The term theologian comes from two Greek terms: theos, which means “God,” and logos, which means “reason.” (Logos is the word from which we get our word logic.) A theologian is one who studies (reasons about) God. The term theologist means the same thing, although it is not used much these days.
Some people are “professional” theologians, meaning that their primary profession is studying God and things related to God, and then communicating that truth to others as teachers and writers. Modern theology includes “theology proper,” which is the study of the character of God, and related topics like Christology (study of Christ), pneumatology (study of the Holy Spirit), ecclesiology (study of the church), soteriology (study of salvation), anthropology (study of the nature of man), bibliology (study of the Bible), and eschatology (study of last things). There are many other types of theology as well.
Today, “professional” theologians may be professors of theology in academic institutions. At one time every pastor was a theologian as well, spending hours in the study of Scripture and wrestling to put all the information together into a harmonious presentation of truth (systematic theology). Today, however, many pastors shun “theology” in favor of “practical” sermons that meet felt needs or give people action steps to a better life. In this environment, theologian may be a pejorative term that speaks of a detached academic in an ivory tower thinking about irrelevant things.
There has been another subtle change as well. At one time theology was considered the “queen of the sciences.” This was so because what higher subject of study and investigation could there possibly be than God Himself? However, that was a time when most people believed that God actually existed in reality and that things could be discovered and known about Him by looking at His Word (the Bible) and His work in the world (present and past). Today, many academic institutions no longer have theology departments but rather have departments of religion. Religious studies differ from theology in that religious studies focus on human religious thoughts and beliefs rather than objective truth. For example, a theologian would study Christ based on what is revealed about Him in the Bible, but an expert in religious studies would study early Christian beliefs about Christ as recorded in the Bible (considered a book of human origin) and other ancient Christian literature.
R. C. Sproul (who was a theologian) wrote a book called Everyone’s a Theologian. The premise of the book was that every Christian who thinks about God and tries to live according to the Bible is a theologian. Theologian is a title that should apply to every believer, and it is not a title to be shunned. Every Christian should be intensely interested in the study of God and what He has revealed. Every Christian should strive to be the best theologian possible.