When Theology Students Need to Be Cautious

Posted On March 13, 2024

Written by Dr. Keith Mathison, professor of systematic theology

The formal study of theology can be a great blessing for students who approach it wisely, but it can also be a danger for those who do not. Anyone who has been a student at a Bible college or seminary has probably heard the saying, “There’s nothing more dangerous than a student with one semester of Greek under his belt.”

This has become a common sentiment because sometimes students will gain a little bit of knowledge of Greek and confuse that little bit of knowledge with comprehensive expertise. They will then embark on a crusade to correct everyone, from their fellow students to their pastors, by appealing to their newfound “expertise” in the original language of the New Testament.

The same can be said about students with one semester of theology under their belt. They’ve learned all this new terminology and many new concepts, and they can sometimes adopt an attitude of spiritual arrogance. In short, one of the biggest dangers theology students face is the sin of pride.

Such pride is often associated with a wrong understanding of the nature of theological study. Students who are the most prone to becoming filled with pride and arrogance about their level of theological knowledge are generally the same students who think that theology is merely a matter of knowing facts.

Theology is the knowledge of God. The study of theology, therefore, requires more than a high IQ score. It requires godliness and prayer because it requires the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, true knowledge of God (true theology) necessarily results in private and corporate praise of God. True theology always results in doxology. True knowledge of God (true theology) also leads to a love for God’s people and a love for the lost.

If a student approaches theology as if it were like any other subject of study rather than approaching it for what it is, there is a serious danger of spiritual pride. And if a student is filled with spiritual pride, that is a guarantee that the student does not have a true theology. True theology necessarily results in humility, not arrogance.

Theology students, therefore, need to be cautious when studying theology. They need to self-consciously begin and end their study in prayer, in humble dependence upon God to give them wisdom. They need to be on the lookout for any signs of pride and arrogance in their heart, and when they find it, they need to confess it and repent of it. They need to remind themselves that they are studying theology not to fill their mind with facts but to serve the Lord and His people.