How can a young student of theology avoid falling into “dead orthodoxy”?

Derek Thomas & 3 others
2 Min Read

THOMAS: All students of theology should join a church and participate in church life. They should attend church on Sundays, be in a Sunday school class, and have prayer times with folk who are more senior than they are. They need to maintain a devotional life, that is, the regular habits of reading the Scriptures and prayer. For me, as a theological student, that was a lifesaver because you can slip so easily into a rote study habit. When that happens, you lose touch with reality, with what studying is all about, namely walking day by day with Jesus. So, being involved in a local church is absolutely vital.

NICHOLS: There is a sermon that B.B. Warfield preached at Miller Chapel in Princeton seminary called “The Religious Life of Theological Students.” I would definitely recommend that you track that down and read it. He talks about the importance of church, as well as the importance of recognizing your calling as a student and glorifying God in your work as a student. Sometimes, we think of studies as a means to an end, and we don’t realize that God’s working on us now and that He wants us to serve and worship Him now.

If you’re studying for a full-time ministry position, you’re not going to push a button and all of a sudden have everything you do be for God’s honor and glory once you start in ministry. That needs to be part of your habits now; something that you’re cultivating even as a student. So, I would recommend Warfield’s great piece of historical advice. Just recognize that it’s a calling to study theology as a student and that it can be done for God’s honor and glory as an act of worship and acceptable service to Him.

FERGUSON: I think it’s very important that we learn to do even our most scholastic studies doxologically, conscious that we are doing this in His presence, before His face and for His glory. I would add that you should make sure you are getting your theology from the Bible. Theological students tend to get their theology from systematic theology textbooks. While all of us here subscribe to the view that systematic theology is really important, there is a different product in the life of the person who has learned all of his theology from a textbook versus the person whose theology is grounded in Scripture.

Those of us who are of a certain age, when we were students, lived on a very impoverished diet of evangelical literature. Today, there are libraries full of it, but not all of that literature creates the architecture of how to think as an intelligent Christian; it doesn’t all have in view the nourishment of one’s life. It is important for all students, no matter how difficult, to create a parallel program of preparation where they’re reading able theologians who also wrote theology in a doxological context. That will make a difference for their future.

PARSONS: It’s important to understand that, fundamentally, there is no such thing as “dead orthodoxy.” We must recognize that all orthodoxy is alive because it is the true doctrine of Scripture. It transforms us as the Spirit uses it and as God’s truth goes forth.

It is important to recognize that there are many books being published right now by men and women who do not know the Lord, even though they write under the name of Christianity and are published through Christian publishers. Postgraduate students usually must interact with authors and scholars they don’t agree with. For undergraduate and graduate students, it is very important that they spend the majority of their time reading Christian authors and theologians who know the Lord and are pointing them to Jesus Christ.

This is a transcript of Derek Thomas’, Stephen Nichols’, Sinclair Ferguson’s, and Burk Parsons’ answers from our Made in the Image of God event and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.