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5 tips for kick-starting theological study

As I look towards the end of my time at theological college, I’ve been thinking about the beginning.

Here are 5 tips for kick-starting theological study, and book recommendations to go along with them. (For price comparisons and easy ordering, I’ve linked to

1. Get multifactorial. Christian theology isn’t about neat rights and wrongs, but about perspectives and tensions. It’s “multifactorial”, as our principal Peter Adam is fond of saying! Across the Spectrum gives you a sense of how this plays out within evangelical Christian thought. It’s an accessible primer that presents more than 40 viewpoints on 17 issues. Theology is a conversation, and Across the Spectrum will help you to begin participating. This book is one of a kind, and a hundred times more useful than a systematic theology!

2. Get “the other half”. It’s not a good idea to get boxed into thinking like a white guy. Although men’s perspectives are only part of the picture, they’re so dominant that they’re usually invisible. However, the IVP Women’s Bible Commentary is one small step in threading the rest of the tapestry. This commentary is written not for women but from women (about 80, actually!). If you’re a woman, the IVP Women’s Bible Commentary will help you to think as a woman. If you’re a man, it will help you to see beyond the horizon you were born with. You’ll be doing the whole church a favour!

3. Get creative. At Bible college, you study the Bible. A lot. In detail. At length. It’s always challenging, but sometimes mind-numbing — the Bible’s not exactly light reading! There may be times when you can’t see the wood for the trees. You’ll need to keep your studies in perspective and to keep yourself spiritually awake. So, get a creative window on the Bible’s big storyline: read Siku’s Manga Bible and the novel The Story of God, the Story of Us.

4. Get Greek. Keep your Greek is only a tiny little book, but I wish I’d had it when I first started college. Why? Because it’s all too easy to lose your Greek after first year, which is simply a waste of a great learning tool. Not even Bible software can save you! From day one, Keep your Greek will help you to form proper expectations and habits worth keeping.

5. Get devotional. You’ll be using your study Bible in class every week, but the “Yoda Standard Version” isn’t always so useful! To complement your studies, change things up in your devotional time. Use an audio Bible. Use a more dynamic translation, like The Message or the NLT. Get some visual depth with Anneke Kaai’s beautiful devotional paintings. Allow God to address you at every level: emotional, practical, intellectual.

See also Making the most of theological education.

Categories: Woman Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

11 replies

  1. So it sounds like you’re encouraging people to engage with the subject matter using different learning styles. Surely these would/should be part of a well rounded theological education anyway/?

  2. Re point 1 – is it ironic that a book on multiple perpsectives is one of a kind? I read a good one, or skimmed it, called Symphonic Theology that sounds similar.

  3. Sure thing, Dan. (It’s been exciting to see the appearance of some fully-fledged collaborative classrooms!)

    But my tips here are more about content than learning styles.

    And I’m putting the onus on students rather than theological colleges. Educators can do their bit, but whether or not it counts will depend on where a student is at.

    I reckon students simultaneously need to do two things: stay grounded in their own tradition, while at the same time thinking completely outside their box. That’s part of what’s driving these tips.

  4. Hi Sean! Tamie came across it at Relevant, read the first chapter on Amazon and knew we’d love it. It was like, “Ooh, Graeme Goldsworthy the novel!” I’ve just been talking to a few people about it at a camp, too. And I’m only half way through it! (Book review to come.)

    Tamie and I are passionate about people getting into Scripture for themselves. For many people we meet, “quiet time” is a guilt-inducing taskmaster. At the same time, study Bibles are actually hindering the reading of Scripture. I’ll keep you posted on a little idea I’ve been working on…

    Cheers from Melbourne

  5. that’s great! i’m with you on study bibles: we’re constantly reminding people, “everything below the line is not the bible. nor is it the “answer” you’re probably looking for.” our hope is that people who encounter ‘the story of god’ feel encouraged and more confident to dive into scripture for the first or hundred and first time. look forward to reading your review, and hearing about your idea. and my wife and i love your city – spent 3 weeks there in 2003. got to participate in a Forge Intensive.

    and i feel honoured to be placed in the company of Graeme Goldsworthy.


  6. Some great advice guys…I’ll think about these point as I make a decision about going to bible college.

    Can I also recommend D.A. Carson’s “The God who is There” as another of those books that lays out the “big picture” of the bible? I’ve only read it vicariously (!), but my wife, who’s going through it at the moment, says its wonderful.


  7. Hi Scott! I mention the two novels not so much because they focus on the big picture but because of the artistic dimension they bring to it. What seems to be good about the Carson one?

  8. I totally agree – I asked for Keep your Greek from Ridley as a prize. I think it is of far more benefit than any chunky lexicon!

    Can I add that another great benefit is an accessible background commentary. They tend to be cheap but also an easy leg up for understanding cultural and historical details that wouldn’t be obvious in the text.

  9. Cheers Sam. The reason I’ve left out “normal” commentaries is that I reckon theological education is more about formation than information. I want to steer theology students away from thinking they simply need greater access to data. Maybe I’ll edit the post or write some more on that…

  10. Not sure if I have the same perception of what a “normal” commentary is but I would simply be advocating for the explicitly “background” commentaries that still leave the work of forming your understanding of the passage from what you would be expected to understand… but assist you with difficult world plays and the cultural meaning associated with certain words. My recommendation would be the 2-volume IVP Bible Background Commentary.

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