I often hear people wonder aloud: “Why theology? What’s the need for theology? Doesn’t it serve only to divide people and align them on opposite sides of issues that ultimately don’t matter much anyway? Shouldn’t we simply serve God and let him sort out the options once we get to heaven? After all, theology seems so impractical.” Continue reading . . .
I often hear people wonder aloud: “Why theology? What’s the need for theology? Doesn’t it serve only to divide people and align them on opposite sides of issues that ultimately don’t matter much anyway? Shouldn’t we simply serve God and let him sort out the options once we get to heaven? After all, theology seems so impractical.”
A proper response would require extensive comment on countless texts of Scripture, but let me take a slightly different approach. What follows is quite brief, as I want to draw your attention to three basic, but not for that reason any less profound, truths regarding theology. Here they are.
First, theology is not optional. That is to say, everyone is a theologian whether or not they consciously identify themselves as such. The only choice you have is whether your theology will be a good one or a bad one.
To think about God at all is to theologize. Your concept of God (who he is, what he does, how he relates to his creatures) is your theology. So, regardless of how much or how little you may think about God, you do think about him, and he is either all powerful or limited, gracious or stern, arbitrary or just, good or evil, all knowing or ignorant, etc. Is he the sort of God who answers prayer? Does he providentially direct your life and human affairs in general? Does he take delight in his children or is he disgusted by them? Your answer to such questions is your theology.
So, remember this: bad theology hurts people.
Second, good theology is absolutely essential to an effective and fruitful Christian life. We see this in countless ways, but let me briefly mention only three.
Your theology shapes whether and how you pray. Your understanding of God will always govern the extent to which you pray and the expectations you bring to the throne of grace. Can God, in response to your prayers, intervene to change how things otherwise might have been? Does the character of God encourage or discourage you to pray? Simply put, every failure of ours in prayer is largely due to a misconception we have about the nature of God.
Your theology also shapes your ethics or your conduct. Do you believe that God has revealed his moral will in Scripture? If so, do you believe you are morally obligated to adjust your beliefs and behavior in accordance with its dictates? Has God spoken on matters of sexuality? Do you feel it is important to speak the truth and to honor your promises and to fight for the sanctity of life? These are just a few of the issues that all depend on what you believe about God and the authority of his Word.
Finally, theology shapes your affections. The word of God is filled with exhortations to rejoice and to live in fear or reverential awe of God. We are exhorted to be zealous and grateful and to hate all that is evil. The Apostle Peter says that because we believe in Christ, though we haven’t seen him, we love him and rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). You can’t genuinely love a God of whom you no nothing or very little. If we do not know who God is and how he thinks and what he does, we have no grounds for joy, no reason to celebrate, no basis for finding satisfaction in God. Delight in God cannot occur in an intellectual vacuum. Our joy is the fruit of what we know and believe to be true of God. Emotional heat (i.e., joy, delight, gladness of heart) apart from intellectual light (knowledge of God) is useless. Worse still, it is dangerous, for it inevitably leads to fanaticism and idolatry.
Third, and most important of all, the purpose of theology isn’t knowledge: it’s worship. We learn to laud. We study to sing. We educate to enjoy. No one put this better than J. I. Packer:
“The older I get, the more I want to sing my faith and get others singing it with me. Theology, as I constantly tell my students is for doxology: the first thing to do with it is to turn it into praise and thus honour the God who is its subject, the God in whose presence and by whose help it was worked out. Paul’s summons to sing and make music in one’s heart to the Lord is a word for theologians no less than for other people (Eph. 5:19). Theologies that cannot be sung (or prayed for that matter) are certainly wrong at a deep level, and such theologies leave me, in both senses, cold: cold-hearted and uninterested” (J. I. Packer, God Has Spoken, 7).
Simply put: theology without doxology is idolatry.