Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thomas a Kempis on Theological Speculation

In my reading for History of Christian Doctrine, I ran across this blurb by Thomas a Kempis which I thought contained a good reminder for all of us, especially, though certainly not only, us seminarians.

On the Limits of Trinitarian Speculation
What good does it do you if you dispute loftily about the Trinity, but lack humility and therefore displease the Trinity? It is not lofty words that make you righteous or holy or dear to God, but a virtuous life. I would much rather experience contrition than be able to give a definition of it. If you knew the whole of the Bible by heart, along with all the definitions of the philosophers, what good would this be without grace and love? Vanities of vanities, and all is vanity - expect, that is, loving God and serving God alone. For this is supreme wisdom: to draw nearer to the heavenly kingdom through contempt for the world [...]

Naturally everyone wants knowledge. But what use is that knowledge without the fear of God? A humble peasant who serves God is much more pleasing to him than an arrogant academic who neglects his own soul to consider the course of the stars [...] If I were to possess all the knowledge in the world, and yet lacked love, what good would this be in the sight of God, who will judge me by what I have done? So restrain an extravagant longing for knowledge, which leads to considerable anxiety and deception. Learned people always want their wisdom to be noticed and recognized. But there are many things, knowledge of which leads to little or no benefit to the soul. In fact people are foolish if they concern themselves with anything other than those things which lead to their salvation.


(Source: The Christian Theology Reader edited by Alister McGrath, pgs 219-220)

Brief Reflection

Now of course we shouldn't disparage the importance of knowledge and learning. Learning about and knowing God is a holy and virtuous pursuit. But Thomas a Kempis gives a good reminder to not sin against God in learning about him! If our knowledge about God brings on arrogance, we have missed the significance of what we have learned. Learning about God, who He is, what He is like, what He demands, and who we are in comparison ought always to bring us to greater humility and obedience. May this be true in all of our lives.

2 comments:

Bren said...

great reminder matt!

theone withabeard said...

Ah, how horrible our misconception that knowledge has value when divorced from action and devotion...

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"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul

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