In theory, being a student and teacher of Christian theology ought to be one of the most dynamic and exciting fields of study. However in the words of Alister McGrath in his text, Christian Theology: An Introduction, “In practice, both student and teacher often find the teaching of the subject to be difficult , and occasionally rather depressing. The student is discouraged by the vast amount of material it is necessary to grasp before ‘getting to the good stuff.’ … Teachers find the material difficult for two main reasons. First, they want to introduce an discuss advanced ideas, but find that students are simply unable to appreciate and understand these, due to a serious lack of background knowledge. Second, they find that they lack the time necessary to introduce students to the substantial amount of basic theological vocabulary and knowledge required.”
As a student and a teacher of Christian theology, I could not agree more with both sides of this coin. As a student, I am so hungry to learn and grow in the conception, knowledge, and framework for which I hold the greatest thoughts in my life about the greatest questions in my life. I feel like I am on a high dive at the public pool on a gorgeous day that is sunny, hot, full of blue sky above and nothing but a blue pool of cool refreshing water below. The setting is so beautiful that it is calling me to launch myself high into the sky until I come to a slight stand still before the natural force of gravity pulls me down into the life-giving “theological” waters below that I enter with an all-consuming holy and enlightening splash.
Unfortunately, having left the high dive as gravity brings me to a halt at the apex of my springboard leap, I begin to look downward only to notice that what looked like a cool refreshing pool of life-giving water actually turns out to be more of a thick, life-sucking pond of quicksand. As I come into sudden contact and become slightly submerged I begin to gap for air and suffocate as I wiggle and trash about realizing, this is not what I thought I was diving into.
Similarly, as a teacher, the metaphor that comes to mind is seeing myself as an aspiring Olympic soccer coach desiring to work with the elite talent of the world to help them hone in their life-purposed craft of European football. The investment in these lives would be incredible as the greatest concepts of the game are fleshed out through skillful nuances of a group of individuals melting away into one team of synchronized order and solidarity. Achievements of heights not ever reached before would become accomplished because of the inspiration, tutelage, and wisdom that is artistically dispersed across to the team.
Again unfortunately, as I step boldly into the locker room of life to meet the team, I only find a squad of misfit six-year olds who appear to be soccer’s equivalent of the Bad News Bears. After initial dialogue with the team I realize they have as much of a particular interest in soccer as about one hundred apps on their iPods and whose grand total of a team-timed-attention-span is that of a single gnat.
Somehow there is a significant disconnect between the dynamic and exciting experience that it looks like studying theology can be as opposed to the actual experience. While I would agree, McGrath makes a best effort to write and structure the content into the historical perspective, sources and methods, and finally the doctrines, which he claims to have intentionally designed to engage the interest and help elevate some of the disconnect, I was surprised at how quickly it became difficult to stay engaged. I jumped around from section to section. I read reviews (which questioned McGrath’s layout quite a bit) to find better angles from which to approach my reading. But I really could not engage in this text for more than short windows of time and attention.
So ultimately my theory on this theory is this:
- This book is not designed to be read in a week, nor is theology to be studied as a microwave meal.
- This book is not designed to be read in a week that you have another major project due in your seminary class, nor is theology to be a small side distraction in your life.
- One should not base their whole opinion of this book on a week that they tried to read it while having a major project do in one’s seminary class, nor should one base one’s whole view of studying theology on a short, distracted period of time in which one attempts to learn it all.
- And lastly, since one doesn’t actually have to read books in order to write about them, just learn something about the book that can be taken from the book and realize, as McGrath himself put it, “To study theology is to set out on a voyage of discovery that is at times enriching, at times challenging, but always profoundly interesting.” … and call it good!
 Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: an Introduction, 5th ed. (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 1.
 Ibid., p. xxii.