For years now, I have made it my goal to release something every day that will encourage people, or challenge them, or instruct them, or otherwise bring them some kind of spiritual benefit. Not surprisingly, I receive all sorts of feedback, and there are a couple of kinds that, more than any other, discourage and dismay me. It’s when people who have been Christians for a long time reveal that they have only the smallest amount of theological knowledge or, even worse, reveal their belief that theological knowledge is an unnecessary or even evil thing. This is sadly common and always tragic.
Ignorance is the expectation, of course, when it comes to new believers—we all begin with knowledge that is minuscule and faulty. But ignorance is a great concern when people have professed faith for many years or been in church for many decades, yet have never advanced beyond the basics. In many cases, people have simply never been told that there is such a category as “theology.” Perhaps they’ve only ever been told that “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship.” And while it’s true and precious that we get to have a relationship with God, the Christian faith is also a substantial, established, orderly, cohesive body of truth. Perhaps they’ve only ever been told that theology is dangerous, that “doctrine divides.” Or maybe they’ve been told or taught that theology is boring, the purposeless or even prideful pursuit of knowledge that compels us to body slam others with facts. Admittedly a lot of people abuse theology in that way, but theology is far more and far better than that.
Understood properly and practiced biblically, theology is not the accumulation of cold facts, but of accurate and true knowledge that is meant to work its way out in our thoughts and lives. When we have great knowledge of God, we can think great thoughts of God. When we think great thoughts of God, we can live great lives for God. When we live great lives for God, we bring great glory to God. In that way theology is not meant to serve self, but to serve others and, through them, to glorify God. We can’t truly know God or live for God until we know the facts God gives us about himself. Which is to say, we can’t truly know God as he is or live for God as he desires as long as we reject or downplay theology.
We are all responsible before God to know these things truly and rightly, to align our knowledge with the source of truth God has given us in his Word. We are all responsible to deepen and sharpen this knowledge, to gain greater knowledge and to ensure it becomes more accurate over time. What else is “guarding the good deposit” than this? How else could we be “transformed in the renewing of our minds” but this?
What many people fail to understand is that the issue is not whether we have theology, but whether the theology we have is factual or false. We all have thoughts about the existence, character, and actions of God. We all have thoughts about humanity, about our place and purpose in this world, and about our relationship to God. We all act on the basis of our thoughts, our convictions. We are theologians, and the only question is whether we are good or poor ones.