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Why Theology Matters

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The most concise definition of theology is “the study of God.” To add to that definition, GotQuestions.org defines theology as follows:

The word “theology” comes from two Greek words that combined mean “the study of God.” Christian theology is simply an attempt to understand God as He is revealed in the Bible. No theology will ever fully explain God and His ways because God is infinitely and eternally higher than we are. Therefore, any attempt to describe Him will fall short (Romans 11:33-36). However, God does want us to know Him insofar as we are able, and theology is the art and science of knowing what we can know and understand about God in an organized and understandable manner. Some people try to avoid theology because they believe it is divisive. Properly understood, though, theology is uniting. Proper, biblical theology is a good thing; it is the teaching of God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The study of theology, then, is nothing more than digging into God’s Word to discover what He has revealed about Himself. When we do this, we come to know Him as Creator of all things, Sustainer of all things, and Judge of all things. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. When Moses asked who was sending him to Pharaoh, God replied “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). The name I AM indicates personality. God has a name, even as He has given names to others. The name I AM stands for a free, purposeful, self-sufficient personality. God is not an ethereal force or a cosmic energy. He is the almighty, self-existing, self-determining Being with a mind and a will—the “personal” God who has revealed Himself to humanity through His Word, and through His Son, Jesus Christ.

To study theology is to get to know God in order that we may glorify Him through our love and obedience. Notice the progression here: we must get to know Him before we can love Him, and we must love Him before we can desire to obey Him. As a byproduct, our lives are immeasurably enriched by the comfort and hope He imparts to those who know, love, and obey Him. Poor theology and a superficial, inaccurate understanding of God will only make our lives worse instead of bringing the comfort and hope we long for. Knowing about God is crucially important. We are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about God. The world is a painful place, and life in it is disappointing and unpleasant. Reject theology and you doom yourself to life with no sense of direction. Without theology, we waste our lives and lose our souls.

All Christians should be consumed with theology—the intense, personal study of God—in order to know, love, and obey the One with whom we will joyfully spend eternity. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled What Exactly is Theology? on ReasonableTheology.org, the author (no name appears on the article) states:

For many Christians, theology is something that is consigned for seminaries, books over 3 inches thick, and Europe during the Reformation. However, every believer should consider themselves a theologian, as we all seek to know and understand God.

Strictly defined, theology is simply the study of the nature of God. Whenever we attempt to deepen our knowledge about God and His attributes, we are studying theology. We should never think that this is a realm reserved for academics and those whose LinkedIn profiles include “Theologian” as their job title.

It is not uncommon to hear someone state that because they already believe in God and the saving work of Jesus, they don’t have the need for studying theology. Such a statement reveals two issues; first, they are assuming that studying theology is a dry and difficult task best left to the professionals. Secondly, they don’t realize that they are already a theologian to some degree. A classical description of theology is “faith seeking understanding.” Every Bible study, Sunday school class, church service, and personal quiet time in the Word is dedicated to just that. When we devote our attention to knowing God better we are engaged in theology. . . .

For the purposes of this article, it is enough for us to realize that we don’t need to don powdered wigs and black robes before sitting down to “do theology.” Instead we must understand that when we search the Scriptures for answers about life, Jesus, God, and an endless number of other topics we are actively studying theology. (Quote source here.)

In a follow-up to this article on ReasonableTheology.org titled, Good Ways to Develop Bad Theology,” the author states:

As C.S. Lewis put it, “If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones.”

What this quote and our article series on everyday theology for the everyday Christian shows is that all believers are theologians to some extent. It is our responsibility to ensure that we are putting our best effort towards becoming good ones. For those uninterested in developing an accurate understanding of God, here are three good ways to end up with bad theology.

Ignore Difficult Bible Passages

The surest way to develop an incomplete picture of Biblical revelation is to skip over and ignore verses and passages that are confusing or conflict with what you previously thought.

When reading Scripture it is important to remember that not a single verse was included by accident.

Rather than merely passing over a verse or passage that presents difficulty, we should compare it to other verses, consult commentaries, and keep digging deeper. Just as muscles become weak when not exercised, our theology is weakened when we avoid being challenged.

