I read an article by Benjamin Warfield on the life of the theological student. In his short article he reflects upon the relation between the “intellectual” life and the “spiritual” life of the believer. Warfield speaks of the necessity to foster your spiritual life along side your intellectual studies.
Helmut Thielicke states that, “A person who pursues theology, but does not read God’s word is spiritually sick.” Theology can be a sacred theology or a diabolical theology. Whether theology becomes the latter or former depends on the hands and hearts of those who pursue it. Theology deals primarily with life. It is not a dusty collection of abstract ideas, but a language. It is a language spoken in the second person. Intellect and knowledge are transformed into the language of the heart through an intimate relationship with God. It is a dialogue with God, not about God.
I find myself being fascinated with abstract ideas and complex issues within theology. They excite me, energizing my pursuit of God. However, I now understand that knowledge is not faith. There is, as Thielicke puts it, “a hiatus between actual spiritual growth and what one knows.” Many of the truths I have learned are inherited from another man’s primary experiences. They are my reflections upon another believer’s faith, thus secondary. We should not confuse secondary truth, that which is not primary experience, with genuine faith. We adopt the intellectual/spiritual reflections of other believers and create the illusion as if we understand in a primary way. It is only a conceptual experience. Instead, genuine faith is habit. It is only when we habitually practice what is learned do we grow into spiritual maturity. Thielicke warns us not to assume we believe whatever impresses us theologically or enlightens us intellectually. Here lies the subtle danger of believing in a theologian or one of your teachers instead of Jesus Christ. Every theological idea which makes an impression on you must be regarded as a challenge to your faith. Secondary truth becomes primary only when the intellect is absorbed by the human heart.
Before being learned, a minister must be godly. Studying theology is not just a religious duty, but, as Warfield puts it, “an active pursuit to make God known, to bring the student in the presence of God and keep him there.” There is something wrong with both the spiritual student who does not study and the student who studies with a secular spirit, depriving God of the worship he deserves. We must war against the secular spirit in fear of becoming cold and callous to the divine. Familiarity mutes the voice of God and hardens the heart to feeling. The gospel becomes a mere series of historical facts and a source of philosophical curiosity. A student of theology, along with every believer, needs to habitually combine prayer with work. All too many believers work and study without praying. They have traded work or knowledge for knowing Christ. Doing things for God is not the same as being with him. Work and study dissociated from prayer does not bring us closer to God, instead, it divorces us from intimate fellowship with our Savior. God desires for us to be constantly abiding with him. Men often pray with selfish motives and render prayer useless. We should not view prayer as a means of gaining the blessings of God without the relationship. True prayer is perfect community and union with God. It is our connection to the source. Prayer is the vaccine that makes us immune to “diabolical” theology, a heart that is cold, void of feeling and imprisoned by the language of the third person.