I love studying theology. Having gone to seminary, I’ve read my fair share of dusty old theology books with difficult concepts to understand. Often, I’ve read them with my dictionary handy so that I can look up the many words I don’t understand.
And I’ve loved every second of it. Diving deeper into weighty theological ideas has deepened my faith and my sense of wonder for who God is.
But with great theological knowledge comes a great danger: the more theology you know, the more tempted you might be to become a theology snob.
What is a theology snob? Simply put, a theology snob is someone whose theological poop doesn’t stink. They have all the answers. They have a perfect theological system. Every piece of theology fits in a perfectly organized box. They studied it. They know it. They’re right. You’re wrong.
Theology snobs know with certainty the age of the earth, exactly how men and women should operate in church leadership, the precise sequence of future events when Jesus returns, and the way in which God elected people to be followers of Jesus from eternity past (or didn’t). “I don’t know” isn’t in their vocabulary.
What’s more is that a theology snob feels a sense of superiority for having become so learned. The slightest difference of opinion is an opportunity to show you their theological astuteness.
Theology snobs look down on people who don’t hold the same positions as them. They recoil at the thought of learning from certain leaders in the Church. “Those people are in a different camp from me–the wrong camp. They’re not worth listening to.”
In short, the theology snob is kind of a pill.
And if you aren’t already convinced that you need to not be one, here are 6 reasons why you need to guard yourself from becoming a theology snob. It’s a lot easier to become one than you might think.
1. Good theology doesn’t save you.
Sometimes, we think that if we increase our knowledge, we will become some sort of super Christians–as if we are somehow more saved.
This often springs from a place of insecurity in our hearts. We really want Jesus to love us, but we fear that we’re not good enough. So we go to work making ourselves good enough by increasing our theological knowledge.
Of course, we would never say this. But the false belief seems to lay beneath our desire to have all the answers. But we have to know that we could never make God love us any more than he already does simply by learning more.
God’s love for us isn’t dependent upon how smart we are. Neither is seeing his work in our life. We can never earn our way to God performing an amazing work in our lives.
“Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.’” (Zechariah 4:6)
While it’s important to grow in our knowledge of God’s truth, we have to know where the true power of God lies. Not in knowing more about him, but in knowing him. He is inviting us into an experience of his Spirit, who assures us that we are loved and that God wants to use us for incredible things.
2. Knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom.
While knowledge and wisdom are related, knowing a lot of information doesn’t necessarily make you wise. Sometimes, it just makes you dangerous.
If we don’t use wisdom, then our knowledge can actually do more harm than good. We can be harsh in our tone toward people. We can be rigid in the way we apply things. We can begin to take all the joy out of life, all the mystery out of following Jesus. That’s not wisdom.
True wisdom can only come from God. So never forget to ask God not only for knowledge, but for wisdom.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)
We need a supernatural kind of wisdom to apply our theological knowledge in a way that actually leads to life transformation–for us, as well as for those around us.
3. There’s no way you’re right about everything.
This may come as a shock, but there’s no way you’re right about every theological view you hold.
While there are some theological truths we can and should be absolutely sure of (like that Jesus is God or that we are saved by grace alone through faith), we can’t be sure about everything.
What is the age of the earth? Lots of smart people who follow Jesus have lots of different answers. Who’s right in the debate between Calvinism and Wesleyanism? It’s hard to know. Faithful believers have differing perspectives. What will the sequence of events be when Jesus returns?
I certainly don’t know.
The simple truth is that while the bible has told us everything we need to know in order to follow Jesus, it hasn’t told us everything. There’s a lot we’re just taking educated guesses at.
Sure, some arguments are stronger than others. And it’s okay to hold our views with conviction. Just be sure to hold them with an open hand too. You don’t know everything.
4. Jesus hates self-righteousness.
During his time on earth, Jesus showed so much compassion and kindness to people. He also challenged and confronted people very directly.
And what’s interesting is the group of people that Jesus seemed to challenge the most sternly. It wasn’t who everyone would expect. Jesus always seemed to be going toe-to-toe with a group called the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were very well respected in their community. They were incredibly knowledgeable when it came to theology. They even had large parts of the scriptures memorized. They could quote the best scholars of their day and offer very well reasoned interpretations of scripture.
Yet Jesus had the most problems with this group of people. Their problem wasn’t their lack of knowledge. It was their lack of humility. They were self-righteous. And Jesus couldn’t stand it.
Look at what he said to them.
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” (Matthew 23:2-4)
Jesus isn’t impressed by how much you know. He wants you to simply and genuinely follow him.
5. Pride doesn’t win people to Jesus.
Nobody likes someone who’s arrogant and prideful. And no one wants to be like them or follow the people they follow.
Pridefulness is the opposite of who Jesus is. So when a follower of Jesus, who bears his name, is arrogant, they misrepresent Jesus. Theologically prideful people give Jesus a bad name.
And when people don’t get a look at the real Jesus, they aren’t going to be compelled to follow him. Only when someone sees the true heart of Jesus will they know that he is the Savior who deserves our devotion.
Instead of flaunting your knowledge, seek to display the heart of Jesus. A heart of love, compassion, and humility.
“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (James 4:6)
When you’re humble, Jesus honors you by working through your life for the good of others.
6. God is glorified in your weakness.
At the end of the day, what theological snobs want is to appear smart. Powerful. Knowledgeable. Mature. But God is glorified most when we’re at our weakest.
That’s what the apostle Paul says.
“But [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
God may be glorified when we’re willing to admit that we don’t know everything. You can still be wise and a faithful follower of Jesus and still not have all the answers.
Be captivated by the God whose nature and plan we can only scratch the surface of understanding. And at the same time, be filled with wonder that he has revealed everything we need to have life and have it abundantly.
Jesus is honored when we admit that we are weak in our understanding. We can continue to wrestle, debate, study, and evolve in our understanding on the finer points of theology. It’s okay. It just means that we are continuing to learn, to grow, and to submit our hearts to Jesus to have him make us who he wants us to be.
And that’s where our true power lies. This is where our true identity lies. And you don’t need a fancy degree, to have read old dusty books, or have all the answers in order to experience it.