By Vivian Bricker, Crosswalk.com
Whether you can be a theologian without attending seminary is a debatable issue in Christian academic circles. I have personally attended seminary and completed my Master’s Degree in Ministry, but I have a different view on this question as compared to many of my peers. It is in my honest and academic opinion that an individual can be a theologian without attending seminary. There are many reasons why I believe this, and I will highlight these truths today:
Being a Theologian
A theologian is an expert or a specialist in theology. Most often, individuals believe that one has to go to seminary and obtain an advanced degree to be called a theologian. It is in my opinion that one can be a theologian without attending seminary. To be a theologian, one has to be an expert in theology. This means that one has to be an expert in the study of God and the study of the Bible. One can learn about God and the Bible by studying independently, talking with other believers, and attending church.
Everything we need to know about God is written in the Bible. All sixty-six books of the Bible attest to God’s love, mercy, and kindness. While reading the Bible alone is sufficient for learning about God, it often helps to use a Bible commentary or other resources to help understand difficult scripture passages. Throughout undergrad and graduate school, I used The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the Old Testament and New Testament by John Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck to help grow my understanding and knowledge of the Bible. I cannot stress enough how much this commentary has helped not only in undergrad and graduate school but also in my daily reflections on the Bible.
In addition to The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the Old Testament and New Testament, many other books can help you to become a theologian without attending seminary. As previously stated, it is in my opinion that one can be a theologian without attending seminary because being a theologian is not based on having a degree or attending a prestigious theological university. Being a theologian is based strictly on becoming an expert or a specialist in the field of theology. The focus of being a theologian is based on your knowledge of the Bible and God. One does not have to attend seminary to learn about the character of God and the applications found in His Word.
Another book that I recommend to help increase your knowledge of theology is Basic Theology by Charles C. Ryrie. Basic Theology was a required textbook throughout Bible Doctrine I and Bible Doctrine II at my college. Ryrie does a fantastic job at explaining deep truths and teachings of the Bible in a way that is understandable to all readers. He refrains from using overly theological words, and when he does use them, he explains them for the reader to understand the word's meaning. Basic Theology covers almost every topic of the Bible and even includes eschatology (a study of the End Times), which is a topic that many books avoid speaking about due to the conflict between dispensationalism and covenant theology.
Always Striving to Learn
Nobody can become a theologian overnight. It takes time and energy. Studying the Bible and learning more about God’s Word takes a lot of work. Many individuals believe going to seminary automatically makes you a theologian, but it doesn’t. If an individual doesn’t put in the effort to learn and study the Bible, then they won’t learn about God or become an expert in the field. It’s only by studying and learning the Word that one can truly become a theologian.
Simply going to seminary won’t ensure an individual will become a theologian, just like not attending seminary won’t ensure that an individual won’t become a theologian. This is because being a theologian has nothing to do with attending a special school or attending a special seminary. It has everything to do with studying and learning about God and His Word. You are a theologian if you are studying God’s Word and are consistently learning about Him.
If anyone has ever told you that you can’t be a theologian because you didn’t attend seminary, that’s not true at all. Sadly, even among Christians, some look down upon others who don't hold certain degrees or qualifications instituted by man alone. It shouldn’t be this way, yet many Christians make others feel inferior if they didn’t complete the same level of education that they did. I have known many people throughout my life, and some of the smartest theologians I know never went to college or seminary. They are the strongest theologians I know because they have a heart for God.
Many individuals who study at seminary think that they are “smarter” or “superior” because of their training, and they extend this attitude in their interactions with others. It is a great disappointment that Christians do this, as they aren't practicing what they are studying (and eventually preaching). If you have ever been looked down upon because you didn’t attend seminary, know that my heart goes out to you. You are just as much a theologian as someone who went to seminary because you have a heart after God, and you desire to learn more about Him and His Word.
When Jesus walked among us during His earthly ministry, He never told us that we had to attend a fancy school to be His disciples. Instead, He simply tells us to follow Him (Matthew 9:9; John 10:27). Following Jesus is what is required of us. If we follow Him, obey Him, and learn all we can about Him through the Bible, we are truly a theologian. God doesn’t look down on you if you never had formal training, and other Christians shouldn’t either. The only qualification God requires of you to be a true theologian is that you desperately pursue who He is.
Seminary is a privilege to attend, but not everyone receives that privilege. From my own personal experience, seminary is quite expensive, and it is quite difficult to manage while working at the same time. Sadly, even the stress of seminary can cause us to lose our focus on God. We learn things about Him, yet we start losing our desire for Him. When you go to college or seminary with the focus of learning about God, sometimes you can begin to associate God and the Bible with school, and then it becomes a chore. I say this not to dissuade you from attending Bible college or seminary but rather to warn you because I encountered this many times throughout my studies.
To reaffirm, in my academic opinion, a person can be a theologian without attending seminary. A theologian is someone who is an expert in theology, which doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a degree. You can learn about God and the Bible through your own personal Bible reading and study. Not all of us have the privilege to attend seminary because of time restraints and financial restraints, yet we can all study the Word of God. Studying and learning about the Bible is what makes you a true theologian. Thus, you can be a theologian even without attending seminary.
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Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.