READING ACROSS THE THEOLOGICAL SPECTRUM
By: Rob Martinez / 7.12.21
To discipline yourself to read something that you likely know you will disagree with is not a virtue in itself. Some would say it is like getting teeth pulled, and everyone knows there is nothing morally good about that! Reading broadly has a different goal – learning and growth. To read something just for the sake of proving how much you disagree with the source or just how much you consider their opinion invalid is far from virtuous or fair to the author, for that matter.
It makes sense that we read for the purpose of learning and even potentially grow our understanding of a subject. Good growing readers can set aside their own presuppositions and listen. In fact, excellent readers love to listen; it is why they read!
I am not saying that total objectivity is the goal when reading something you know that you might disagree with. No one should ever leave their brain at the door! No, in fact, the brain is invited in, provided a warm chair to sit in, with plenty of lighting, along with some good highlighters and a Zebra pencil, of course.
What are some things to consider when making the jump in learning to read more broadly on the theological spectrum? Here are just a few thoughts to consider:
1. GROW TO READ WHAT OTHERS ARE NOT.
Books are flying off the presses today like never before! Many are darting to read what is hot off the press! And yet, we are hardly ever touching what has been tested through time, and even more pressing – yet to be discovered! Please do not get me wrong; I am not saying that older books are better by any means. It is awesome when a more recent scholarship can better equip a growing theologian in their area of theological study! Although not in the context of book reading, I think of Apollos and how Priscilla and Aquila “explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:26, NKJV)
The point being, newer books can also carve on our hearts a better understanding of theological subjects we are struggling with, and I believe quite often! But older reads are just as helpful and, in some cases, even better. I challenge you to search and look for an older book, perhaps from an author no one has ever heard of, and start reading what others are not. What are some older theological books you have found?
2. LEARN TO LISTEN & LEARN FROM A VARIETY OF PERSPECTIVES.
It was an absolute victorious day when I moved away from only reading books from 1-2 publishing companies. I am fully aware that various publishers often bring a unique theological bent in their content, while other publishers like B&H Academic provides a wide-open field of theologians and contributing authors. This is a beautiful and extremely beneficial reality to those who study theology.
Let me ask you this… Are you okay with reading authors from a Presbyterian bent? How about a Wesleyan? How about a Southern Baptist? I am not advocating joining any of these denominational traditions, but it is not harmful to just listen and learn. Typically those who do not make it a practice to listen and learn from various perspectives than their own happen to be parrots and not theologians. Anyone can be spoon-fed.
3. READ WIDE WITH DISCERNMENT.
When we take on the task of reading broadly in the library of theology, we are undoubtedly opening ourselves up to a spectrum that seems to have no beginning or end on opinion. Even more so, there are no doubt conclusions that people can draw that could potentially damage one’s faith.
For instance, Progressive Christianity is a bankrupt theological system that teaches a sort of moralistic Christianity, not to mention the denial of the deity of Jesus Christ completely. There must be a keen level of discernment when reading broadly in the world of theology.
I am not saying that one should never read from sources that hold to these kinds of teaching, but no doubt, discernment must be king when reading across the spectrum of theology. Thank God for the indwelling Holy Spirit and His word that enables us to discern between good and bad theology.
4. READ TO KNOW “WHY” YOU DISAGREE WITH SOMEONE’S THEOLOGY.
Back to sound and Orthodox theology. No doubt you have disagreed with someone else’s theology at some point in your life. I recently wrote an article for the Idea Network that touches on how to disagree with someone. I will not stay on this point long, but I find that people often read with a narrow-mindedness in fear of facing why they disagree with someone in the first place.
Truthfully, to not know why you disagree with someone while attempting to speak into theology is not an actual disagreement, but it is rather a measure of laziness and even dishonesty. In other words, if you are not willing to study and learn why you disagree with someone’s theology, you are lazy and have no right to speak into the theological conversation. Stay silent. The last thing we need is another echo chamber. Moving on.
5. THEOLOGY IS ACTUALLY OUR FRIEND.
Yes. All theology is our friend. Theology is simply the study of God (Theos – God, Logos – Word or study). Now that is a pretty simple way of defining it, and when it comes to the spectrum of theology, it gets quite a bit hairier, as you can imagine! Nonetheless, Christianity’s theologians are broad in convictions, and their written contributions are not slim by any measure.
While we may disagree with one’s work on eschatology, bibliology, or the big one – soteriology, this does not necessarily make theology our enemy overall.
All efforts of systematizing theology are mere human attempts at understanding what the Scriptures teach. Theology is our friend because it helps us better understand God and His sovereign working among broken humanity. A willingness to read broadly in differing theological works is a willingness to see and study God from someone else’s perspective. At the end of the day, studying about God is a win and not a crime.
6. ALL THEOLOGIANS ARE STUDENTS OF THE BIBLE FIRST.
Learning to read broadly is no doubt a good thing to do. Otherwise, I would not be writing this article on why we should read broadly as growing theologians. But all theology first begins with the Bible. In fact, if only you ever read the Scriptures, you would do just fine! The reality is that when one reads what God has shown them in His word, they tend to write about it! Nevertheless, all theologians are first students of the Bible.
It never ceases to amaze me to run into young, bright, aspiring, and know it all theologians who can share the latest book from their favorite theologians, and yet they are dry in scripture! How sad.
If you are not first a student of the Scriptures, you might want to pick a different vocation. Perhaps the greatest ill in the rapid growth of “know it all” young theologians is that they are professionals at aligning with mere men, all the while rushing toward malpractice in the word of God. Get back to The book, young man.
7. BROAD READERS KNOW HOW TO WORK WITH DIFFERENCES.
News flash! Reading from John Calvin will not necessarily make you a Calvinist. The same goes that reading from a non-Calvinist like Dr. David Allen will not necessarily make you a proponent of universal atonement (not to be mistaken with universalism). If you disagree with those two statements, you have officially proven the point! You can read something you disagree with and not align with it entirely.
Learning to read widely in the arena of Theology is, in one sense, a microscope as we focus and try and learn as much as we can about God alone. But it is also in another sense a kaleidoscope as we realize that many people have contributed to the overall discussion of theology. In this light, trying to read from and even work with those who have differences with you in theology can move from being a burden to a blessing. In fact, I am finding more and more that it is easier to work with someone with who I can’t entirely agree when I have already read of their theological system elsewhere.
To be honest, it is fun when you know someone’s position better than they do. Stay humble, of course.
8. READING BROADLY IN THEOLOGY WILL FORTIFY YOUR OWN POSITION.
Finally, I am seeing that when I read widely in the arena of theology, I often better grasp my own position or can get a better grip of a certain doctrine when hearing it from a differing source than what I am familiar with. Again, like the kaleidoscope, differing views provide a variety of beautiful angles and movements that help me appreciate the overall contribution of others with who I may differ across the spectrum of theology.
In the end, reading from men like David L. Allen, John Piper, John MacArthur, John Stott, Daniel Akin, Tim Keller, John Calvin, Robert Shank, William Klein, Mark Dever, Leighton Flowers, Mark Ward, Voddie Baucham Jr., Paul David Tripp, Roger Olsen, R.C. Sproul, John Owen, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, Sinclair B. Ferguson, Craig Blaising, Gary Habermas, D.A. Carson, William Barclay, A.W. Tozer, Benjamin Merkle, N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, Thomas Schreiner, Lewis Sperry Chafer, and many more have only helped strengthen my theology in various ways.
I have disagreed with many of those listed, if not all these men in one way or another. But I would be wrong to state they haven’t helped somehow as I commit to the discipline of reading more broadly. Have any of these men helped you?