Saturday, May 9, 2009

Less Theologians, More Disciples

I've been thinking for quite some time about this topic. What is it God wants me to be? What exactly is a Christian? What should my goals be? What makes someone great in the Kingdom of God? What makes someone a "mature" Christian?

Our religious world is eaten up with study. We love it. The Evangelical world today is a largely academic one. We have degrees in theological studies, Biblical studies, divinity, and loads of others. Even much of what we do when we gather together is sit and learn. We listen to someone speak on Sundays and we sit in classes. We are encouraged to "study" our Bibles.

I'm not saying all this is evil. I am saying that religious academics don't necessarily produce better Christians. In many cases it may actually create worse ones.
It's amazing how much we love learning but hate doing.

I go to an official Bible school, and when I'm finished I will receive a bachelor's in Biblical studies (which I am grateful for). But with an academic approach to the Scriptures comes certain tendencies of thinking. I once heard a fellow student say, "I wonder what I need to study and how much I need to know before I become a great theologian." I've wondered a lot since then how God felt about that statement. I'm sure this person had good intentions and today wouldn't say that again, but I couldn't help but feel bothered by that statement. "I want to become a theologian. I want to have all the right answers." That was his goal. What does God want me to want? To know as much religiously as possible? Or to become as much like Jesus as possible?

Society today holds academic achievement in the highest regard. Some parents will absolutely lose it if their children even consider not going to college. But academic achievement means nothing in the Kingdom of God. In His Kingdom we are to be like little children who only want to make our Father happy. We need not understand His commands because we are too concerned with obeying them. It's amazing to me how Churches' requirements for ministry positions are religious degrees, and on top of that they pay them more the more they know. Does having more degrees make you a better minister? I'm not saying it doesn't, I'm just not saying it does. The fact that I could be a complete scoundrel but have a doctorate in divinity should tell me something about credentials in the Kingdom of Christ.

I know that there is a certain amount of academics needed in Christianity. But we are called to be followers of Jesus, not scholars of Him. While knowledge and study may better equip and stimulate our obedience, it's still a means to an end. The end is to be a devoted and loving follower of Jesus Christ. Knowing Him and His commands make that clearer, but they aren't the thing itself. There are far too many of us who know plenty about God, but know Him personally no more than we could personally know a textbook.

Filled minds do not produce spirituality.

Knowledge is a dangerous thing when it comes to God. It killed the Pharisees, and it's killing us. It's a strange thing, isn't it? To make ourselves somehow superior by having knowledge we received but did not create. Anything I know about God or His Bible I know because He let me know it. How can I feel arrogant or more mature because I learned something? The essence of learning is submitting yourself to something higher than yourself. You are taking in something that you did not make.

My primary goal in life is to be a devoted follower of Jesus in every aspect of my life. I want to have His priorities, His heart, His way of thinking, the identity He wants me to have, and everything else in my life that needs to be affected by Him. Good theology creates that. But if my study isn't increasing my discipleship to Jesus, why am I doing it?

I am convinced that the Church needs more disciples, and less theologians. Jesus' final call was to go into all the world and make more disciples. Good disciples may make good theologians, but good theologians don't always make good disciples.


Falantedios said...


What you're trying to say really resonates with me. I am deeply mindful of the dangers in my desire to be a theologian. I keep reminding myself, though, that I want to be a literal theologian, not one acclaimed by men. I want to speak God-words that bring healing into people's worlds.

And don't forget that Jesus had all the knowledge that the Pharisees had -- I fear that when knowledge is uncoupled from love (a la Corinth) that it becomes truly dangerous.

Trent Tanaro said...

Seems to me one who dwells in academics can be tempted to develop an "ivory tower" mindset...lately I have been pondering this same topic....Lest we ever forget the pain, tears, sweat, and broken hearts of the people around us in the trenches of life....Great post Bro!!

Esteban said...

This is definitely a subject that has been on my mind for some time now. I find myself thinking about how I can know more, if I could just know more I would be a "better" Christian. These two statements popped out to me:

What does God want me to want? To know as much religiously as possible? Or to become as much like Jesus as possible?

Good disciples may make good theologians, but good theologians don't always make good disciples.

That fear has always been inside me about whether I will know enough or not. But it is always good know that we are disciples of Christ, meaning that we are always still learning. All that matters is that I teach others what God has helped me learn and have relationship with him. Thanks bro for writing this entry and shedding some light on what has been on my mind.

Joshua Tucker said...

Nick - Thanks for the post. I think, to some extent, all disciples are theologians. We are all about the study of God, we just can't let that study hinder our following of Christ but instead to bolster it. Thanks for your words.

Trent - Amen Trent. I think one thing that constantly helps this tendency to view Christianity academically is to pour myself into the messy lives of people. Being involved in ministry, listening, caring, and helping people who are hurting helps so much. I think this was a major difference between Jesus and the Pharisees.

Esteban - Thanks for the comment bro. I totally agree. We're constantly learning, and while learning is a good thing, we must be very careful with it, because Christian knowledge does not equate to Christian maturity. It's kind of funny that we go to the same school but talk more on my blog than at school. I guess we're just so focused on everything there that it's hard. Thanks for the comment man, I really appreciate it.

