Confessions of a Woman Who Didn’t Like Theology

A couple of years ago, we were sitting in our living room as I confessed to another young Reformed couple, “I don’t like theology.” We all observed a moment of embarrassed silence in honor of my ignorance.

I recently reflected on that moment as I sat in an enthusiastically Reformed conference. When I say “enthusiastically Reformed,” I mean the sort of zeal you find in that first-semester seminary student who’s just discovered the doctrines of grace and can’t seem to speak of much else. He manages to foist TULIP into an impressive array of situations, from a discussion of biblical texts to a tour of the art museum.

While I’ve grown immensely in my understanding of the importance of biblical truth, the stubborn fact remains: love for theology and doctrine doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s an acquired taste.

But why should you care? Perhaps I lost you at “I don’t like theology.” Nevertheless, I’m convinced you should care, and here’s why: I represent members of your church. Maybe a large segment, maybe a smaller one, but I guarantee they’re out there. With this reality in mind, l’d like to offer three insights from an unnatural theology lover.

1. Even when learning doesn’t come naturally, we can love theology and doctrine if it’s served consistently with a big helping of gentleness and grace.  

Be careful not to characterize us as illiterate, uneducated doofuses who haven’t read the Bible. I get where that perception comes from, I do. But it’s not true of all of us, and theology-loving believers should be careful and gentle in their approach. By all means teach, rebuke, and correct us. But please do so gently and graciously. Consider the example of Priscilla and Aquila when they found Apollos full of zeal but lacking in knowledge (Acts 18:18-28; cf. Rom. 10:2; Prov. 19:2). The text tells us the couple took him into their home and unfolded in greater fullness the gospel of Christ (Acts 18:26). Gently and graciously, Priscilla and Aquilla led Apollos to a knowledge of the truth.

2. Sometimes you will need to connect the dots for us.

We need your help. But be willing to help us in humility, without getting exasperated. I’m a creative, non-linear thinker who often absorbs theology more effectively when I trace the application back to the doctrine. I understand why you scorn sermons full of application but lacking meat. But you also need to understand that my way of processing isn’t necessarily inferior; it’s just different. Connect the dots, take me to the truth, and watch the fruit unfold.

3. Don’t give up on us.

For all the creative, feeling-oriented folks in your church, pray and don’t give up. One day, the theology you treasure will strike us in the heart like Cupid’s arrow—and we’ll be hooked. Probably when life trips us up and we need help connecting those dots. And we’ll get it. Finally, we’ll get it. God will accomplish this in us—and perhaps even faster as you use gentleness, understanding, and grace to minister to us. Or, as the apostle put it, as you labor with “great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2; cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-25).

Then, friends, watch out! No eye has seen and no ear has heard the ways we’ll advance the kingdom with our newfound grasp of—and love for—deep truth.

  • JohnM

    From one who does appreciates theology, point well made. Indeed sister, you’re clearly no illiterate, uneducated doofus who hasn’t read the Bible. :) And at the same time you have the honesty and modesty to add “I get where that perception comes from, I do.”

    It’s so easy to baptize our own temperment, our own bent of mind. I find it interesting and worthwhile to compare and contrast different ways of absorbing and processing information, including doctrine. I wonder if much in the way of study has been done on this in relation to say denominational or worship style preferences.

    • Ashley Haupt

      That’s a good point. I know creatives like me do tend to be drawn to different sermon styles and possibly more charismatic denominations. I love stories, but my foundation is God’s Word. I don’t want fluff with no meat. My husband likes very linear outlines, and he preaches that way because he learns that way. I think if we learn from each other, we find the best middle ground. He helps me be more organized and grounded in my writing, and I help him find stories and examples (when he lets me)to illustrate his points.

      • AStev

        I’m a “creative” who also happens to love love love theology and “traditional” churches (vis a vis charismatic churches) – go figure!

        When extending patience and welcome to us artists, keep in mind that even there, not all of us fit the stereotypes!