Only Read Authors that Agree with You

If you avoid reading or listening to pastors and authors that do not completely subscribe to your exact theology, you’re unlikely to grow beyond your current level of knowledge and spiritual maturity. It is important to gain at least a basic understanding of the ideas of those who believe differently than you.

However, this does not mean that we should spend time submerging ourselves in flawed theology or entertaining heresy for the sake of being open-minded. Rather it is recommended that we acknowledge that in many areas there are a variety of view points represented in the Christian faith.

Even our favorite pastors and teachers are not likely to be correct in every facet of theology. If we allow ourselves to explore other viewpoints we will do one of two things: strengthen our own positions by finding that alternative ideas lack Biblical credibility or, when appropriate, realize we must better conform our understanding to the truth of Scripture.

Compromise to Avoid Confrontation

The opposite of the error above is to simply abandon essential truths in search of harmony among conflicting beliefs. Those who are quick to alter their theology merely to accommodate the shifting opinions of the world are unlikely to develop or maintain solid theology.

There are an unfortunate number of examples where believers are abandoning or downplaying truth in order to satisfy those around them. Areas of creation, sin, and the exclusivity of Christ are often disregarded in order to avoid offending others with truth.

Rather than stand firm on the teachings of Scripture, many compromise their beliefs in order to maintain a level of comfort and political correctness. May our confidence in the essential truths of our faith allow us to stand firm in upholding them, even when facing difficult conversations and situations.

Conclusion

Every Christian is a theologian. The question is not whether we have an understanding of God, but if we have a correct understanding of Him. We should be striving to have a more complete understanding of God and seek spiritual growth.

Avoiding the three errors above can help us to maintain a proper focus on becoming better theologians and better equipped believers. (Quote source here.) The entire series of articles titled,Everyday Theology for the Everyday Christian,” can be found at this link.

In one last article published October 27, 2016 in Christianity Today titled, Ten Reasons Why Theology Matters,” by David W. Congdon, associate editor at IVP Academic, and W. Travis McMaken, associate professor of religion at Lindenwood University, the authors give us those ten reasons why theology matters:

With recent polls showing a declining awareness and interest in theology among evangelicals, we thought of ten reasons why theology matters to every evangelical beyond simply avoiding heresy.

Theology matters…

1. Because even evangelicals need evangelizing.

There is much handwringing today over what it means to be evangelical, and the temptation is strong to define an essential evangelicalism—to pin it down to one particular form. Theologically, the problem with this response is that “taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) is not a once-and-done proposition. It is a task that has to be taken up anew again and again. Just like God’s grace, this fundamentally theological undertaking is “new every morning” (Lam. 3:23).

Evangelicalism is not a fixed and secure religious form or doctrinal system. It is not a confessional tradition or a denomination. Instead, evangelicalism is a way of relating to God and the world, one which emphasizes the good news of Jesus Christ and its importance for how we live our lives. There is no single right way to be an evangelical. In truth, evangelicalism is always ‘in via,’ always “on the way.” Evangelicals thus always need to be evangelized.

2. Because we can’t feel our way toward knowledge of God.

Experience has always been an important part of evangelicalism. From Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney to Henry Blackaby and Dallas Willard, evangelicals have long understood that the gospel demands a response of the will and a conversion of the heart. Such an emphasis often gives the impression that we can “find” God in experience. Chuck Colsons assessment here is right: The belief “that doctrines must be extracted from inward experience—that is, personal feelings” is “a version of Gnosticism.” The problem is there is no guarantee that one’s experiences do in fact point to God. We need a more certain way to know God.

Thankfully, God has provided just such a way: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known [exegesato]” (John 1:18). In Jesus we have the exegesis of God and a firm foundation for our faith.

3. Because the Bible is not a grab bag of facts about God.

In an effort to avoid the pitfall of improperly enlisting experience as a foundation for our knowledge of God, some have turned to Scripture as their infallible guide to faith and practice. But often this turn is made without giving enough thought to the difficulties involved in biblical interpretation—and not only the difficulty of learning strange languages! Appeals to this or that text have been used over the years to justify any number of ethical positions, from slavery and apartheid to the subjugation of women and anti-Semitic ‘pogroms.’ Furthermore, all the so-called “heretics” in Christian history knew their Bible very well and could find ample support for their positions within its pages.

