What are theologians for?

Kevin Vanhoozer

“Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”  These two lines state a crucial theme running through the last section of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.


[The] Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.


At the beginning of this section, “Beyond Personality,” Lewis makes a case for the critical place of theology in the Church’s task of “making little Christ’s.”


Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you in this last book. They all say “the ordinary reader does not want Theology; give him plain practical religion.” I have rejected their advice. I do not think the ordinary reader is such a fool. Theology means “the science of God,” and I think any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available. You are not children: why should you be treated like children? …


Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of [mystical] thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. …


Contemporary theologian Kevin Vanhoozer makes the same case for the importance of theology.  But he uses different metaphors, and he begins by addressing the theologian’s task as a vital part of the Church’s mission to “make little Christs.”


I think theologians, like farmers, are here to cultivate something—Humanity. To paraphrase our Lord, theologians are called to be and to train farmers of men and women. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Of course, theology is not an agribusiness profession for a special elite class of persons. All Christians are called to work this farm. All people of faith need to grow in understanding. And we need workers in this field because growth is not automatic and we can’t cultivate humanity in the ways that count by using shortcuts like human growth hormone. … And theologians promote well-being by teaching sound doctrine; announcing what is in Christ and unpacking all the implications.


Dr. Vanhoozer spells out what theology or doctrine is in seven summarizing theses:


·         Doctrine tells us who God is and what God is doing in Christ. So, doctors of the church prescribe doctrine in order to preserve the integrity of our Christian witness.

·         Second, doctrine tells us who and what we are in Jesus Christ. And when doctors of the church prescribe doctrine to preserve the integrity of Christian identity. We’re not like the other nations, we’re a holy nation, a people of a new covenant.

·         Third, doctrine says of what is in Christ that it is. Doctors of the church prescribe doctrine in order, as I’ve said, to minister reality—the only reliable tonic to the toxins of meaninglessness and nothingness.

·         Fourth, doctrine restores sinners to their senses. Doctors of the church prescribe doctrine to wake up people who are sleepwalking their way through life, helping us see with the eyes of the heart the bright contours of the splendors of God revealed in Christ.

·         Fifth, doctrine provides a fiduciary framework for understanding God, the world, and ourselves. And doctors of the church prescribe it to dissipate the mist of confusion and apathy about the meaning of life.

·         Sixth, doctrine directs the church in the way of wisdom, godliness, and human flourishing. If we prescribe doctrine, we’re clarifying the mission of the church and we’re answering another question, maybe for another time, what are the people of God for?

·         And seventhly, doctrine instructs not only the head, but orients the heart and guides the hand. Doctors of the church prescribe doctrine so that our faith, hope, and love, our credenda, spiranda, and agenda, will go with the grain of the Gospel and correspond to the historical and eschatological reality of what is in Christ.


So what are theologians for?


To train pastors, yes. But also, in some sense, to be pastors, to unite in one person two natures. The pastor-doctor should be Evangelicalism’s default public theologian. We have to diagnose what ails the body of Christ and then we have to discern how what is in Christ heals that situation. …


The real work of theology is, indeed, farming. Theologians are for growing healthy disciples who know how to live along the grain of the created order as it is being renewed in Christ. Theologians are for ministering health to the body of Christ, for helping its members to become little Christs. This is no waste of time. It is the way to redeem the time by cultivating godliness that is the lived knowledge of God. We might say that the real work of theology is the work of getting real, of conforming our speech, thought, and actions to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ who is the index of reality, the repository of all truth, goodness and beauty. So only appropriate, I think, to close with a prescription cum benediction:


Hold fast to what is in Christ—the grace of our Lord Jesus the Son of God, the Love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit—our vision, hope, strength, and cure. Hold fast to what is in Christ, this day and forevermore. Amen.



Dr. Kevin J. Vanhoozer is Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  He is the author of numerous books, most recently Faith Speaking Understanding:  Performing the Drama of Doctrine.  “What Are Theologians For?” is available in video online here.  A transcript of Dr. Vanhoozer’s talk can be accessed at the same link.



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