church, and his or her particular part of it (down to a local congregation) in humility and faithfulness. Theology belongs to the Church; any theologian divorced from the Church is a bad theologian, however brilliant or knowledgeable. A good theologian has a grasp of gospel values, and would swap everything s/he has written to see one sinner repent, or one broken life healed. A good theologian writes and speaks only to help the Church be more faithful to the gospel, bringing whatever knowledge of the tradition, whatever insight into contemporary modes of thought, and whatever native cleverness s/he may possess, all into service of this one end. A good theologian is marked by humility and cheerfulness, knowing how far short of the mystery of God and God’s works his/her best efforts fall, and knowing that in the good grace of God something of lasting worth may still come from them. A good theologian, finally, does know something, and has some capacity of thought, and so can make a contribution through his/her God-given vocation.

I am not a very good theologian.

Though many would argue that the author is an excellent theologian, his final words reflect not just the vocation, but the posture of a theologian. This is not false humility, but (I think) a recognition that we are in fact unable to do this well unless we do so under the Lordship of Christ, and in the power of his Spirit.

I am thankful for his reminder, both of my calling and of my responsibilities.


Costly Grace

Dietrich BonhoefferI was struck hard by an article I read this morning over at The American Jesus. The author, Zack, talks about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s comments on cheap versus costly grace and the call to radical transformation for those who would be disciples of Jesus Christ.

As I read Bonhoeffer’s words, not for the first time, I was again struck by just how merciful and loving is our God, and yet how holy and awe-inspiring. I am reminded that I sometimes cheapen God’s grace through my actions or inaction. God’s grace is freely given to all, but it has been purchased at a great price ‘with the most precious blood that ever flowed through human veins’ (P.T. Forsyth, The Work of Christ).


“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing…

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and self all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

William Law

“He, therefore, is a devout man, who lives no longer to his own will, or the way and spirit of the world, but to the sole will of God; who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who makes all the parts of his common life parts of piety, by doing everything in the Name of God, and under such rules as are conformable to His glory.” (A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life)