Ignorance is not a virtue, not according to the Bible (cf. Eph. 4.18). But we should also quickly remind ourselves that intellectualism is also not the ultimate virtue either (cf. 1 Cor. 13.1-8). Although I hate to use the ever-elusive term balance, that really is what is needed when we approach the concept of theology. To be clear, there is no balance with regard to the importance of theology; the importance of theology simply can never be overstated. We must know what we believe and why. But again, we also have to state the other side of the equation, namely that with all of our theology there comes the commensurate responsibility of practical application. In other words, we need to live out the theology that we know and believe. If we do not follow through practically with obedience what we will have in the end is nothing but dead orthodoxy, which is not good theology at all. Only the biblical balance of biblical orthodoxy and biblical orthopraxy will do.
THEOLOGY IS WORSHIP
As we approach the subject of the allergy however we have to begin with an understanding of the necessity for seeing theology as an aspect of Christianity in general which is comprehensively a life of worship:
Romans 12:1–3 1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
Paul simply picks up where the Shema Israel and Jesus left off, the command to love God with all my heart as well as with all of our soul and might (Dt. 6.5; Mk. 12.30). The Gospel make it clear that the “heart” of Deuteronomy is also the “mind”- interchangeable concepts in biblical parlance. Both the old and New Testament therefore are teaching the same reality, that we worship God with our entire being. Sadly, today too many believers compartmentalize their Christianity. In reality they have customized their Christianity. In our culture where customization is a modern obsession, people believe they can customize their spirituality the way that we customize the apps on our smart phones. However, this is not in keeping with the biblical imperative to worship God with our entire mind, soul and strength. In a word, we take theology seriously because God wants all of us. He is our Creator and we exist for his glory (cf. Is. 43.7).
THEOLOGY IS MIND WORK AND HEART WORK
As our theology begin to take shape it is important that we are also shaping our lives. Our theology will have an effect upon us one way or the other. If the allergy does not affect the way that we live, the way that we behave, our ethics, our morality and our behavior; theology is landing on heart of stone in which case a greater priority has emerged. If mind work and heartwork do not go together, we have a much greater concern than reading the latest book on theology by our favorite author or theologian; we need Christ! The focus changes from the work of the mind to the salvation of the soul.
Still, our theology will begin to shape our lives resulting in conformity to the law of Christ or in deviating from the gospel itself. These trajectories will manifest themselves and very practical ways in our lives. They will have a direct effect on the way that we think, the way that we live, or behavior both personally, privately, in the home, in the church and in the culture. We will begin to either conform our lives to the standards revealed in God’s holy word and exemplified in Christ, or we will begin the process of conformity to the world (Psalm 1). James’ wisdom is imperative here:
James 1:22–25 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
THEOLOGY IS A LIFELONG ENDEAVOR
If we resolve from this that we are going to get serious about theology, that would be good and commendable but it may also be unrealistic and immature. Nothing that lasts in Christianity is instant. Signification immaturity take time and theology is a lifelong endeavor. Zeal is good but zeal with knowledge is better. Sanctified zero is the best. And our approach to theology is no different. We need a lifelong commitment. In fact, we need a dogged commitment never to stop pursuing the knowledge of God. I say this because our entire life is an obstacle course of adversities and setbacks, distractions and temptations that seek to lead us away from the pursuit of God itself.
The primitive Church is nothing if it is not a community built on the apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2.42). It was committed to the apostle’s doctrine in all of life and this commitment was lived out “against all odds.” They were persecuted, infiltrated, threatened, divided, fragile, weak, and assaulted by heretical adversaries at every turn (cf. 1 Cor. 1.16; 2 Cor. 11.1-6; Gal. 1.6; 3.1). Believers preparing to grow in grace and knowledge are preparing to enter a great war. Building our understanding of theology requires time, commitment, patience, and hard work. These virtues do not come easy to us. Our culture rushes us, occupies our time and sets forth other options for us to consume our time with both good and bad. That’s why we need a game plan and we need to stick with it.
Just a couple of pointers on that for everybody: Space, time, goals. Space: where you study is important. For me that is easy, I go to my home office/library where all my books are. I have a desk designed for study. You need a space dedicated for the study of God’s word. This could be the kitchen table, a coffee shop, one of the kids rooms late at night or in the morning. Wherever that space is for you the point is, you take the study of God’s word series enough to allocate a specific area in your home or other location reserved as least in part for the study of God’s word. Time: be disciplined in devoted set times for the study of God’s word. This would be a good place to qualify that what I’m talking about does not reduce everyone to the same space/time/goals as a pastor or fulltime seminary student etc. but it does say that at every and any level, the study of God’s word demands the same thing for all of us, namely that we take it serious not casual. We all need to go beyond simply a cursory reading of the bible in the name of our “devotional” lives and we have be willing to rightly divide the word of truth.
