I am not a Theologian or a Scholar. I do not have qualifications or training in Theology or Biblical Scholarship. My qualification, aside from the GCSE’s and A-Levels I left school with at 18, is in Digital Forensics, and I have just over 10 years experience of working in various fields of the IT industry. I mention this because despite no formal training , I have to have an understanding of Theology and Biblical Scholarship to even begin discussions about Christianity and the Bible, and to even be a Christian. Subjects like atonement, justification and the Trinity are incredibly complex, yet seem to form a core basis for the Christian faith (aside from the resurrection, obviously). This is why organizations like RZIM and Premier Christian Radio host training days to help people to understand these subjects. But even for organisations such as this, communicating these topics are no easy feat. A cursory glance through different books and articles quickly shows the breadth of opinions on any given subject, so how do we decide who to listen to? If the experts are divided, what chance has the layman got?
Often on social media sites, there will be a post from someone asking about peoples top 3 books/authors they’d recommend. The logic seems to be that if the recommendation comes from someone they trust, they’d be more willing to read it. Plus, time constraints means that they can’t read absolutely everything. Makes sense. Depending on the subject that they’re interested in, my response would vary, but most of the time, my recommendations are as below:
- Healing the Gospel by Derek Flood
- Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton
- Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns
Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I refer to Derek Flood a lot. I can say that his book helped to save my faith. In the early days of my faith, I was influenced by people like Ravi Zacharias and Michael Ramsden, but their interpretation of the cross, (that it was about the pouring out of Gods wrath onto Jesus) really didn’t seem to settle with me; it didn’t sound like the God I knew. I was wrestling with it a lot as well as issues regarding Genesis (Lost World of Genesis One helped me with this), and the whole inerrancy issue (which Inspiration and Incarnation helped me with). But it wasn’t until I read Flood’s book that I began to understand that the cross was about restoration, not wrath. Until that point, what I was coming to understand about heaven (courtesy of NT Wright’s work), were just words that sounded great, but I had no idea what they meant or how to apply them. Flood’s book acted like a pen joining up the dots, not just about the cross, but about virtually everything that I couldn’t reconcile. It blew away my fears, and I felt a freedom and a peace that I hadn’t had since that night at my friends house. Now, any time that Flood posts anything on his website or anything about the organizations that he writes for, I’m there reading and sharing it. I have on one occasion sent him an article just so I could get his views on it…and he has very graciously responded.
When you’re in the middle of working through something, and you have all these voices telling you conflicting things, having people you trust who you can go to can really help you to find a path, but in the end, you have to work it out for yourself. When relying solely on other peoples opinions, you run the risk of simply being blown about in the direction of whatever author you happen to be listening to at the time. Also, your understanding isn’t really your own – it’s your understanding of somebody else’s understanding. Your faith is effectively somebody else’s. It is a fine line, but there is a difference between being influenced by someone and saying “this is true because they say so”. It isn’t wrong to listen to others, it’s how we learn, and it certainly gives you a great starting point. It may even result in a massive breakthrough like Flood’s book did for me.
I don’t have it all worked out, but that’s OK. We’re not all fortunate enough to be able to go to university or seminary to study theology full time, and even a qualification doesn’t guarantee that it will all make sense to you. But in turn, that doesn’t mean that you can’t help others by sharing what you know and who’s influencing you.
If you, like me, are interested in exploring theology but aren’t sure where to start, my advice would be to read a wide range of authors, not just from this century, but previous too. Some of the greatest theological writers were born years before social media, and still managed to get their voices heard. Do your research; look up current theologians on the net, go google crazy! Read blog posts for and against the subjects you’re interested in, because the more rounded your research is, the better your understanding will become. And if you’re feeling particularly geeky (no offence meant, I am a budding geek myself, just ask my fiancée), go further and see which sources and people your favourite theologians favour, and research them. The more you discover, with each piece of information you gather, your foundation for decision making will become firmer and firmer. And don’t put pressure on yourself or compare yourself to others who are passionate about the same field – go at your pace! Like Sarah is often telling me, slow down to enjoy the journey, you’ll reach your destination whether you walk at 10 or 100 miles an hour. But if you rush, you may miss important things that could trip you up later down the line. But with all of this knowledge should also come open-mindedness; I have come across too many Christians who refuse to have their minds changed, and that creates an instant wall. How are you supposed to grow in your faith if you can’t ask questions and see things from other people’s point of view? If you’re prepared to be challenged and to accept new points of view, the world is your theological oyster.