Theology as a Way of Life by Adam Neder: 10 Quotes

Adam Neder has written an excellent book, and I think you should read it.

It’s called, Theology as a Way of Life: On Teaching and Learning the Christian Faith.

The title is pretty helpful, and he’s to the point from cover to finish.

It’s 145 pages of thoughtful, punchy, and winsome calls to the learners and teachers among us.

Here’s 10 quotes that stuck out to me. Buy this book and take it in.

…If the reality of God’s reconciling love for the world in Christ teaches us anything about our students, anything at all, it teaches us that they are always already insiders to God’s grace. Each one of them is at every moment personally addressed by God in Christ. God continually calls them them not merely to listen but to act—not merely to reflect on the truth but to become truthful. Indeed, recognition of this truth (who they are in Christ) is inseparable from responsiveness to the truth (becoming who they are in Christ), and helping students perceive this—or perceive it more clearly‚is a distinguishing feature of all good teaching. (92)

Paul’s great exclamation, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:19-20). implies that we are never more fully human, never more fully ourselves, never more free, than when our lives become transparent to the life of Christ. That is how the Spirit liberates us to become who we are—not by turning us into the kind of people who automatically know and do the good, but by granting us faith to entrust ourselves again and again to Christ, whose power is made perfect in our weakness. (29)

Of course pedagogy matters; everyone knows that. But competence alone is not enough, since “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1). Thus progress in the art of teaching Christianity necessarily includes progress in the art of prayer. (36)

According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ wants followers, not admirers, and while following him involves thinking about him, thinking about him is not yet following him. (40)

And yet it seems to me that many of us who teach Christian theology are better and more comfortable helping students “look at” Christian doctrines than helping them “look along” them—better at helping students understand theological ideas and arguments than helping them reflect on the difference theology makes for life. (44)

We are responsible for thinking with students, not for them. To do otherwise is to confuse education with indoctrination. And while some students will want to hand their freedom over to us—after all, it is far easier when someone else thinks for you—allowing them to do so is lethal to theological education. (52)

In the classroom, we are never not teaching. Everything we say and do (and do not do) communicates something to students. An unguarded and revealing casual aside can falsify an entire lecture, indeed an entire semester.  Kierkegaard is relentless on this point. No matter how informed, articulate, and engaging someone happens to be, “it is actual existence that preaches.” In other words, your life is your final answer to the question of who you think God is. And there is no good reason to hope students will be persuaded by what you say if, when they examine your life, they conclude that you do not believe what you say. (73)

To become honest, to tell the truth, to teach in your own voice, is not merely a choice you make. It requires an ascetic impulse to examine and acknowledge our weaknesses and insecurities, the vast gaps in our knowledge, the specific defects of our character, and especially the ways our frailties apply pressure on us to compensate for them by manufacturing false personas. Ironically, learning to point away from oneself to Jesus Christ requires sustained self-examination. (78)

[Our students] struggle to see what difference our courses make for ordinary life and ministry. And the really unforgivable thing is how little time we spend helping them imagine these connections. Maybe we even have some convoluted rationale for why doing so is not our responsibility. We operate as though training students to trace the repercussions of the material in their lives is ancillary to our important work—if we think it is part of our work at all. But in addition to describing and examining theological ideas, a fully Christian approach to teaching Christian theology will involve helping students perceive some of the concrete implications of the material, and thus help them live less divided lives. (91)

The first group of students, those seeking to submit to an authoritative teacher…Rather than engaging in the struggle of real theological education, these students expect their teachers to do the hard work for them. Since second hand knowledge of God is impossible, since God is always known in the context of a living relationship that never passes over into human control, since theological knowledge cannot be reduced to pieces of intellectual data that teachers accumulate, organize, and dispense, teachers are incapable of offering these students what they want. We cannot give them what we do not possess. Real theological education is a process of continual confrontation with God. To receive it, students have to fight for it themselves. The most teachers can do is participate in this apprenticeship alongside them. (107-8)


There are two dozen more passages I’m typing for my own notes, and won’t share here—because you should read this book. The final chapter is around conversations: how to frame them, how to facilitate them, and how we can’t learn (or effectively teach) without them. This chapter alone is worth the price of admission.

For those learning (who isn’t among us?) and for those teaching (Lord, who is sufficient for these things?), Neder has words for us. I’m circling back for a re-read so I make sure to hear them.