        My pastor has made the point several times recently that when we sing a song during worship that we don’t particularly care for, we can still sing it with joy, letting it remind us that the church is larger than our personal preferences. The principal applies all over the place, of course.

        “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?”
        – 1 Cor. 12:17

      • Amelia

        I too, am a creative who loves theology! And traditional-ish churches. I go to a Sojourn Network church, which, though modern, has a fairly structured (traditional?) church service.

        I am a photographer, a writer, and an artist who really fails in a lot of logical things like math. BUT I love to read and I love to learn, so I think this is probably why I like theology. It challenges me in a way that art can’t.

        PLUS good theology plays itself out into really, really good art. Think of any good hymns you know. They are probably written by someone who really enjoyed theology, and that joy overflowed into a song.

        • Ashley Haupt

          Love this. :)

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  • Cathy

    Thank you for this! Very helpful!

  • Don Sartain

    Thanks for sharing, Ashley. It’s definitely a challenge for me to act graciously toward those who don’t love Theology. Thanks for the much needed reminder!

  • Ashley Haupt

    Don, I get that. My husband is a theology FANATIC, and we have come so far in understanding each other. Studying theology on my own and together has brought us immeasurable closer as a couple. Thanks for your comment!

  • Keebi

    All righty, coming from someone who doesn’t care for theology, I was speaking to a friend of mine a few hours ago and he was trying to convince me of the importance of theology. My view was, like denominations, theology was simply another way for Christians to form their own understandings about God and further separate us as a body. I figured everything was in the Bible sooo…READ IT and LIVE BY IT; It doesn’t get more clear than that. However it DOES get fuzzy; parts of the word AREN’T clear..aren’t always point blank period and I guess THAT’S where theology comes in handy…IDK I’m still battling it out with it..Love the Lord and live to please it really THAT complicated?

    • JohnM

      “I figured everything was in the Bible sooo…READ IT and LIVE BY IT”
      “Love the Lord and live to please him”

      Good theological points! :) But could flesh out the summary a bit, you know, provide some background as to where you got the idea, what it means, why you believe it and I should too, how it looks in practice or applies to a given circumstance, etc.?

      The truth is, it’s really it’s not all self evident and none of us reached our doctrinal conclusions all on our own.

      • Keebi

        Okay…for example, while trying to convince me as to why we need theology he asked “How are people saved?”. I said, “by recognizing Christ as our Lord and Savior and choosing to live accordingly.” He focused on the word “CHOOSE” and said, “so following Christ is a choice?” (trick question) I said yeah..I mean, when someone preaches the gospel you either accept or reject DUUUHHH lol but as a reformed Christian, his theology says that we don’t really have a CHOICE but are PREDISTINED to be a follower as per God; Christians are CHOSEN. I’m like OKAAAY, so if we’re CHOSEN that means when we hear the gospel we’ll have no choice but to accept it as truth and begin to’s inevitable. He agreed. SO WHAT I SAID DIDN’T GO AGAINST THAT–EVEN if I said “choose” instead of “Predistined” when we boil down the theology talk, we’ve reached the same conclusion; if it’s meant for one to follow Christ…one WILL follow Christ. NO if ands or buts. He believed in that after a bunch of classes and studying and discusson..I believed that once I read the most popular scripture JOHN 3:16; for God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son that WHOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM shall not perish but have everlasting life. Maybe I don’t sound as “intelligent” but I don’t think I’m on the wrong path or anything…so…again…why the need for theology? :)

        • JohnM

          But the thing is you’re kinda sorta doing theology here whether you realize it or not.

          Of course some Christians would profoundly disagree that we’re chosen such that “when we hear the gospel we’ll have no choice but to accept it as truth and begin to’s inevitable”. They would also disagree that being predestined to choose is really the same as actually choosing. I can assure you they are as familiar with scripture as you and your friend and they are not dummies. Are they on some wrong path?

