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Three Traps of Theology Training

Many of us have a heart to learn more about God and look to STUDY as one of the main ways that we can do that. This is a great aim, in my view! Jesus reminds us in Luke 10:27 that the MIND is one of the ways in which we can love the Lord. In fact, study is my favorite way to approach Him, whether it is through philosophy, theology, or the Scripture itself.


Study, though, can present some pitfalls along the way towards our goal of knowing the Lord more. As we study to show ourselves approved, as Paul wrote to Timothy, we can fall into a few traps that can waylay us from seeing Christ on the pages of Scripture as clearly as we ought. Here are three of the main ones that I've discovered over the years.


Trap One: Reading so much ABOUT the Bible we forget to read the bible itself


A few years ago, just after we moved into our current residence, we realized we needed to trim down our belongings to fit into our space. In other words, we needed to tidy up. I don't really love to clean, but I do love to research! This is how I found Marie Kondo and her seminal work The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I flew through this summary and even found her show on TV! I learned the Kondo method of folding T-Shirts, of saying "goodbye" to extra things, and her sparks of joy as she helped people prioritize their things.


But her book isn't "The life-changing magic of learning to tidy up", is it. There is a step in there of action: of tidying itself! I had learned so much about tidying up that I had no longer any time or energy to actually, you know, tidy up.


This is how we treat the Bible, at times! We might read a summary. We might find a newer and better reading plan. We might work on a calendar. We might read a theology primer, or a history, or an analysis. We might do anything it takes to learn more about study, and in the midst, forget to study!


Don't fall into the trap that I did--read the BIBLE itself! Don't just read about the Bible.


Trap Two: Outsourcing our learning to sermons, videos, or podcasts


This is sort of a strange one for me to advocate. After all, I'm a pastor, and a professor, and a sometimes-writer. I create sermons, and videos, and lectures, and podcasts. Why do I do that when all someone needs to do is to do the learning for themselves?


I do it to provide tools or illumination for people to go and to do their study for themselves! I think that the role of a content creator in the realm of biblical study and theology is often that of a concierge or a sommelier. It is our job to know the terrain, to discern what is good, and to report back with a few choices to get started. But we don't go on the tour for you! We don't eat or drink what you've ordered! Only you can do that!


This concept reminds me of a group of people in the Book of Acts who served as a namesake for my high school: the Bereans. These people, recounted in Acts 17, heard what Paul, an expert content creator, was saying. Yet, they sought the Scriptures for themselves and discerned whether or not what he was saying was true. This is what I'm advocating for all of us....utilize the study of the Scriptures as an act of discernment.


Don't fall into the trap of thinking that other people know more than you--study for yourself!


Trap Three: Thinking we already know what the Bible says and not leaning in with fresh eyes.


This trap manifests itself in two main ways, I think. The first entraps those of us who have spent some time studying the Scripture, growing up in church, or who just fancy themselves knowledgeable! They think (or should I say, *we* think!) that they’ve read this before, they’ve heard this before, and I can test out of this, so to speak.


This is sort of like how I felt heading into college-level French. I thought that, since I'd had a few years of high-school French, that I could easily test out of the beginning courses. I therefore put off scheduling my section and headed down to modern languages where I was greeted by someone speaking in French, yet I had no idea what they were saying! When I was confronted by the REALITY of French, I had no legs to stand on. I could no longer pretend or assume. Needless to say, I failed the test-out and got slotted into the 7:50am DAILY French 101, a plague I could have easily avoided had I been more realistic!


Don't be like this with regard to the Scriptures! Life will test you--have you rooted yourself deeply in the Word, like Psalm 1 advises? Or will you wither and fade away like the flowers and grass when the burn of life comes at you?


The second way this trap ensnares you is with the Mandela effect. Have you heard of this? It's a term referring to the way you often misremember things and assume they are there, even though they are not. My favorite of these is the Monopoly Man. Picture him with me right now--what does he look like? You might envision his top hat, or perhaps his cane, or maybe his shoes, haircut, or monocle. For me, it's actually that monocle that sets him apart.


Now take a look at this picture--what's missing? It's the monocle! Where did it go???!? Well, it was never there in the first place! You read it into your memory and then mixed it up with the truth. You were Mandela-effected. Perhaps you were thinking of my second-favorite pop-culture tycoon: Mr. Peanut all along.

We do this with the Scriptures too, though, don't we? Great truths that we know are in the Bible, like "God helps them who help themselves," or "cleanliness is next to Godliness" or "Satan was in the garden of Eden and tempted Eve in Genesis 3" are all Mandela-effected onto the pages of the Bible. They're not there!


What's that? You don't believe me about the last one? Well, turn over to Genesis 3 and take a look for yourself! The Scripture says that the serpent was in the garden. There's no mention of Satan at all*--the snake has no monocle! This fresh-eyed reading MUST penetrate our perception. Come at the Bible with fresh eyes and lean in!


*now, it might be true that Satan came into the garden in the form of a serpent. Sure. But that's an interpretation or an inference we make from the Scriptures. It's not the literal wording itself, and that's exactly my point! Don't confuse your interpretations or your inferences with the Scriptures themselves!


So what about you? Which of these traps ensnares you the most? Which other traps did I miss? I'd love to hear in the comments....but in the meantime, log off of the internet and go read your Bible!

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