Terry said...

I'm glad to see you back at blogging. Sorry I missed you at the workshop. I should have run after you when you were about half way across the exhibit area, but I didn't think I could catch up with you when one of your friends pointed me in your direction. I thought I would have another opportunity to meet you on Saturday, but we kept missing each other.

Great post, as always!

David said...

Really thoughtful post. I think about this all the time. I think that problem is that we tend to get in a relationship with the Bible, and the Jesus. He never said learn the book. He said com unto me all who are thirsty. Sure we need to put on the mind of Christ, but the fruit of discipleship is is not scholarship, it is letting the new man out, and killing the old one. This requires the power of the Holy Spirit.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. -Matthew 28:18-20

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
—Mark 16:15-18

A gospel without power is no gospel at all, it's simply a philosophy.

Randy Furco said...

I will admit I didnt read the post..But the title is priceless!

brandon said...

Hey man, good post. Very true, and a question I wrestle with a lot. Sometimes when I don't know where a certain passage is, I think, Man, I went to Bible school! I should know this! But then I ask myself why I think I have that standard. It is this academic society we live in.

Thanks, Josh.

Anonymous said...

This is a post I would like to read periodically. You have some strong statements in there that are good reminders to us.
It was a good reminder that I don't have to know much to share Christ!
Thanks sweety!
Alisha Tucker!

Joshua Tucker said...

Terry - Sorry about that bro. I guess I'll see you eventually. Maybe next year at the workshop? lol.

David - I totally agree. Thanks for the post bro, as always. The Gospel must penetrate who we are as people, and move beyond theory.

Brandon - Yeah I feel that sometimes too. Sometimes I try to remember that God's not impressed by my Bible knowledge or spirituality... and that helps put me in my place. Thanks for the post bro.

Alisha - Thanks sweetie. Thanks for pushing me to be like Jesus even when I don't feel like it.

Timur from Tomsk said...

Hello, Joshua!
It`s Timur from Tomsk!!

John McCoy said...

Great thoughts, man. I need this so much. It's part of an overarching theme in Christianity that I just love. This reminded me of the time before area church where you would give us your thoughts on ministry. I miss you so much man.

photogr said...

"I am convinced that the Church needs more disciples, and less theologians. Jesus' final call was to go into all the world and make more disciples. Good disciples may make good theologians, but good theologians don't always make good disciples"

I can trully relate this paragraph. We need more disciples.

Andrew said...

Well said! As a former, recovering theology student, I totally concur with these observations.

I struggle everyday with wanting the right answers about Jesus rather than Jesus himself. Some of this is personality, but much is from the training.

I guess knowledge really does "puff up", and that God has chosen the foolish, base things for a reason. No boasting in no knowledge! I find myself at times very envious of those with simple understanding.

Thanks for the food for the thought and conviction


The Pharisees where guilty of being theologians instead of disciples. I don't want to be a pharisee.

Michael DeFazio said...

Hey Brother,

Sorry to comment off-topic, but I recently read a comment from on Frank Viola's blog in which you talk about your experience in Russia. You mentioned that there were three types of meetings - monthly large gatherings, weekly house churches, and smaller meetings between a few people. I've often thought about a model almost exactly this and was excited to hear that it's being done and done well. I'd love to hear more about this if you get a chance - what were each of the meetings like, how were the "pastors" or "leadership" structured and how did they function, etc, etc. If you have time, I'd love for you to email me at michael at reallifechurch dot org.

Thanks Joshua,

Michael DeFazio

Tim Forlong said...

Love this discussion. Hey, as someone who has led a church for 7.5 years now, and with only minimal acedemic training (1 year certificate), I have come to appreciate the need for more (i'm now doing a degree). However, i fully resonate with the thoughts on this blog, we in the west are fat not only with food, but teaching. we are involved in helping a lot of 3rd world based churches, where there is a real lack of teaching/biblical knowledge and leadership experience. Its no walk in the park leading a church, or a group of churches.

I'm also coming to appreciate the ministry gifts needed to equip people for ministry, Its sure not one person. Some (gifted teachers) need a bit more understanding, but they need to be working closely with the apostles, evangelists, pastors etc?

"C" is for many things said...

Great post! Ah the quest for knowledge...

"I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." Psalm 119:11

I believe God wants us to desire Him and His word, not so that we can 'know it all' or be 'great theologians' but to be closer to Him and equipped to do His work.

Andy said...

I found this post after Googling the phrase "What does God want me to want?" in response to some struggles in my own life. They are not really directly related to this topic but this post really challenges me on another dilemma in my life. I am in this place right now where I have exciting, compelling and unique opportunities to minister -- but very little opportunity to study. I live in Korea, and I've found a little church with a great heart to reach out to expats here who don't have a lot of chances to feed their faith. I also get to minister to kids who need love, teaching and patience. It's a beautiful ministry and I would be so very happy to just do and never ever study.

But I have a call to be a spiritual leader, and I can't help thinking I'd be more effective at that if I did go study somewhere. Going to seminary would mean leaving my current ministries behind. I don't know when or whether or how to do that. And I gotta say you haven't given me much in the way of answers here!! :P

But you do help me sort out the questions. So, thanks for this post and this blog.