      • Keebi

        besides..isn’t there a scripture where Christ is like, be as a child is or else you wont enter the kingdom of heaven? It’s in Matthew right? I’m sorry, I kinda suck at quoting scripture down to the numbers but ANYWAY..CHILDREN don’t care to understand WHY someone or something is so GOOD to them..they just bask in the fact that they are. I don’t want to be a “flower-power Christian” where everything is rainbows and unicorns and blissfully ignorant BUT I get nervous when my theological friends get technical and political and…serious; I don’t want to be so caught up in trying to find all the truths in all the world before that rapture that my faith becomes nothing but a connectionless, distant, study.

        • JohnM

          Theology again, even if you didn’t mean to. :)

          The question is whether or not our theology is clear, coherent, and consistent with scripture. The alternative is belief (and consequently practice) that is vague, conflicted, and inconsistent with scripture. I’m not necessarily saying your’s is, I’m just pointing out why it is important for someone to do theololgy deliberately.

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  • Ashley Haupt

    Hey Keebi,

    I was there once, too, hence the beginning of my article. Obviously this isn’t necessarily going to happen to everyone, but the cracks in my theology were affecting my spiritual life. The lack of deeper understanding did have consequences for me, especially in understanding and receiving grace. When I finally undertook to study the doctrines of grace myself (by reading Michael Horton’s book, “Putting the Amazing Back in Grace”), I experienced revival in my own heart and life. I do think we can go our entire lives without knowing these deeper truths and keep growing, loving, serving, etc, but I also now know by experience that we can go deeper and wider into His Word, and even have some nagging questions answered.

    However, I do believe Father God will occasionally remind me to come like a child, as you mentioned. A season to wrestle theology and a season to trust and obey. But I did come away with a new appreciation for theology and a stronger foundation, which made reading my Bible an exciting new experience, even though I have been a Christian for twenty years now, and studying my Bible for years.

    Thank you for these questions. I totally relate and enjoy sharing my experience.

    • Heather

      Yes! I love all of this.
      My husband and I teach theology even in our premarital counseling because we so strongly believe that a proper theology leads to a proper response to life. When the winds of adversity blow (and they surely will) you want your roots to run deep.
      Thanks, Ashley for your thoughts.

  • Ashley Haupt

    Also, while I do think we are to believe and trust as easily as children, I think Scripture is clear that we are to mature in our depth and breadth of understanding. I would share Hebrews 5:12-6:1, and others like it, that demonstrate we are to have a child-like belief, but an adult understanding.

    “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God…”

  • Keebi

    TRRUUUUUEEEEEEE..I’m not knocking theology so much as wondering how deep must I be in it to have a REAL relationship with God. I’ve been in Christ for 7 years and I believe I can digest “meat” as well as the next holier-than-thou I just don’t want my relationship with God to become like a loveless marriage; to preach the gospel, pray, worship, and love my neighbor because I know it’s REQUIRED of me rather than because I know the love of Jesus and WANT to exude it..I’ve seen it happen and I blame theology. BUT..BUT..I agree it wouldn’t hurt to “grow up” and try to understand as adults do in that sense! THANXX

    • Gabriel

      Keebi, Peter ends his second letter saying, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

      It would seem that the issue is less about being a “lover” of theology or being “deep” in theology and more about “growing” over the course of your life. A person who grew up in church and put their faith in Christ at 25 is going to be at a different level than the 25 yr old who just donned the door of the church and accepted Christ. Both have a REAL relationship with Christ, and both need to grow.

      Getting to know Jesus more is doing theology, whether you learn multi-syllable words or not. I know my wife far better now than I did when we married nearly 10 years ago. Knowing more about her and knowing her more gives me greater love for her. Knowledge is not the enemy of love. Motivation for that knowledge can be, though.

      Another way to put it is theology is a way we love God with our mind. He made us with minds and He gave us His Word, and clearly He intends for us to understand His revelation (with the aid of the Holy Spirit). So learning theology is not about taking master’s level courses and getting degrees, it is about continually growing in our understanding of the God who has revealed Himself to us in Christ and in the Scriptures.

