Over @ Evan’s blog there was a recent discussion regarding how one should begin to learn theology. To simplify the discussion, two main approaches emerged in the comments section:
- Read a lot of classic works from diverse writers. Read widely
- Read a historical overview, then start digging deep into a single theologian. Read deeply.
Here is my two cents on this: integration. Both perspectives need to be brought together. There are obvious reasons for this. To merely read widely means one misses the depth and nuance many thinkers have. On the other hand, to give history a cursory glance & focus mainly on someone like Karl Barth (a real temptation for beginning thinkers who live in certain parts of the theo-blogosphere city), is to likely miss the complex contextual factors that led to a person’s thought. Furthermore, while a simple embrace of the postmodern suspicion of metanarrative may be unhelpful, there is wisdom in a wide reading of history, lest one “history” dominate one’s thinking. Basically, if you think either/or on this type of deal, you are likely to misread both.
There are probably many different ways to do this, but here is how I am trying to integrate both perspectives. I try to section my studying off in months. Each month is devoted to a single thinker, movement, etc in theology. However, in the same month I try to read at least one work in the history of theology, Christianity, etc. My belief is that reading both comprehensively & specifically within the field is mutually enriching, & each perspective provides a helpful platform on which to think about the other. In this way, the study of theology is like spiritual formation, spiraling ever downward into a better understanding in both scope and specificity.
In sum, the key to studying theology is to remember your sunday school songs: read “deep & wide, deep & wide . . .”