"For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord." (Hab. 2:14)

What is “Theological Literacy” and Why is it Important?

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“Theological Literacy” refers to a person’s capacity to formulate and articulate a Christian worldview based upon and derived from the Scriptures and with some awareness of the way the church has formulated such ideas throughout its history.[1] Theological literacy only attains its full potential when biblically-grounded theological truth (i.e. wisdom) is applied for salvation and shalom individually and collectively in Canadian society.

 Some Christians dislike the term “theology.” For them it suggests a humanly-contrived construction of various biblical ideas that promotes a certain agenda. Terms such as Calvinism or Arminianism or Pentecostalism often get associated with theological ‘flavours’. However, every Christian has a “theology” — a way of framing and explaining their Christian understanding no matter how elementary it might be. Understood positively theology presents biblical truth in a coherent manner, arising from a continual reflection upon God’s word  and its application to key life issues. Jesus himself had a theology which formed the foundation for his teaching.

Theological literacy incorporates several key aspects of Christian development. In his final commandment, something we call “The Great Commission,” Jesus orders his followers “as you go, make disciples, baptizing them…teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). Discipleship proceeds upon a theological foundation — a coherent understanding of Jesus’ message and teaching. The earliest writings in the New Testament, Paul’s letters, are deeply theological, indicating how the apostles obeyed Jesus’ commission. They taught believers theology! The more they grasped God’s thoughts, God’s plans, God’s person, God’s Gospel, the stronger their testimony became.

Often Paul responded to questions and issues that new believers were confronting. Sometimes it was the question of whether to eat meat already sacrificed to idols; at other times it was the question of whether the Jewish dietary food laws applied to Christians; in other contexts people were concerned with Christians who died would participate in the resurrection. Paul’s answers are always theological in essence, as he grounds his explanations in the person of God or the nature of human life or God’s intentions for his church or what Jesus will do when he returns a second time.

Throughout its history the Christian church has developed condensed summaries of its primary theological framework in the form of creeds. Perhaps we see precursors of these formulations in some New Testament passages such as Philippians 2:5-11 or 1 Timothy 3:16 or 1 Peter 3:18-22 or Romans 1:1-4.

There is a comprehensiveness to God’s revelation that needs to be grasped. His truth encompasses all aspects of our living now and throughout eternity. His person and character deserve to be known, because this is the foundation of our worship. It is this revelation that enables us to understand the presence of evil, the reason for death, the purpose of our lives, and the goal of human history — all of the big questions. Without such a theological framework we are vulnerable to deception and adrift on a sea of relativity and ignorance.

Human society needs to know God’s truth if it is discern the essence of justice, the value of human life, the importance of stewarding creation, the nature of suffering, the diabolical essence of evil, the vision for human wholeness and peace, and the critical importance of agape-love. True biblical theology articulated honestly, courageously, and passionately and expressed in Christian living forms the most powerful witness to the Gospel.

If we lack theological literacy, we are cut off from the very wisdom of God.


[1] This would include some awareness of the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Constantinopolitan Creed. Individuals who claim to be followers of Jesus, but lack biblical and theological literacy usually struggle to achieve mature, Christian understanding and often become vulnerable to error.

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