This semester at Southeastern Seminary, I’m teaching an elective course on the theology of Andrew Fuller. I’ve been excited about this class for a long time. If you spend much time around me, you know that one of my burning desires is to help train a generation of pastor-theologians and theologians who are pastors. In my mind, Andrew Fuller is a great historical example of a missions-minded pastor-theologian in the Baptist tradition.
In our first class meeting last week, I attempted to make the case for the importance of studying particular theologians. In that discussion, I argued that any theologian worth his or her salt is “creatively unoriginal”; each of these words is important. Good theologians are creative, finding new ways to communicate doctrinal truth to the audience whom they are addressing, whether church or academy (or both). They recognize that passing on theological content is both an art and a science, so they try to frame theology in a way that captivates believers and contributes to spiritual maturity. They are the theological versions of poet-philosophers. As far as I’m concerned, dull theology is an epic tragedy that cheapens the significance of doctrine and can, at times, even push people away from the faith. Good theologians are creative.
But good theologians are also unoriginal. Contrary to academic trends in some circles, the task of the theologian is not to say something new, but rather to say something old—apostolic, even. Good theologians attempt to sound as much like the apostles as they can in their content, even as they try to sound as much like the culture as they can in the way they package biblical truth. I once heard a seminary president say something like this: “you’ll never hear an original idea at our seminary.” While the theologically faddish among us will dismiss a comment like that without a second thought, I think I know what that brother was saying and I’m with him all the way. The church doesn’t need theological originality; that’s the stuff of which heretics are made. The church needs theology that is creatively unoriginal.
If you are involved in a ministry of preaching or teaching God’s people, commit to being as creatively unoriginal as you can be. Fellow pastors, this is the type of theology that feeds the sheep and builds up the church. Fellow professors, this is the type of theology that equips your students to be the type of pastor-theologians who make a lasting difference in local churches.