Friday, October 15, 2010

Theology as Spiritual Ability, 3: Theologia Irregenitorum?

... just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart (Eph 4:17-18).

In previous posts (1 and 2), we have seen in the dogmatics of the Lutheran theologian, J.T. Mueller, that theologians are born by the Spirit and not made or trained. Or, as he puts it, theology is a "spiritual habitude"
The theological habitude is a spiritual habitude (habitus spiritualis, supernaturalis), that is to say, an ability which is implanted in the soul not by natural gifts, but by the Holy Ghost. It presupposes personal faith in Christ's vicarious atonement and consequently the regeneration, or conversion, of the theologian.
This, of course, begs an important question: What do we say about the host of widely-respected theologians - men (and women) who inhabit significant chairs in universities and seminaries, write voluminously, and have their prestige validated on PBS specials and Discovery Channel exposes - and yet evidence no "personal faith in Christ's vicarious atonement"? Mueller's lucidity, again, is instructive:
Unbelieving ministers or teachers do not deserve the name of theologian; and in the sense of Holy Scripture they are not theologians, though they may have apprehended the doctrines of the Word of God intellectually and be able to present them clearly and correctly. In other words, there is no theologia irregenitorum, or theology of the unregenerate, since the souls of the unconverted and unbelieving are not inhabited and actuated by the Holy Ghost, but by the 'prince of this world,' that is, Satan. Eph 2,2.

Holy Scripture always describes a true minister of Christ as a penitent, believing child of God, who ascribes to divine grace both his sufficiency and his call into the ministry. 2 Cor 3,5; 2 Tim 2,1ff. A true minister of Christ, or theologian, is therefore a sanctified believer (pp. 33-34).
The unregenerate have no theology, but speculate in futility (Rom 1:21) and understand darkly (Eph 4:18), so that "Unbelieving ministers or teachers do not deserve the name of theologian."

While this in no way minimizes the need for true theologians to contend earnestly (Jude 3) or take thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5), it does grant a settled confidence and dependent humility to their efforts. Theologians are born again, not trained, so we can trust in God to regenerate the irregenitorum , remembering that were it not for His grace, we too would still see His Word in futility and darkness.

So, the next time the theologia irregenitorum is paraded before you, respond like David, a true theologian:
But I, like a deaf man, do not hear;
And I am like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
Yes, I am like a man who does not hear,
And in whose mouth are no arguments.
For I hope in You, O LORD;
You will answer, O Lord my God
(Ps 38:13-15)

On Monday, we'll see what Mueller has to teach us about how God cultivates and trains His true theologians.


  1. I was going to comment on this when I met you at Temple today, but I forgot to... When meditating on Romans 1:21 a while back, this thought came to me: The most basic definition of theology is the right knowledge of God. Therefore, a theologian, should he rightly know God as He is, must at the very least honor Him as God, and as a result, his newfound perspective of the world and life should cause him to give thanks to God (Rom 1:21). Yet, depraved men will not and cannot do either, though both expressions are so obviously elementary. Lettered “theologians” who head universities, are published in prestigious journals, and yet are unregenerate are like a Nobel laureate physicist who denies electromagnetism or a Fields medaled mathematician who rejects simple addition. Still, even sadder are the panelists who awarded him the laureate and the congregations who acknowledge the medal. Indeed, even if it is such a basic statement uttered in an obscure village in some unknown rain forest, the first confession of “Jesus is Lord!” from a newborn Christian’s mouth is truer theology than the combined erudition of all unbelieving theologian from every age, and he a truer theologian than all of them... Very interested in what Mueller has to say about True theologians...

  2. Perceptive and well-said, Jason! Thanks. Apologies for the delay, thanks for the reminder to get back to our Lutheran friend.