There are a lot of things that can vex me about the modern day church but high on the list in particular is the anti-intellectualism of many Christians today. There was a time when theology was looked upon as the queen of all sciences but all too often the trend today is to sweep theological matters under the carpet. Perhaps, as Christianity comes under increasing attack from secular thinking, the easy path becomes to retreat away from theology and take refuge in "just being about Jesus."
It comes out in many ways. The unwillingness of many Christians simply to put the effort in and form an opinion on any number of theological topics - anything from women in church leadership to worship to biblical evangelism. Or in the fact that many are unaware that there is, indeed, a biblical (and non-biblical) approach to evangelism. Or in holding to scientific views with deep theological consequences that remain cast aside - for example, embracing the evolution of man causes serious problems to holding a consistent view on the historicity of Adam, the integrity of the Genesis narrative and all resulting negative consequences.
This has all been on my mind because I've been reading Engaging with Keller - a critique by half a dozen British pastors of Tim Keller's theology. Expect a review soon but two things have struck in particular. The first is that the book is very gracious towards Mr Keller, it debates theology as Christians should debate theology - with grace and love. The second is that the book illustrates the vital importance of theology.
These pastors are not questioning Mr Keller's intentions, for his intentions are good. They question his methods, the way he expresses himself. Such is often the case with theological debates today. Christians can have the best of motives and yet without a solid theology they will only cause harm. The road to hell, as the old saying goes, is paved with good intentions and while no Christian is on that road we should bear the wisdom of such a phrase in mind. Good intentions aren't good enough. As it says in Proverbs 19v2: "Desire without knowledge is not good-- how much more will hasty feet miss the way!" Knowledge is an important part of wise and godly action.
No, the authors attack Mr Keller's theology or at least the way he communicates it. In doing so then they risk criticism. Imagine please, that you are an anti-intellectual Christian faced with an attack from one side of the Reformed church against one of the most popular pastors in America. There will no doubt be many concerns.
You might ask yourself with no small amount of frustration: aren't there more important matters to deal with? I've run into this criticism during a Facebook debate - instead of engaging in theological discussion shouldn't all Christians be out helping the poor instead? The authors were all busy pastors - surely they had better things to do? A gospel to preach, souls to witness to, sermons to prepare, the poor to help?
Purely on a logical basis the act of writing their book would involve sacrificing other things these men could have done. But does that make it wrong? I don't see how it can. For starters Jesus both helped the poor, witnessed to souls and engaged the religious leaders of the time in theological debate. Jesus refuted the false theology of the Pharisees. There is a time for everything and that includes theological debate.
The error is to assume that theology doesn't matter. For if it doesn't then yes, the authors have wasted their time. But theology does matter for what we believe effects our actions. False theology leads to wrong action. Good theology leads to good actions. At least, that's how it should be.
Bad theology can condemn souls to hell, divert a church for its primary calling, lead to sin and send Christians off on wrong paths. Theology is incredibly important. There's a reason why the New Testament contains so many commands to "Stand firm in the faith," (1 Cor 16v13) and such like.
To use an example: let's say I'm a hypercalvinist and over egg God's sovereignty to the point where I don't believe in doing evangelism. Well, it is very apparent that my false theology will lead to action or, in this case, a lack of action to evangelise. Likewise, if my theology of evangelism and its purpose to convict of sin isn't solid enough I will be even more easily tempted to compromise the message and remove elements from the gospel that might not be popular.
Time spent debating theology is not wasted. It can be wasted if no party is willing to listen and engage. But if it done with maturity and love then it is profitable. As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another. It is only through facing a lot of different theology in the CU that I was motivated to look at why I believe what I believe.
Another question we might, as anti-intellectual Christians, ask is why attack Keller so publically? Surely, it sets a bad example of in-fighting to the watching world? In Engaging with Keller the authors write: "We also might point out that the degree to which people value the truth is the degree to which they are willing to engage in public debate over it." In the church today we deal so lightly with the truth and care so little for standing on God's word alone and so of course don't appreciate public debate. If your response to theological debate is: it doesn't matter then you place little value on truth. We live in an age where doctrinal purity and faithfulness is looked upon with scorn and we have to fight this. For if you don't care about the truth then bare in mind that God does
As a theology hating Christian we might also venture our opinion that instead of debating theology we should just be like Jesus. But as I've highlighted already, Jesus also debated theology with those who had it wrong. How then can we do anything else than follow his example? Even a simple statement of Christ's that he was the Son of God is a theological statement on the nature on the Trinity, the redemptive mission of God and the incarnation. To put it another way: you cannot de-theologise Christianity for we do not follow a subjective set of feelings but rather our faith is rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ, his person and work. These are theological facts.
A qualification for a church leader is: "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it." Titus 1 v 9. And it beholds all Christians to make it our joy, privilege and duty to both discover sound doctrine and hold fast to it.
To conclude, I love it when Christians debate theology together. Sure, it can be done wrongly but such discussion should be encouraged and supported not derided and neglected. Theology is inescapably important - for what could be more important than to know God? Engaging with Keller is not just a challenge to Mr Keller's expression of orthodox theology but a challenge to the anti-intellectualism of the church at large.