There are many professing Christians who believe that knowing God is so difficult and even farfetched while on earth, there is no point in striving to know him. “Faith is all we need” is a common thought. They separate faith from knowledge. The result is a lack of Bible study, lack of desire to discuss theological matters, and ultimately a lack of desire for God himself. Salvation by grace through faith becomes a means to an end. To them, God is the means while heaven or reunion with deceased family and friends is the end. Whether God is in heaven or not really doesn’t matter. And even though this statement is strong for some who deny the importance of theology, neglecting the study of God as a means to know him demonstrates a lack of desire for God himself. Theology is also seen as lacking practical relevance.
As a theology student, this kind of thinking is alarming because if it is correct, then I am clearly wasting my time and my life. Despite this common thought in the Bible Belt, I contend that theology is not only important, but necessary for knowledge of God and ultimately worship of God. As fallen humans with fallible minds, we need theology in order to worship God rightly. And any theology that doesn’t lead to doxology (worship) of God for who he has revealed himself to be in his Word is illegitimate. Oh, theology matters; for the Christian life and Christian worship.
Theology: Our Lens
Theologian John Frame has written, “the theologian states the facts and truths of Scripture for the purpose of edification” (Systematic Theology, 6). The goal of theology is Christlikeness. We do theology so that we would continue to be conformed to the image of Christ by having our minds and hearts transformed by the truths of Scripture. Theology should give us greater knowledge of God to fuel our joy in God. Theology also gives a response to the needs of people and the situations that we face in life. This is the very point Frame makes in his definition of theology: “theology is the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life” (Systematic Theology, 8). Theology, therefore, permeates every aspect of our lives.
Every Christian needs theology. It is vital for our faith and our lives to think about and study God as he has revealed himself in Scripture.
Theology is the lens through which we can more clearly see and understand the world around us. If you are like me and have very poor vision, when you are without prescription glasses or contacts, everything looks very blurry. Sure, I can make out a road sign on the side of the interstate; but I cannot always see the speed limit. This is a poor excuse for speeding, by the way. Only when I put my glasses on does everything suddenly become clear and only then can I avoid getting a ticket or harming myself and others.
Theology is that lens through which we see life. It shapes our worldview. What we think about God truly does matter; more than anything else. It helps us answer some of life’s most difficult and important questions. Can God be both loving and wrathful? Can God really hate sinners and love sinners (Ps. 5:5; Rom. 5:8)? Are my sins really just mistakes or is it more sinister than that? Does God even really care about me or the way I live my life? What is life really all about anyway? Why am I suffering? Is there anything to satisfy my longings, worries, and doubts?
Theology not only gives answers to these questions, but the study of God revealed in his Word helps clear up some cloudy things in life. The way you view war, abortion, marriage, divorce, work, being a father or mother, and countless other aspects of life depends upon your theology. And make no mistake, you do have a theology whether you realize it or not. Even the atheist has a theology of God, only it is foolish (Ps. 14:1).
Theology: Practical Necessity
Remember John Frame’s definition of theology: ““theology is the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life.” Theology is not reserved for seminaries and scholars. Theology fuels the everyday life of both the pastor and the plumber. Theology matters when you wake up dreading the job that you are about to go to. Theology matters when your son or daughter, parent or friend is living in sin despite your prayers and pleas. Theology matters when your parents divorce. Theology matters in a healthy marriage and a troubled marriage. It matters when you are on the golf course, and it matters when you are on the internet. Theology matters when tragedy strikes and when you prosper. Theology matters when children are born and when children die. Theology matters when you doubt; when you worry; when you are sorrowful; when you rejoice; when you sin; when you suffer; when you evangelize; when you live; and when you die.
Our commitment to Christ and his mission is made evident through our theology. Our theology fuels our obedience to Christ. Good, sound theology is a catalyst for grace-empowered acts of love and kindness. And a good, sound theology will serve as the building blocks for our evangelism, missions, and personal sanctification.
Theology: A Means of Grace for Joy
Taking theology seriously, realizing that theology matters, is like taking a dive head first into the ocean. It can be frightening because the water is so deep and the sea is so vast. But on a hot day, the refreshing feel of the cool water against you as your body is fully immersed is so sweet. It is the same with theology. The topics are deep and God is incomparably vast. Oh, but how sweet the refreshment of a God-entranced vision of the world around you. Oh, how cool and satisfying the waters of theology are to the dry and weary soul! So, swim through his Word, swim through the thoughts of saints before you, and swim through the fellowship and thoughts of saints among you!
John Calvin once wrote,
“Today all sorts of subjects are eagerly pursued; but the knowledge of God is neglected…Yet to know God is man’s chief end, and justifies his existence. Even if a hundred lives were ours, this one aim would be sufficient for them all.”
Thinking about God in a biblically faithful way, my friends, is the pathway to true and lasting satisfaction and joy for your soul through all pain, suffering, and in all endeavors in this life. Nothing will satisfy you so much as knowing God. Theology matters because it is the most practical way to gain access into the glorious mysteries of God revealed in Christ. And no other grace has produced more joy in my soul. May it ever be so with you as well.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” –Romans 11:33-36
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY. with his wife Erica.