Why Theology?

Friday, February 15, 2019

Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil.”  What he misunderstood is that whether good or bad, all people have some form of theology.  They have an understanding of God that is shaped by truth, their imaginations, someone else’s imaginations, or some unfortunate mixture of the three.  An individual’s theology is either sound or fractured with error.  The only standard for unassailable theology is scripture.  David said, “Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way”  (Ps. 119:128).  God’s word alone is sufficient for shaping our views of Him and therefore our approach to worship.  Psalm 19:7-10 informs our highest possible estimate of scripture which says:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.  The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.  The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.  More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.  

 Scripture is the source of sound theology for the believer.

Recognizing that our doctrine comes directly from scripture is not to say that we cannot be taught theology by men.  We are commanded to “teach all nations” (Mt. 28:19).  The need to continue “in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:41) certainly involves teaching, which is what doctrine is - “things taught.”  Apollos, though “an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures,” had the way of God expounded (explained, exposited) unto him more perfectly (Acts 18:24-26).  The work of the New Testament involves, as its core operation, people teaching people (2 Tim. 2:2).  Writing and publishing theology is part of this work - a work that is abundantly useful for edifying the body of Christ.  While the concern about bad theology is valid, the dread for potentially stumbling over some objectionable teaching is poor justification for not reading the treasures that endure.  As Spurgeon reportedly said, “He who will not use the brains of others, proves he has no brains of his own.”  The answer to the encroachments of liberal intellectualism is not demonizing theology and theologians as a whole.

Theology is not merely for seminarians and ecclesiastical professionals.  It is for every believer.  Theology should not be viewed as the stodgy expression of college professors or the high-minded drivel of pompous intellectuals.  Theology is the passionate pursuit of God in truth.  It involves the desire of the seeker to study God in a way that brings their faith to bear upon their daily living and hopeful expectations.  In 1742, early American Baptists stated in the Philadelphia Confession that the:

… doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him.

Our communion with God…our comfortable dependence on Him is conditioned by the soundness of our theology!  Many believers are tossed to and fro because they are not grounded doctrinally (Ep. 4:14).  Their ideas of God are flawed, and therefore their faith is frequently disappointed.  What we believe about God is what enables us to stand, to persevere, not the humanistic slogans and syllogisms found on bumper-stickers and Facebook quotes.

Theology has fallen on hard times.  Modern churches are religious entertainment halls and pop-psychology centers.  Many conservative churches are hardly better, leaving aside genuine, biblical preaching and teaching for agenda-driven tirades and political activism.  Lewis Sperry Chafer said (circa 1947):

Systematic theology, the greatest of the sciences, has fallen upon evil days.  Between the rejection and ridicule of it by the so-called progressives and the neglect and abridgment of it by the orthodox, it, as a potent influence, is approaching the point of extinction.

Why should every believer make an effort to learn theology?

  1. There is no genuine worship apart from sound theology.

Worship involves paying divine honors to the Supreme Being (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary).  Paying proper and proportionate honor to God demands an equivalent knowledge of who God has revealed Himself to be and what He is known for doing.  Deficiencies in the knowledge of God produce deficient worship.  This is what Christ meant when He said, “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24).  We do not have the option to nurture unbiblical thoughts and opinions of God and worship accordingly.  A. W. Pink said that “God is solitary in His Excellency.”  To ascribe worth and communicate adoration to God for His Excellency, one needs a measure of understanding of what this excellence entails.  The study of God produces this awareness.  “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 29:2).

  1. Faithfulness suffers without theology.

Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”  A faithful life that pleases God is predicated upon what we believe about Him.  If our theology is flawed, our approach to pleasing God will be flawed, and our faithfulness hindered.  Sound doctrine clears the mind of unnecessary misapprehensions and replaces those hang-ups with holy ideas and sanctified aspirations.

  1. The hope that sustains us is rooted in theology.

Waiting is difficult.  Much of what we are promised as believers and therefore have come to expect, is yet future.  It is hope that enables us to wait (Rom. 8:18-28).  By enduring what God requires of us and taking comfort from the scriptures (there’s the theology), we can have hope (Rom. 15:4).  This kind of hope is the result of believing what God has said, understanding it as He meant it, not leaning on our mystical contrivances (Rom. 15:5-13).

  1. The only antidote for doctrinal error is biblical theology.

Error is no trifle.  “…Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6)?  When the scripture is treated as an institutional rule book that involves little more than a collection of disconnected proof texts or as a resource for accomplishing some incidental agenda, there is little hope of developing a sound, theology.  This kind of surface-oriented sermonizing has left most of today’s Christians frighteningly vulnerable to a host of heresies.  These errors slip in most of the time without notice, because as long as the ship is sailing on a steady course, few people care that it is taking on water.

It is so prevalent today to hear the din of outcry against preaching that is too long, dry, “deep,” or “above the heads of the listeners.”  I sometimes wonder how unintelligent these “experts” think the average congregant must be.  “Illustrate!” they say.  “Tell stories!”  You will reach more people this way!  In his classic textbook, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, John Broadus said, “To ‘illustrate,’ according to etymology, is to throw light (or lustre) upon a subject.” I say, great.  Illustrating is needed, so long as the illustration does not become the subject and the story the sermon!  It will be a great day in our churches when we return to theological preaching, doctrinal teaching, and God-obsessed worship that shapes the thinking and living of the saints.  Theology is a good thing.  Should we need to defend “the study of God” to people who profess to worship and serve Him?
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