Every so often, I want to feature a resource that I think can be helpful in assisting students to live and speak for Jesus during their time as undergraduates. I want to start with an excellent resource for a group of students who face a particular suite of challenges and opportunities: theology students.
Kelly Kapic is concerned that theology students should not embrace what he calls ‘theological detachment’ – in other words, theological study which willingly sits in an ivory tower and which does not enrich the lives of its students, the broader church community and ultimately the world. ‘A Little Book for New Theologians’, then, is what the title says it is: a short book (only 126 pages long) which acts as both guide and aspiration for those at the beginning of theological study.
The first three chapters summarise the necessity of theological study: to know God as he truly is – and, as creatures made by God, to rightly understand ourselves and the world around us in knowing him. Such knowledge touches both our understanding and our passions, and calls us to respond in faith and love. It also rightly shapes our experience of living in the world in the day to day: to, as Kapic beautifully puts it ‘know when to shout, when to mourn, when to be silent and when to hope.’
Perhaps the strongest element of the book, though, is where it turns next: the thesis that theology can never be performed in a vacuum. Kapic refutes the premise of modern theology, which demands separation between its study and the life of the theologian. We do not approach the Bible as blank canvases, but as human beings, and so our experiences and practice in wider life both grow out of our theology and inform it. With this in mind, then, Kapic turns to characteristics of the life of the theologian that will best prepare them for theological study.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on faith and reason. Kapic rejects the ‘imaginary neutrality’ of pure reason, and instead calls for ‘faithful reasoning’ – a deep engagement in rational reflection within the context of a prior trust in God (whereby reasoning is therefore faithful to God). Elsewhere, Kapic counters the idea that Christian theologians must choose between prayer and hard work: ‘we cannot choose between prayer and study; faithful theology requires prayerful study.’
Finally, theology should never be engaged upon as a purely intellectual pursuit. Kapic has a striking chapter on suffering, justice and knowing God, which includes this sentence: ‘When we come to the question of knowing God, the Bible plunges us into caring for those he cares for, and thus into living with a concrete concern for the poor, the weak and those who suffer.’ And with that comes another exhortation to take theology out of the ivory tower and to the church and to the marginalised.
I loved this book because it refutes so many false dichotomies that theology students are so often fed, and on which they unnecessarily feel they need to take sides. The sad outcome is that theology students find that their studies either bears little or nothing in common with their Christian profession or their lives in church and CU, or that they fail to engage at all with what they are being taught. Their own discipleship is damaged, and a faithful engagement with non-believing lecturers and fellow students never gets going.
This book might be hard going reading for first year undergraduates – I wonder if it assumes a level of theological literacy that even they might be unfamiliar with – but I’m looking forward to getting it into their hands. As they are increasingly introduced to the philosophy upon which the study of theology is built in their university department, they may find themselves returning to this book and finding a mooring that encourages them to be wholehearted in both their Christian profession and in their studies.