In order to address this problem, the church from the outset developed two rules of interpretation: the “rule of faith” and the “rule of love.” The rule of love stipulates that one must read Scripture in a way that promotes the love of God and neighbor, and the rule of faith offers the church’s shared theological affirmations as a similar guide for reading. Jesus Christ stands behind each of these rules: He is the one who both enacts perfect love for God and neighbor, and he makes the Father known, as already mentioned. We must read Scripture with one eye fixed on Jesus Christ, and with a constant effort to see how each portion of Scripture points us back to him. This is the burden of Luther’s claim that “whatever promotes Christ is the Word of God to be sought and found in Holy Scripture” (Luther’s Works 35:396).

4. Because God likes highways, not cul-de-sacs.

The point here is not that God despises the suburbs and prefers the open road. As a metaphor, however, it is hard not to see that God prefers to be—to borrow C. S. Lewis’s language in describing Aslan—“on the move.” But this theological insight is easily forgotten under the pressure within our pluralistic society of defining what “we” believe as opposed to “them.” The result is what Roger Olson has described as “a certain militancy in defense of perceived evangelical doctrinal tradition” and “a tendency to fill up the ‘essentials’ (dogmas) category of Christian beliefs with non-essentials.” This desire to stabilize the tradition and protect against perceived deviations can easily lead to a sort of theological ossification. If the Word of God is indeed “living and active” (Heb. 4:12), then a militant defense of the past can result in the silencing of God in the present. Those who follow such a living God must also be on the move, bearing dynamic witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in our own place and time.

5. Because the New Jerusalem will be more urban than suburban.

Christians often labor under the false assumption that the cultural forms we have inherited from our ancestors in the faith are distinctively “Christian.” Our cultural blinders lead us to misread the biblical text, to find rules and guidelines that just aren’t there. Cultural norms about money, gender, race, work, and family seep into our subconscious and percolate into our daily life. They appear in television ads, on magazine covers, in playground chitchat, on highway billboards, in church-sponsored parenting seminars, and even in sermons.

Behind all of this is the assumption that there is only ‘one’ way to be truly human and live a truly human life—and, of course, that one way happens to be ‘our’ way. But when we look at the Bible, we see a manifold diversity of human identities and social structures. The “law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2) is not a blueprint but a command to follow Christ in the diversity of our local contexts and the unity of God’s coming reign. When Jesus rejects the prevailing family values of both his day and our own (Matt. 10:35–36), he is not telling us to hate our families. He is proclaiming a vision of fidelity to God’s kingdom that is bigger than a single culture’s social norms.

We are dealing, after all, with the God of Pentecost, a God whose kingdom embraces the full panoply of cultural diversity. We witness in the story of the gospel a God who does not have a “one size fits all” vision for human life, a God who rejects a monochrome creation, a God who prefers the vibrant messiness to spiritless homogeneity.

6. Because God isn’t just a good self-help instructor.

American culture surrounds us with the notion that we possess within ourselves all the resources necessary for success and happiness. Indeed, the United States was founded on the notion that we possess certain “inalienable rights” of self-actualization: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Unfortunately, this mode of thinking has found its way into Christian faith, preaching, and worship. One hears sermons for spiritual—or even material!—fulfillment, sings worship songs that seem more concerned with the singer’s needs and emotions than with Christ, and finds titles on bookstore shelves that promise to give you a fulfilling life now. We start to view God in terms of ourselves: We are weak, so God becomes strong; we are lonely, so God becomes our friend; we lack knowledge, so God becomes the cosmic answer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that theology is not in the business of “exploiting human weakness and human limitations.” Rather than understanding God in terms of human life, human life should be defined by the power of God in Jesus Christ. Christian faith acknowledges a God who discloses to us our true weakness—sin—and sovereignly acts in Christ to reconcile us to God and to each other. As the community of this God, the church is not a community of self-help instruction but a place of missionary self-giving. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

7. Because God isn’t a cosmic dictator.

Many people find comfort in the belief that God is in complete control of our lives. Knowing that God has a “perfect plan” not only provides certainty of salvation, but it also offers solace in times of great suffering. Perhaps it is no surprise that, in an age of political chaos fueled by an inability to find common ground, we find assurance in a Cosmic Decider that makes such clear and final decisions.

