Volume 13 - Issue 1
A model for theological students?By David Wenham
In many circles theology has a bad name: theologians and their ideas are seen as at best irrelevant, and at worst a dangerous and spiritually corrupting influence. Unfortunately theologians have often deserved this reputation, and it is up to those of us who are now theological students to take care that we are faithful ministers of God’s truth, who further the work of God and build up the church of Christ.
How can we ensure that we do this? We could do much worse than look to Luke, the author of his gospel and also of Acts, to help us set our priorities.
Our first and central priority must be Jesus the Saviour. It is easy for those studying theology to get so tied up in theological theories and ideas that they lose sight of Jesus. Luke was excited and enthusiastic about Jesus: his gospel starts with joy at Jesus’ birth and ends with joy at his ascension. Among the things that excited Luke about Jesus were, on the one hand, his care for the poor, the needy and the lost, and on the other hand, the well-attested fact of his resurrection from the dead (cf. Acts 1:3). This caring, historical, risen Jesus is still exciting today, and we need to keep him central in our thinking and theology.
Luke does not see Jesus as a solitary historical figure, but as the centre point of God’s purpose and plan for the world. So he emphasizes Jesus as the fulfilment of the OT Scriptures (e.g. Lk. 4:21; 24:25, 44), and as continuing his saving work through the Holy Spirit in the church. Both emphases are important for us in an age that tends to doubt the Bible and ridicule the church. Luke reminds us of Jesus’ own love and use of the Bible: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us when he … opened to us the Scriptures?’ (24:32). And although Luke is well aware of imperfections and problems in the church, he believes in the practical power of the Holy Spirit leading the first Christians to a common life of sharing, of prayer, of overcoming social and racial barriers, of bold and effective mission to the world.
Of course, if we are to be effective theologians it is not just Luke’s ideas that we need, but his own practical commitment to those ideas. If the author of Luke/Acts was the companion of Paul, as is probable, then he was involved practically in the mission of the church himself, no doubt at real personal cost. And his writing of Luke/Acts, which must have involved a lot of research and hard work, was itself an act of service: he wanted Theophilus to ‘know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed’ (1:4). If anyone wants evidence of the value of historical and theological work and thought, Luke has given it to us in his writings.
Faithful and effective theologians like Luke are not a thing only of the distant past. In this generation Colin Hemer, whose unexpected death this year deprived Themelios of one of our most valuable reviewers and authors, was such. Like Luke the physician he moved into theological study and writing from another profession, in his case from school-teaching. He took up NT research at Manchester University when he was well into his thirties—an encouragement to some Themelios readers?—and proceeded to produce an important and original thesis on the seven churches of Revelation, published recently under the title The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their local setting (Sheffield: JSOT, 1986). In this, as in the other work he went on to do, he applied his thorough knowledge of Greek and Roman history and archaeology to the NT, being convinced that Scripture is best understood, and defended from attack, by patient, honest historical work. When he died, he was well advanced with a work on the historicity of Acts, which will hopefully see publication in due course and which may well be a definitive work, significantly furthering our appreciation both of Acts and of the NT as a whole.
Colin was committed not just, or even primarily, to the academic study of the NT, but above all to the good news and service of Jesus Christ. This commitment was expressed not only in his work and in his gentle and humble manner, but also in his involvement with people, especially with overseas students visiting Britain, many of whom he befriended and helped.
Colin had a lot in common with Luke: his concern for the outsider, his self-effacing manner—Luke indicates his own presence in the Acts story through the ‘we’ passages, but talks about Paul, not himself!—his expert interest in things historical, especially in the history of Jesus and the church, his involvement in mission, his belief in the gospel and his confident hope in the resurrection. Luke and Colin show that theology and theological study can be profitable. Our prayer must be that ours will be also.
With its May–June issue the American TSF Bulletin ceased publication after ten vigorous and useful years. Professor Vernon C. Grounds, the editor of the Bulletin and President Emeritus of Denver Seminary, has agreed to become an International Editor of Themelios. We welcome him warmly, and also subscribers to the TSF Bulletin who are now receiving Themelios. We hope that to some extent at least the good work done by the Bulletin will be carried on by Themelios.