Welcome to Encounter Church’s first Theology Thursday post! When I was asked to begin this weekly column, I was extremely excited because I love reading and discussing theology.
Now, I know that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for theology. I’m sure that some of you saw this link and clicked in spite of yourself. Some of you have all sorts of negative impressions of theology: It’s impractical. It causes pride. It causes fights and disunity in the church. It’s the domain of the pedantic. Some of you may have known someone who tried to use their theological expertise as a weapon to hurt others or may have been through a church split over matters that didn’t seem as important as sharing the gospel. With that in mind, I thought it would be appropriate in the first column to address the concept of theology and why we would spend time on it.
Simply put, the word theology means the study of God. That simple definition makes sense if you consider that a study of God would logically include anything He has revealed to us about Himself and His purposes, which we have in the Bible. That gives us numerous branches of theology if we think in terms of “what God has revealed about man, salvation, sin, end times, etc.” But here’s the important thing to keep in mind: if we think of theology as studying what God has revealed about Himself and His purposes, we are talking about studying scripture. Theology done well is essentially Bible study done well, and what that means is that one of its chief characteristics is that it is biblical.
Theology must be biblical, but a theology that stops there is only knowledge. The remedy to this is that it must also be practical. The overwhelming testimony of scripture is that the person who knows of God but does not have his heart changed by God is cold and dead. Knowledge may have entered his mind, but unless it penetrates his heart and changes his thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, it has no benefit.
Scripture does, indeed, change our hearts. As God’s Word soaks into our hearts, we see how limited we are because of sin and how great God is because of His perfection. We are amazed by who He is and what He does. As we begin to see how much we have to learn, God begins to produce in us teachable hearts, and the more teachable we become the more God allows us to learn. Theology done properly, then, is marked by humility.
When we are ready to learn humbly, God graciously allows us to learn more of who He is and how we can live according to His purposes. He uses what we learn to edify us, which means that He helps us to grow in our relationship with Him. Therefore, what we learn from theology is edifying, drawing us closer to God and to His people. As we participate in a local church, what God teaches us can be passed on and is, in turn, edifying to other believers.
When you collect these characteristics, you come up with a far different notion of theology than what is commonly pictured in the minds of some people. When theology is done well, it is a humble approach to learning about God and about what He has revealed to us in His Word that changes our hearts, minds, and behaviors and builds us up as individuals and as a corporate body.
It is a sad and disheartening thing that theology is far too often done improperly, which is why so many have a negative impression of it. Poor theology is a poor use of a glorious gift from God. Instead, let’s commit to dispose of this rubbish and do it the right way.
What do you think about theology? Does my definition match yours? Do you think theology is helpful to the church? Please leave your comments or questions on Facebook!