Today’s social media culture, coupled as it is with such easy access to information and literature, has created a vast network of armchair theologians. This reality comes with both positives and negatives. We are all theologians to some degree, whether we realize it or not. More people thinking about theological issues and getting involved in those conversations is a good thing. But the situation presents a few risks as well.
One significant risk for any theologian is that of absorbing a wealth of knowledge without putting it into practice. Several years ago, I saw the Disney movie Meet the Robinsons. I really don’t remember a whole lot from the film, but one part stuck with me. A young boy is huddled in a corner, trapped by a massive T-Rex. Fortunately for the boy, the dinosaur cannot reach him because its head keeps getting in the way. The T-Rex turns to the main villain and says, “I have a big head and little arms. I’m just not sure how well this plan was thought through.”
The moment offers a bit of on-screen comedic relief but also serves as a word of caution for believers today. If we fail to practice what we believe, we become just like the T-Rex in the film: big heads but totally ineffective in carrying out our mission. While it ended up being a good thing in the movie that the beast couldn’t use its arms, the same cannot be said for us who are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken world.
James, the brother of Jesus, said it this way: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). I often forget those last two words when thinking about this verse, but they are a powerful reminder for us that if we fail to act upon what we claim we believe, then we are really just practicing self-deception.
Jesus listed the top two commandments as loving God and loving others (Matt. 22:37-39). Being “doers of the word” means living out these commands. Here we see another risk for armchair theologians. While loving others always has its difficulties, it seems to be especially difficult in an online, unengaged atmosphere. It’s easy to get caught up in online debates when we feel shielded by a computer screen. That same screen can also cause us to forget that we are interacting with real people—people we are called to love.
To combat these tendencies, we must be intentional in serving others and seeking ways to reflect His glory to those around us. What we believe matters, and we should never stop trying to learn and grow. But as we read, study and engage in theological conversations, let us be careful to balance our hearing with doing so that we do not become T-Rex theologians.