Goals: finally, we all need various goals in our study of Scripture and theology. We need at least three things but first we need to say something about goals. Our goals are necessary to make progress. The older I get, the less time I have to read the latest books by various authors, all of which may be good; but the problem is that my study habits are now dictated by what makes the most progress. In other words, have goals that will actually cause growth. That part is essential. Aside from that preliminary point, also make goals that are realistic, comprehensive and challenging. Realistically, we are all at various levels, do not try to keep up with those who are in the know of “deeper” more sophisticated theology; the Lord knows who you are and where you are in your comprehension of Scripture and theology. It is far better to read a book and know it well than to read a book you cannot understand and gain little or nothing from it, just for the sake of saying you read it! Comprehensively, theology is encyclopedic. We have to get around to knowing the various schools of thought that are most beneficial for us to grow in grace. From Systematic Theology to Biblical Theology; from Historical Theology to Practical Theology; we want to slowly familiarize ourselves with Christian doctrine comprehensively. Thankfully, this can be as easy as reading a catechism and working our way up to a Systematic Theology such as Louis Berkhof.
Challenging theology is also essential for Christian discipleship. This is how we grow. This is how athletes jump a little further and higher, this is how weight lifters increase in muscle tone, this is how musicians move from reading chords to tablature; don’t settle and your maturity will not be stunted. This direction toward increasing in our knowledge of God does not automatically mean that you need to read more difficult books, but perhaps you will read more broadly, add more time to your studies, or take up multiple subjects at once. Familiarize yourself with what the next step for you is and stick to your goals.
THEOLOGY IS HARD
With complete transparency, we must say the theology is hard. Scripture says the same thing. The author of Hebrews points out to his readers that he had difficult things to teach them concerning the Melchezedekian priesthood (a challenging subject for any student of Scripture), a goal he believed they could attain, but they had become “dull of hearing” and the result was theological immaturity that made them susceptible to real error, even heresy (Heb. 5.11-14)! Back to the metaphors above. Athletes grow in their skills often by intentionally injuring themselves. In a controlled fashion, muscles fibers are torn, dehydration can set in, exhaustion can ensue all in pursuit of something positive. The same for us in theology. We may grow weary, we may lose sleep, we may gain weight, we may grow frustrated with the process and often lose sight of the goal. But like the athlete who often wants to give up, he presses on because of the goal, the prize which is ultimately to win what Paul calls, “a perishable wreath” (1 Cor. 9.25).
Oodles of effort are offered up on the altar of the temporal in this world. Yet, as believers we know that we belong to an everlasting kingdom and the work that we do in theology will redound to eternity (1 Cor. 15.58). All of our blood, sweat, and tears that we might offer in the interest of Christian discipleship will not be in vain so long as we pursue these things by faith.
THEOLOGY IS WORTH IT
Paul says our prize is “imperishable.” It is hard but it is worth it. We have to be crystal clear on this point as well. Theology is worth it not because first and foremost it makes us feel good. Theology is worth it not because it will make us happy. Theology is worth it not because we can win theological battles and arguments. Theology is worth it not because we will simply know more data. Theology is worth it not because we can gain earthly accolades and credentials. Theology is worth it not because we will be better people at the end of it. There is an element of truth is all of these motives. Above all however, theology is worth it because it is worship offered in the service of the glory of God. This exposes a great presupposition in the entire theological enterprise – the spirituality of theologians.
The goal of our theology is worship. Stated negatively, we are seeking to rid ourselves of any and all idolatrous concepts of God as we approach him in worship and as we commune with him in a relationship with the Triune God.
As we endeavor to purify our theological worship of God, reflect on the words of one of Christendom’s greatest thinkers and Reformed Theologians for whom, the study of theology was never to be reduced to dead orthodoxy or emotional and ego-centric mysticism (from: The Religious Life of Theological Students):
“Whatever you may have done in the past, for the future make all your theological studies ‘religious exercises’. This is the great rule for a rich and wholesome religious life in a theological student. Put your heart into your studies: do not merely occupy your mind with them, but put your heart into them. They bring you daily and hourly into the very presence of God; his ways, his dealing with men, the infinite majesty of his Being form their very subject-matter. Put the shoes from off your feet in this holy presence!” – B.B. Warfield
Soli Deo Gloria