A theology class is one that involves the study of God. Such learning, while having much in common with other courses of study, does also have its unique qualities that must be considered if a person is to succeed and thrive.
Because the subject of God is so far-reaching and often pushes the mind beyond its normal limits, partaking in a theology class requires a different skill set from that of a common course of study. What are the unique features of theological study and what steps can the student take to thrive in such a class?
Theology has been done since human beings first became aware of the existence of God and of his claims upon their lives. The successful student of theology must first accept that truth about God begins in his self-revelation of his character, purposes, and requirements through the Holy Scriptures specifically and creation in general. This added element of specific revelation distinguishes theological study and places more distinct requirements on a student of the subject.
General courses of study begin with knowledge gleaned by those of the past from the physical world which is then passed on, considered, augmented, and modified over time. The student is responsible for understanding what has been done and combining it with his or her own in-depth study of the subject. Truth is that which can be grasped through investigation of the physical world and of its properties and each student interacts with this material to form conclusions. The one who does the best job in such interpretation is generally the most successful.
Theology, uniquely, adds the element of direct revelation from God. This avenue of truth is not open to being directly investigated, but must be grasped as it is revealed by God through Holy Scripture. The successful student will accept this limitation and not attempt to go beyond it to search after conclusions that have no basis in this direct revelation. While the natural, created world can do much to augment direct revelation (Romans 1:19, 20), it can never override it. The human mind’s ability to interpret the created order and through this interpretation to understand the nature of God is necessarily limited. God is infinite and the finite human mind will always fall short of a full and complete understanding of God. Having the humility to accept this inability and understanding that others suffer from the same limitation will enable the theology student to engage in lively debate without falling into the error of believing that he or she has a comprehensive grasp of the subject.
While all areas of study involve differences of opinion, those in theology carry with it the weight of eternal destiny. What a person believes in the area of theology, his or her relationship to truth about God, has consequences both in the current world and in the one beyond. As a result, those involved in the study of theology bring with them an intensity that does not always exist in other subject areas. This requires the student to carefully consider his or her opinions and to attempt to communicate them with as little emotion as possible. Because the subject areas brings with it an edge of emotion that does not usually exist when studying other subjects, more care must be taken in how an opinion is shared.
Whether in writing a paper or in class discussion, opinions should be shared with both confidence and humility. Having a clear opinion is both necessary and proper, but this opinion should not be shared in such a way that it belittles others. Theological study has a tendency to produce bitter rivalries between various camps of belief and so the successful student must be aware of the need to walk a fine line in order to demonstrate a command of material without casting derision upon the opinions of others.
The student of theology is in a unique position with regards to his or her instructor. The theology professor acts to some degree in the role of a pastor or priest in seeking to lead the student into an understanding of truth about God. This relationship can easily be strained and the student must be careful not to antagonize the instructor with poorly formed opinions. All students, but particularly theology students, owe the instructor the respect of listening with full attention and seeking to comprehend properly what the instructor is saying. Often the instructor will bring with him or her a larger grasp of the issues and the student will do well to listen well before offering a counter opinion.
The successful student in any area of study will come prepared to have his or her previous beliefs challenged. This is particularly difficult in a theology class, but the student must have the confidence to be able to listen to differing opinions without losing the confidence in what he or she believes to be true. The study of God is a subject that cannot be exhausted and no individual can ever come to a full and complete understanding in any particular area.
The theology student has the responsibilities of a regular student, but with an even greater set of challenges and opportunities. The study of God is a mixture of interpretations of natural creation and direct revelation. The successful student will be humble and yet confident in what he or she believes. He or she will clearly present opinions in a manner that is not overly emotional and that respects the opinions of the instructor and others in the class.
Ultimately, the successful theology student will reveal a greater grasp of his or her knowledge of God that will prove helpful in future endeavors while at the same time exhibiting a humble, respectful attitude toward those with differing beliefs. In so doing, the successful theology student will both understand God better and more clearly demonstrate his character to others.