‘You can be a good Christian without theology’ is a statement I’ve heard many a time in some form or other. Generally implied within the statement is that theology is not necessary to live a solid Christian life. Further implied within the statement is a disapproval of people who do view theology as being very important.
That would be me.
It is also a commonly held view that there is no need to be pedantic about theology, that even attempting to correct another person’s theology is wrong (naturally, there are good ways to do this and bad ways, I am, sadly, an expert at the latter rather than the former) and that a serious study of doctrine (principles of Christianity) can even hinder Christian living!
The root cause of these ideas is twofold. First is the seeming divide between theology and ‘real practical theology’. There is some element of truth, having a sound grasp of theology does not always lead to a more fruitful and holy life. I know from my own personal experience how hard it is to put theology into practise and move from a purely intellectual understanding to a deeper spiritual one. It is also true that it is easy to become proud of one’s own theology and look down on others for their ‘inferior’ kind. Like I said earlier corrected wrong theology is good but it can be done in a bad way.
The second reason is to do with the influence of contemporary Western culture which is all to do with subjectivity and ‘if it feels right it is right’ type thinking. Truth statements are viewed with suspicion and everyone is allowed their own truth as we all hold hands and dance around mushrooms.
Bearing all this in mind it is of vital importance that the importance of studying theology is once again reinforced.
To study theology is a command
To put simply the study of theology is not an extra part of Christian living, it is not just for the academics of the Christian world it is nothing more than a command from God to all men! This truth is expressed in the greatest commandment:
“He answered: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”
Luke 10 v 27
Modern Christianity has the unfortunate tendency to focus on the first two (heart and soul) to the exclusion of the last (mind). To love God with all your mind cannot mean anything other than to study God in other words to engage in the ‘science of God’ which is exactly what theology is. Notice how this command works – true thinking and understanding are as valid a response to God as our actions and speech. Studying the finer points of eschatology brings glory to God in the same way that setting up an orphanage might. The pursuit of truth, in and as of itself is God honouring.
We’re all theologians anyway
The second reason for the absolute necessity of studying theology is that all Christians are theologians! If you are born again you must know something of God (even if you have no formal knowledge). Therefore, you have already begun to study theology, you have an understanding of his nature and actions. Surely then, it is vital that you seek to expand this knowledge and deepen your understanding.
Right thinking = right living
This connects in well with my next point – sound doctrine is the key to getting everything else right. Theology is often portrayed as an abstract science but in reality it has the most practical of applications.
For example without studying theology how would we know how we should worship God?
"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
John 4 v 23 - 24
What our relationships with the opposite sex should be like?
“Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
Timothy 5 v 1 - 2
Our attitude to work?
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
Colossians 3 v 23 – 24
In every stage at our Christian life right living starts with right thinking. If you look at the New Testament writers they always started with the theological issues before moving onto the practical applications.
Good theology humbles
“"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55 v 8 – 9
Without studying theology how can we fully appreciate the truth expressed in the above verses. All sound doctrine share the common theme that man is humbled and God is glorified. Predestination, to take one example out of many, shows us that we contributing nothing to own salvation. It was all God. How humbling to us! And how glorifying to God that he chose such unworthy servants.
Paradoxically enough, the more you study theology the more you realise how much we cannot understand about God. The more we know of God's revealtion about himself the more we become aware of God's mystery and the fact that he is unfathomable.
Christ is the truth
“I am the way, and the truth and the life.”
John 14 v 6
Jesus is the truth and that truth is the gospel in its entirety. As Calvin said Jesus comes to us ‘clothed in his gospel’. The truths of sound doctrine are all linked to the truth of Christ. Carelessness or indifference to sound biblical doctrine is a form of disloyalty to his name.
The theology of theology is clear: Doctrine Matters! Studying God through the study of the Bible is the universal command to all mankind and how much more seriously should Christians take it!
I am aware that this will be easier for some than others. I find studying theology to be, well, fun. Others may not share this view. It is a relief to know then that we are only called to be the best theologians we can be rather than the best theologian in the world. God knows the limits of our abilities but we must make sure we reach these limits.
To study theology is to study the science of God. It is to love God with your mind. It is an encouraging, rewarding and deeply humbling experience.