Viewed abstractly, we have here another version of the self-help deity—one who seemingly meets our needs and solves all our problems. But as Donald Bloesch observes, “Biblical Christians do not affirm the God of absolute power, the one who can do anything.” God’s sovereignty is not the arbitrary power to make the circle square or evil good. Naked sovereignty leaves us with no confidence in ‘who’ this God really is and whether God loves us and will be faithful to us. Thankfully, the Bible teaches that “God’s power is manifested not in arbitrary decrees but in sacrificial, other-serving love” (Bloesch), namely, in Jesus Christ.

8. Because God’s will for your life isn’t really about “your” life.

The question, “What is God’s will for my life?” is a vexing one for many believers. But, the attempt to “find” God’s will presupposes a separation between God’s “hidden” and “revealed” wills. According to the Reformers, God providentially rules over the world according to God’s hidden or eternal will, while Jesus only provided access to God’s revealed will concerning salvation. We are therefore left searching for clues in Scripture and experience, treating God’s hidden will like a murder mystery to be solved by a prayerful sleuth.

A second look at the New Testament calls into question the notion of two wills in God. According to the apostle Paul, “He [God the Father] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. . . . With all wisdom and understanding, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and things on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:5, 8–10).

The “mystery” of God’s will is not confined to the dark recesses of eternity but is “made known to us . . . in Christ.” The question about God’s will is never first and foremost about our own lives, but about his life. God’s will is therefore not a riddle to be solved but a reality to be praised and proclaimed.

9. Because the Christian life isn’t all about eating.

If there’s one thing Christians know how to do, it’s eat! Potlucks, coffee hours, picnics—if you can load up a table with food, you can count on church-folk showing up for times of “fellowship” and “spiritual refreshment.” Maybe that’s why the Lord’s Supper so easily becomes a focal point of our communal lives together: It just makes sense. Indeed, it has become increasingly central in recent years even among traditionally “low church” communities, who find the emphasis on communion helpful as an aid to focus on the divine Shepherd rather than on the human pastor.

But here’s the thing about eating: do too much of it without exercise and you get fat. While eating is a restorative and often pleasurable experience, it is finally aimed at a purpose beyond itself. We eat in order to live. The same holds true in the Christian life. We come to the Lord’s table to eat in order to live a certain kind of life. The Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19–20, describes the sort of life for which Christians are nourished at the table: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This is the church’s mission, the exercise that it must perform to keep from growing fat and indolent, the life for which it is nourished by word and sacrament. Christians are never fed simply for their own benefit but always on behalf of others.

10. Because it’s not just “what” you believe that matters, but “why” you believe it and “how.”

We are convinced that engaging in careful theological thought is an essential task of the Christian life. We can no more abandon theology than we can abandon God, since theology is involved in some fashion whenever we think or speak about God. Consequently, every person is a theologian. The only question is whether we will be thoughtful, responsible theologians or irresponsible ones. The journey of Christian discipleship is a matter of learning why we believe, and thinking hard and carefully about this belief, not so that we can bludgeon others with our knowledge but so that we can bear faithful witness to God in the totality of our life.

Theology is less about the ‘what’ and much more about the ‘how.’ We are called as Christians not to sign up to a certain doctrinal statement but to follow a certain way of life. To be a thoughtful believer is to be commissioned for a life of disciplined reflection in conversation with the prophets, apostles, and the theologians who have reflected on God in the past and whose legacy we have inherited. The goal is not simply to repeat the words that they used to proclaim the gospel in their time and place, but to think under their tutelage about what words we must use today.

Theology is inherently an act of prayer, insofar as we offer up our words and thoughts in service to God in the expectant hope—by the grace of the Holy Spirit—that they will build up the body of Christ. And this prayerful task of theology is never done. Like God’s mercies, it is new every morning. (Quote source here.)

And that is why theology matters . . . .

God’s mercies . . .

Are new . . .

Every morning . . . .

YouTube Video: “New Every Morning” by Audrey Assad:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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