  • Jeff

    Keebi: You state that you don’t want your relationship with God to become “a loveless marriage.” Theology is the study of God. How do you get to know someone without spending time with that person. The more time I spend with my wife, the better our relationship becomes. I begin to know her likes and dislikes, the things she enjoys and doesn’t. This has made our marriage better over time. She is a daughter, sister,wife, mother, grandmother, friend. She loves to read, cook, and play tennis. How can I lover her truly without knowing all these things about her!? It is the same with God. If we focus on any one part of who God is, we miss out on so much. Spending time with Him, in His word, through prayer, and fellowship with other believers, makes our relationship that much better. But not knowing Him through His Word, which is His revelation of Himself, will diminish that relationship. Finding new things about God in His Word makes Him more and more to me. I hope this helps.

  • Ashley Haupt

    Somehow, a disconnect exists between the beauty of theology and our conception of it. For those outside the seminary circle, it gets categorized with a doctor’s medical knowledge: just that stuff the professional needs to know. You can almost feel people turn off their ears in a sermon if something theological in nature is being discussed, rather than a clever story or direct application.

    But I don’t think that means we throw out the stories, which were a favorite tool of Jesus. We have to use the stories to trace back to the theology and help people see how important it is. Draw them deeper into His Word and its implications for them. We want them to develop a palate for that which is nourishing, but we must have gentle grace for the process that requires, like the training of children.

  • Michael Hedrick

    Thanks for this article and for sharing your perspective!

    One of the best things I’ve learned is the tremendous importance of defining our terms. In this case, I think we should define “theology” as in “I don’t like theology.” I have often thought (re: theology, doctrine, preaching, etc.) that we Christians tend to conflate the medium with the content. There are many ways of approaching theological study, and I believe that it is possible to love theology while also struggling to connect with how some people “do” theology. For whatever reason, it seems that many Christians understand “doing theology” to mean sequestering themselves in a library of office and studying systematic treatises. That’s certainly one way to do it (and thank the Lord that he has given some people the ability and passion to do that!). But there are also other ways to do theology.

    For example, as a “creative” who went to film school for undergrad before going to seminary, I naturally connect with a biblical theological approach as opposed to a systematic theological approach. I love exploring the rich depth of the whole of salvation history, and, because of my background, I am more adept at analyzing the nuances of biblical narrative than conducting a systematic analysis of the doctrine of atonement.

    To be clear, I appreciate and value the variety of methodological approaches to doing theology in the church, and I don’t mean to elevate one over another. I’m simply pointing out, as others have, that we are a body with different gifts, talents, and proclivities, and we should be careful not to define “theology” too narrowly (in terms of theory, methodology, etc.) so that some people feel as though they don’t connect with theology in a general sense, when in fact they simply don’t connect with a certain kind of theological methodology.

    • Ashley Haupt

      I totally agree, Michael. I feel an increasing burden to help people overcome the negative associations with the term “theology.” My husband leans more toward systematic theology and while I was initially resistant, I have seen how God has used his understanding to under-gird our church’s Biblical understanding. I would love to see more people in my own town and circle with a clearer understanding of the term theology and less negative reaction to it.

  • AStev

    When you boil it down, “theology” is simply what we think about God. So while for many, it may not be as formal and structured as it is for others, *everyone* who has ever lived practices theology (even people who claim atheism).

  • Cameron E. Brooks

    Fantastic article and discussion. It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Ravi Zacharias:

    “Truth and love. If truth is not undergirded by love, it makes the possessor of that truth obnoxious and the truth repulsive.”

    And another by Randy Alcorn:

    “Remember that the path to your heart travels through your mind. Truth matters.”

    Somewhere over time the Church sort of took ‘sides,’ emphasizing either truth (that is, the pursuit of truth, the study of theology, etc.) or love (loving our neighbour, being ‘on fire’ for God, etc.), as if the two can’t exist together in harmony.

    My faith happened to grow with a passion for both deep thinking and joyful, compassionate love, so I’m always thrilled to hear stories like yours, Ashley. It’s inspiring to hear how God works in our lives when we let His truth and love transform us in ways we couldn’t otherwise imagine.

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