If you’ve ever prayed or said anything about God, you are a theologian. Writing books and having PhDs has nothing to do with it. Rather, engaging with God has everything to do with it.
Having professionals do something that’s actually common can have two very opposite results. They can inspire us to do something more and teach us to do it better (and, yes, we all have room for improvement). Or they can intimidate us into inaction, leaving us to simply watch them do it.
This is true of professional athletes. What’s more common than soccer or basketball? Kicking a ball and shooting hoops is about as basic as it can get. And just because some people get paid extraordinary amounts of money to do it because of their extraordinary abilities to do it better than the rest of us, it doesn’t mean that I’m not a soccer or basketball player myself. Instead of being cowed into merely watching them do it, lamenting my own lack of skill, I ought to be inspired and elevated by watching them do it so well.
The same is true of theology.
Every time I pray, I am engaged in theology. Every time I mention God, I am engaged in theology. In fact, every time I speak about the created world, about what it means to be human, about death and what comes after it, about righting what’s wrong in the world, about meaning and purpose, about beauty, creativity, truth, hope, and love — when I talk about any of these things, I am wading into theological waters and am therefore a theologian.
The question is: Will I do it well?
Again, the purpose of professionals is not to do it for us. Just like sitting in front of a TV watching Leonel Messi play soccer can actually have a negative effect on me if makes me think, “I’m no soccer player; I’m no Messi,” so, too, knowing that others have done and continue to do theology as their life’s work has a negative effect if it makes me think, “I’m no theologian; I’m no Karl Barth.”
The whole reason this blog exists at all is to show you that you are a theologian by doing theology in ordinary language. If I can do it, certainly you can do it, too!
God is accessible. The Scriptures are accessible. Our souls are accessible.
Prayer is our most basic theological language, because it’s not just words about God, but words to God. The simplicity and ease to praying — it really isn’t hard, you just have to open your mouth and talk — opens up theology to every human being. But the poverty of our praying — frequency and range of conversation — points to our need for outside help.
This is why I suggest reading at least some from the Psalms each day. These ancient prayers keep us simple while expanding the range of our praying, nudging us out of the prayer ruts we often find ourselves in.
The rest of the Scriptures (and especially the Gospels) are always a good place to turn as amateur theologians. Always. But I also love ancient expressions of biblical faith like the Heidelberg Catechism. I am always moved by its first words:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
Great but simple theological words that reorient me when I start seeking comfort elsewhere.
You are a theologian. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Get in the game! And when you find that your game needs a little help here and there, go to the pros. But don’t let them ever make you feel like you’re not one of them. This is your birthright and responsibility as a child of God. Do it and do it as well as you can.