Why Theology Matters: Action Born from Right Understanding
Clearly theology can become a stumbling block if we let it become a purely cerebral thing. If we fall into the trap of pouring all our energy into the intellectual understanding of God’s nature without stepping back to see how that understanding affects the overall picture, then we have completely missed the point. This would be like spending your entire life studying the mathematical relationships and symmetries of your wife’s facial features without ever stepping back to just admire her beauty. At the same time, we should be wary of abandoning the study of theology all together. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37, HCSB) If we discard everything we consider to be too “intellectual,” then we have discarded a key part of this commandment as well.
In its most basic form, theology is the study of God. Our God is not a distant, careless deity but a personal and relational being. God has chosen to reveal himself to us throughout history as well as in a personal relationship with Him. I think that it is safe to say that there is a certain level of understanding that God would like us to have of Him. God wants us to know that it was Him who suffered on the cross. He wants us to know how He has taken ahold of a fallen world and is fixing it through a process of redemption. God wants us to know certain truths about Him and he is pleased when we understand Him. God makes this clear in his words to the prophet Jeremiah:
This is what the Lord says:
The wise man must not boast in his wisdom;
The strong man must not boast in his strength;
The wealthy man must not boast in his wealth.
But the one who boasts should boast in this,
That he understands and knows Me-
That I am the Lord, showing faithful love,
Justice, and righteousness on the earth,
For I delight in these things. (Jeremiah 9:23-24, HCSB)
Don’t miss the importance of these words. God is delighted when we understand and know Him! Because God is so much greater than we are as humans, we can never fully grasp God in His entirety. We will spend an eternity in heaven learning more about God, but while we are here on earth, there is a certain level in which we can know and understand God. Theology is a very important aspect of knowing and understanding God.
This can be seen in the life of Jesus as well. The knowledge and understanding of God was important to Jesus. Luke tells us that Jesus grew up and was “filled with wisdom.” (Luke 2:40, HCSB ) When Jesus was still a young boy, the place He wanted to spend his time was in the temple, listening to the Jewish teachers and asking questions. People were astounded at the depth of Jesus’ understanding. (Luke 2:41-47) It was clear that a proper understanding of Judaism and God was important to Jesus on a personal level. Though Jesus spoke much more about practical aspects of Judaism, theology pervaded all of what He said and did. As Jonathan Keck put so perfectly in the last article, “In every commissioning to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and casting out demons, theology was at the core.” (Theology is dead: Looking for God on the streets, not in the libraries of the elites) Proper theology leads to action. If we can reach a better understanding of God, that understanding will demand action. True theology is not practiced in the university.
Additionally, we must realize that Paul spent more time speaking on concepts of theology than any other subject. Most of the New Testament bears Paul’s authorship and most of these works were meant to teach the early church proper theology. Paul’s theology had direct application to the struggles of the early church just as it has direct application to us today. It is no accident that Paul uses theological concepts to make an argument for christian living. When Paul writes to the Corinthian church, he uses the concept of unity with Christ’s body to argue for sexual purity. (1 Corinthians 6:15 ) When he writes to the church in Rome he uses the concepts of our death to sin and slavery to God as a means for righteous living. (Romans 6:15-22 ) There is a reason why Paul doesn’t spend his time writing a list of rules for Christians to follow. Christianity isn’t a list of rules. Instead, it is a proper understanding of Christian theology that led Paul to his understanding of Christian morality.
What’s more, Paul’s theology was not one that was restricted to his mind. Paul’s theology pervaded his whole life and relationship to God. Paul loved God and glorified God more because of his theology. Paul spent the first 11 chapters of Romans making logical arguments and forming Christian theology, and at the end he couldn’t help but praise God for it all:
Oh, the depth of the riches
both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
How unsearchable His judgments
and untraceable His ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been His counselor?
Or who has ever first given to Him,
and has to be repaid?
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36, HCSB)
If we were to know God the way that Paul does, our hearts would overflow with love just the same.
THEOLOGY21 is a co-op of authors dedicated to renovating theology for a new generation, taking the ancient truths of scripture and theology and speaking to the post-Christian culture of the 21st century. To keep up-to-date on all things THEOLOGY21, Give our Facebook page a “like”, follow our twitter page, add yourself to our email list, or subscribe to our feed!