In May of 1995 I walked across the stage of Ozark Christian College to receive my college degree. I had earned a Bachelor of Theology degree with a New Testament major and a minor in preaching. This is OCC’s premium degree and it takes 5 years to earn it. I was required to take 3 years of the Greek language where I not only learned this original language but translated every word of numerous New Testament books. Part of this degree also required a special class where we had to write a weighty document on some big New Testament topic. I chose the work of Christ on the cross.
With all that education and specialized training I was sure I knew it all. I understood deep things of the Bible and doctrines that might confuse the ordinary Church member. I had an enormous amount of knowledge and all I wanted to do was share it with all the less educated people I met. I was ready for every apologetic argument and any theological discussion that came along.
Or so I thought… In the past 21 years I have realized how little I really knew that day.
Since my graduation from college I have had a lot to learn. For me, my knowledge needed to come on three different levels.
First, I needed to experience more of life to understand completely. I don’t think anyone understands God sending his only son in John 3:16 until they have a son. No one understands the book of Job until they have suffered and don’t understand why. Very few people can really understand Acts until they have experienced life in a Church. My life helps me to shape my theology. As a result I have come to not just know parts of the Bible through my head but also my heart.
Second, I needed to listen closer to what I was reading. My initial knowledge of the Bible was very black and white. Through the years I have started to see more gray areas. For example, I used to teach about Jesus as love. He was a nice guy who loved everyone. Then one day I was reading the gospels and realized he wasn’t always nice in the way I wanted him to be. He tells a follower to sell everything and he tells another who wants to bury his father, “let the dead bury the dead.” He calls one woman a dog and some religious leaders a group of vipers. What I learned was that I often imported my modern mindset onto the stories of the Bible. Over time I have learned that I needed to listen closer to what was really going on in the story.
Third, I needed to meet people who stretched my thinking. I used to caricature people from the other Churches in town. Then I met some of them. I was surprised at how good some of them knew their Bible and could explain their theology. I still do not agree with all of it, but I finally understood where other people were coming from. It caused me to ask questions about what I really believed and why. all of us need people who ask tough questions and confront us with alternate answers.
Over these 21 years I have seen my theology grow as I learn more and more about God, His word and His people. I no longer think I have it all figured out, but I keep trying. Sometimes I pull out old sermons and smile in disbelief. Not that I taught heresy or anything, but rather at how small my thinking was at the time. I suppose one day I will do the same with this Sunday’s sermon. Hopefully your theology will have grown enough that you can smile with me.