What place should professional theologians have in the process of engaging the scriptures? Let me just attempt an answer to this question by reflecting on my own approach and view on “using the theologians.” First of all it should be recognized that many Christians (esp. from my own background — ‘Fundamentalist-Evangelicals’) believe that scripture is the only place where we should go for actually engaging the scriptures; and to be honest, I agree with this sentiment. But what is often meant by the well-meaning folks who hold to such a view, is that ‘professional-theologians’ should not be appealed to at all (unless of course they have been sanctioned by the ‘truth-detectors’ within the ranks of “Evangelicalism”). There is the belief that ‘professional-theologians’ are a bunch of egg-headed talking heads, who sit around in ivory towers smoking cigars and drinking micro-brews pontificating to themselves; and sometimes to other ‘egg-heads’ if they can get them to listen long enough. And you know what, there are ‘tribes’ of theologians like this out there; but you know what else? There are plenty of them out there who are not like this, there are theologians who actually care, and desire to serve the body of Christ by communicating Him to the church.
So my approach to the theologians is first of all to discern if I have come across one who actually desires to ‘serve’ the body of Christ. Beyond that I’ll read the writings of this theologian (and listen to his teaching if available) to see if he is in line with the clear teachings of scripture. If all this is up to snuff, I’ll begin the process of ‘submitting’ myself to his teaching, insofar as he accurately articulates the teaching of scripture. But just so you know, I never really ‘beholden’ myself to any theologian; what I mean is, is that I never will blindly follow a theologian just because I find him helpful in general.
Often, the result of reading particular theologians, is that I will be intrigued by their creativity, and made interested by their theo-logic; but at points, this is where I remain — I find their “stuff” interesting, but not necessarily ‘Gospel-truth’ (even if they’re talking about the ‘Gospel’). I guess what I am trying to get at, is that (as a good Protestant) I believe scripture is IT! That scripture is my ultimate standard for testing whether this theologian or that theologian is a ‘good’ theologian or a ‘bad’ theologian. So while I am for the work that theologians do (which is to flesh out the implications of the Gospel), I also remain ‘critical’ (as possible) in my engagement of them. There is a standard that theologians must meet, and that is the clear teaching’s of scripture.
So if I ever mention or endorse particular theologians in my posts, just know my “endorsements” are qualified by what I have been talking about here. I do have favorite theologians (like T. F. Torrance), but I don’t even see his stuff as my standard (and I know he wouldn’t want me to); it is scripture’s declarations about Christ alone that fulfill that role. I see the theologian’s task provisional to trying to unfold the once for all delivered message of the ‘faith’.