Does theology have a point? Do it possess any kind of real meaning?
Who does theology help anyway? Does the regular man or woman looking to live faithfully before Christ have time to read all those big, dusty books anyway?
And besides, shouldn’t Christians evangelize instead of reading and debating and talking over meanings and interpretations of minutiae?
As a theology nerd, I have to speak honestly: every one of those questions above can have legitimacy depending on one’s experience with folks who seek to make theology their passion.
Too often men, and sometimes women, think theology composes some sort of immaterial wooden spoon to wave around at people they think might be stepping out of line with the way they speak. Or the way they do not speak. Or their unfamiliarity with whomever their favorite preacher, teacher, writer, or blogger is. Upon encountering such an individual, many people become unwilling to approach anything thick with doctrine, preferring sometimes to remain shallow in their understanding of God rather than become “that guy.”
My friend, if your encounter with a never-ending geyser of hot theological assertions, renderings, and judgments left you without a taste for it, let me appeal to you.
Think of your favorite dessert. I’ll supply mine for the illustration; I love chocolate cake with white icing. I love it over apple pie, pumpkin pie, red velvet cake, and brownies. So, if I meet a fellow who feels the need to constantly correct everyone about how to make chocolate cake with white icing, to parse through every finer point of how deliciousness works, I am not going to let him dissuade me from my choice of dessert. The constant flow of useless words from someone’s mouth does not invalidate chocolate cake with white icing. You see where I’m going. Understanding theology does not become a meaningless exercise because some people allow themselves to become puffed up with knowledge.
Herein lies the goal of theology: growing closer to the Savior, Jesus Christ.
We often hear (rightly) good pastors make a distinction between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. They do need to make such a distinction. We can know all about an individual without personally know the person at all. I can list some facts about Dr. Danny Akin from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; I have exchanged emails with him one or two times. However, I do not know the man, despite my ability to say things about him which he would not contradict. However, those who do know him can tell you what he’s likely to order at a burger joint. They can tell you what his laugh sounds like when someone makes a well-played joke. They know how the man grieves when given bad news. These constitute facts about him. One who knows him, knows these kinds of facts.
When we study theology, assuming the theologian communicates accurate information, we learn even these things about our God. In the canon of Scripture, we have not only information about how God saves us, but we have his love and passion for his people in saving them. We have his sense of justice. We understand what makes him angry, and we even see his attitude in pouring out his wrath.
Friends, we will theologize. We may not all be theologians, but we have a theology. You will either receive guidance in your thoughts on God from a source outside yourself, or you will supply your own guidance. When one does the latter, he or she usually veers into error.
So, how do we do such a thing?
We look outside ourselves, and we look to the Bible. Scripture alone serves as the fresh spring from which we drink in the knowledge of God. What does God say? Look into the biblical canon and seek to understand it as a whole. As you do this, you find yourself performing the task of theology, the study of God. You gain knowledge of God.
As you do this, you will come across challenges. One should expect challenges when searching into the words from the Almighty to Man. For ages, believers in the risen Christ sought to understand God according to his own words, and they have sought to restate what the Bible said in the context of their own situations. They did not seek to add to God’s word, only help fellow believers overcome their own deficiencies in approaching the speech of God. We read these believers of past and present looking for their insights, their own comprehension and communication of God via the Bible.
Recall, Christian, the Scriptures culminate with a wedding.
The church, the bride of Christ unites with him forever. Do we desire the bridegroom, the redeemer of our lives, the savior of our eternity? If so, we will learn the things pertaining to him. We do not all possess the gifts of Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzus, Augustine, John Calvin, John Owen, or Francis Schaeffer. However, we all possess a capacity to search out understanding.
As ones sought by Jesus to be part of his bride, we should seek to know him in every way we can. We desire to understand him insofar as he has revealed himself to us.