Theology. Doctrine. Religion. Scary words often scapegoated, seen as potentially divisive and antagonistic to true spirituality. A movement has started to rid the church of boring theological pedantics.
All I need is my Daddy God, Jesus my Saviour, and the Holy Spirit, my best friend. Nothing else matters. It’s not religion, it’s a relationship. Skip Leviticus, Judges, Samuel … all you need is the Gospel of John.
I’m all for the pursuit of an authentic, experiential faith, but I believe those behind such movements risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Theology is inevitable. Simple or complex, rigorous or negligent, we inevitably carry certain theological beliefs. These form the bedrock on which we derive identity, purpose and a meaningful existence. Since engaging the young is increasingly a top priority among church leaders, should we ditch the “serious” stuff and focus on ambience – light, sound, smoke machines and contemporary music – instead?
Unfortunately, real faith doesn’t simply get infused in us after an emotionally-charged worship set. But the timelessness of the gospel, from Genesis to Revelation, has stood the test of time. If our church is to survive, we ought to dive right in.
In Faith: Simple or simple-minded, we called on Christians to take ownership of our faith, starting with embracing the Word. This will be the starting point for a strong handle on theology – a true understanding of who God is.
WHY EMBRACE THEOLOGY?
1. Because it renews your mind
“Who do you say I am?” Jesus asked His disciples in Matthew 16:15.
Imagine a medical student simply attending lectures without ever consulting a textbook, never once getting past the cover of Gray’s Anatomy (the book, not the TV show).
Doctrine might have been written centuries ago, but even timeless truth only becomes real in the here and now when we wrestle with it, internalise and apply.
But more than health, it’s about relationship. Should a husband only consider his feelings toward his wife? A loving couple will dig deep to know each other, because to be loved is to be known, valued and held.
In any loving relationship, some freedom is exchanged for a deeper level of intimacy. Submission paves the way for transformation. When we wrestle, God works in our deceitful hearts and stubborn minds, transforming us into His likeness.
Theology structures and interprets our spiritual experiences, which can be highly subjective.
Good theology steadies us in when we’re ambushed by our fickle feelings. You can’t suddenly decide to reject evidence for Jesus’ resurrection when you get bitten by the stray cat you tried to pat. Emotions and moods are incredibly volatile. But they don’t change truth.
Good theology expands our perspective. It reveals Jesus to be much more than a Saviour and Miracle-worker – God Almighty, Creator, Servant, Healer, Promise-keeper and our Banner of Victory – and the Gospel to be more than a “ticket to heaven”. It reveals God-given call, purpose and destiny. It restores awe and wonder to our cynical, despairing minds.
Theology structures and interprets our spiritual experiences, which can be highly subjective. The famed mathematician Blaise Pascal’s profession of faith came after a mystical experience. He could have interpreted it as a reason to be a random mystic. But good theology tied his subjective experience to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – YHWH.
Likewise, adequate theology grants those without a significant “conversion experience” strong handles to accept God’s truth, because regardless of personal experience, evidence speaks for itself (Romans 1:20).
2. Because it catalyses passion
Without substance, worship is an empty shell of emotional religiosity. No different from singing along to Coldplay live. Ever felt like your embers were fading out? Regardless of form, the root of passion is theology.
We know this because the most passionate people – football, writing, pottery –are purposeful and committed. They aren’t tossed by the wind and waves or driven solely by emotions.
Similarly, Paul’s theological discourse in Romans is infused with expressions of worship. Insight kindles and sustains praise. If theology seems boring, we’ve not descended deep enough – we’re barely snorkelling.
Such passion is not only essential to the growth of Christianity, but also its survival. Without theological context, the gospel is at best psychologically therapeutic and hardly transformative.
If theology seems boring, we’ve not descended deep enough – we’re barely snorkelling.
In a call against the reduction of orthodox Christianity to a “gospel minimum”, theologian BB Warfield wrote: “A truth not worth defending very soon comes to be seen as a truth not worth professing.”
Minimalist cultural Christianity risks being contaminated by other beliefs and practices that dilute its message, rendering it incoherent and irrelevant for future generations. Ironically, while the minimalist movement aims to reach youths, the same audience sees right through it.
Weak, politically-correct cultural Christianity isn’t Christianity.
3. Because it grants discernment
Many people failed to keep their covenant with God. One example is the Levites.
“For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” (Malachi 2:7-9)
Shall we fall into the same trap that claimed the Pharisees and Sadducees, who had Jesus killed?
Good theology allows us to interpret Scripture properly. Biblical inconsistencies are often used by opponents of Christianity to challenge the Bible’s reliability. Verses are quoted to suggest that Christianity condones slavery, incest, overconsumption and genocide.
But should such challenges always ignite a crisis of faith? Our hearts will always be rocky soil (Matthew 13:5) until we plough and dig deep.
4. Because it legitimises our witness
Paul laments for the plight of unbelievers in Romans 10:14. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
Given our current ignorance, he may have added: How can someone preach when one doesn’t know that which he preaches?
We preach Jesus, but who was He? What was His message?
The blind cannot lead the blind. We need good reasons for our hope in an unseen ultimate reality (1 Peter 3:15).
Spiritual unity is the church’s testimony. When properly understood, theology unifies rather than divides.
With broad biblical perspective, we would not squabble over whether women should wear veils or be allowed to speak in Church, whether men can grow long hair, or the liturgy of wedding ceremonies. We will differentiate rules from principles, law from grace.
Spiritual unity is the church’s testimony. (John 13:34-35, Acts 16:25, Ephesians 4:3, 1 John 4:12) When properly understood, theology unifies rather than divides.
History isn’t on our side, but we can do better.
Through the sincere and humble quest for correct theology, differentiating between the negotiable and non-negotiable, we should aim to be the Church Jesus called us to be: Perfectly one, that we may be effective in bringing the Gospel to the nations in its full power, promise and significance (John 17:23).
His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9), and we’ll never be able to fully comprehend them. But complacency isn’t justified. So much is at stake: Reality, destiny, promise, power, legitimacy.
He’s already revealed what we need to know. More so than ever before, it is now our humbling privilege to make sense of the mysteries of Scripture and truly live.