There are a number of jobs that can accurately be described as dangerous. Jobs like crab fishing, coal mining, oil drilling and being a police officer. In fact there are jobs that are considered so dangerous that those who perform them receive ‘hazard’ pay. Certain positions in the military receive this as well as the linemen who hang and maintain electrical wires by means of a helicopter. But have you ever considered that signing up for a lifetime of biblical studies could be deemed dangerous?

This is the very idea put forth in the recently published book The Trials of Theology: Becoming a ‘Proven Worker’ in a Dangerous Business edited by Andrew J. B. Cameron and Brian S. Rosner. The Trials of Theology seeks to address some of the dangers that are inherent in the life of theological students. As the front cover indicates this book is a reader. The first section is a collection of chapters or essays from great theologians and Christian thinkers who have passed. It is here that the reader of this book gains wisdom from men as far back as Augustine and as recent as C.S. Lewis. The second section of the book compiles wisdom and direction from theologians of the present day. Men like D.A. Carson, Carl R. Trueman and Gerald L. Bray share with us what they have learned in their lifetime of theological studies.

Each chapter in this reader offers wisdom, insight and direction from godly men of the Christian faith in regards to areas of the theological students life that can prove to be spiritually challenging in light of the nature of their work. Space does not permit a chapter by chapter summary so I will highlight some of the chapters that stuck out to me the most.

In regards to the student/minister’s books both Spurgeon and Warfield had some fitting things to say. In the scope of two sections Spurgeon addresses the topic of books and the ministers tools or ‘equipment’ as he calls them. He warns that while our books are our tools and we must keep them “in a good state of repair”, we must also more so realize that “we are, in a certain sense, our own tools, and therefore we must keep ourselves in order (p. 35).” Too often the minister neglects themselves for the sake of their tools. We can readily spend more time and money into the investment of our tools and forget about the most important tool God has already given us – ourselves. Further, he warns us to be careful with how many books and tools we do acquire. He charges us to “master the books we do have” and that though there are many books we should read “make the Bible the man of your right hand, the companion of every hour, and you will have little reason to lament your slender equipment in inferior things (p. 39-40).” The mastery of our books about the Bible can never replace the mastery of the Bible itself.

Along the same lines but from a little different perspective Warfield offers some interesting advice when it comes to ones books, ability to teach and spiritual growth. Warfield believes that if one is to fulfill the requirement of being “apt to teach” then you must read books. When asked whether or not more time reading books or more time praying is more important Warfield famously replies, “What! is the appropriate response, than ten hours over your books, on your knees? (p. 51).” Warfield is fighting the notion that reading books somehow turns one away from God and therefore you must severely limit your time in them and in turn spend more time praying. Warfield rightly states, “Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? (p. 51).” Warfield wanted to point out that the totality of ones work, whether in prayer or books, contributed to their work and spiritual growth and that the two can be done together.

The chapter by C.S. Lewis, Inner Circles and True Inclusion, will strike at the heart of anyone who is bold enough to be honest about the desires of their own hearts. In this chapter Andrew Cameron lays out Lewis’ walk through his own desire to be accepted while at Oxford and draws some very penetrating application to the theological student. Lewis walks the reader through his desire to belong with the Oxford crowd during his journey as a Christian apologist. He desired to be accepted by those whom he worked with and yet felt the pain of being an outsider because of his Christianity. It is this desire to belong to certain groups just out of our reach that Cameron draws parallels to when it comes to biblical studies. There is always a temptation to identify those in a group that are just a step above ourselves, whether in experience or intellectual ability, with whom we want to belong. We want to work our way to the ‘next level’ or ‘circle’ of acceptance. This is a spiritual danger. Lewis warns, “Unless you take measure to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day you are to old to care (p. 85).”  It is not the desire for natural human relationships that are wrong but the desire for them to fulfill a void in your life that they cannot and only Christ can.

It might be fair to say that it was unfair to put a chapter in here by D.A. Carson because everything he writes is good and, at least in this reviewers mind, will naturally rise above anything else put next to it. Carson’s chapter, The Trials of Biblical Studies, mimics the books title and brings out some of the most convicting statements in the entire book. There are a number of well-crafted statements that Carson makes which need no explanation for they carry their impact on their own:

Aim not only to be learned but also to be godly. There must be an integration of knowing what texts mean, and following them;…….What shall it profit biblical scholars to become experts on Greek aspect theory and on the relationship between Jude and 2 Peter, and lose their own soul (p. 112).

You are studying the Word of God, and unless your study is integrated with faith, obedience, godliness, prayer, conformity to Christ, rising love for God and for his image-bearers, you are horribly abusing the very texts you claim you are studying (p. 112-13).

If, then we are by temperament somewhat perfectionist, it is not difficult, with such a vast array of data-rich fields before us, to become workaholics. And a true workaholic is unlikely to be a good souse, and godly and wise parent, a faithful Christian. Work, intrinsically a good thing, easily becomes an idol (p. 115).

We do not always recognize that the mark of true growth in the study of Scripture is not so much that we become masters of the text as that we become mastered by the text (p. 117).

I find that last statement to be the most challenging in the entire book.

Each of the contributors in the Trails of Theology brings to the table their own gems of wisdom as hammered out in the context of a lifetime of theological studies. A common theme among each contributor is the importance of watching over ones spiritual life amidst the work aspect of their daily activities. One must fight the temptation to see a dualism within the work of theological studies. What each author wants the reader to see is that their work is a spiritual discipline that has dangers of its own. A life dedicated to the study of Scripture has job hazards of its own.

I readily recommend The Trials of Theology: Becoming a ‘Proven Worker’ in a Dangerous Business to anyone interested in entering into the study of the Bible as their life’s work. This book should be recommended reading for any first year theology student. It serves as an encouragement to push forward and a warning of what lies ahead from those who have been there.

NOTE: I received this book in return for a review but was under no obligation to provide a favorable one.