Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Is Theology really all that important?

I've been asked that very question more than once and in more than one way. A lot of Christians get a bit "put off" at the thought of studying theology or doctrine. Those two words, theology and doctrine, tend to be met with moans and groans when mentioned in any setting of Christians outside of academia. One of the best answers I've ever heard or read to the question, "why should I study theology?", was put forth by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. He said, "{If} you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones - bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas.

I was once asked to give a brief overview of systematic theology to an adult Sunday School class. That overview was to be followed by a 4-week study on the subject of Christology. I began the first class by asking the question, "what's the first thought that enters your mind when you hear the term systematic theology?" That question was met by audible groans, some laughter, and one man shouting out, "TROUBLE!" The responses caught me a bit off guard, but I guess I wasn't really all that surprised...people tend to view the study of theology as something that should be left to "professional theologians" - pastors, professors, and the piously argumentative intellectuals who like to hear themselves talk and are visibly shaken when a conversation takes to using too many monosyllabic words!

The fact is that all Christians are theologians...some are just bad ones. We should be constantly striving to learn all that we can about our Heavenly Father. Too many Christians allow their pastor or their church's doctrinal statement to tell them what they believe without ever having bothered to study for themselves. I think it's an understatement to say that this is tragic....why would a Christian operate under the notion that that sort of laziness and apathy is acceptable?

Obviously, study isn't the end all. Increasingly deeper study should lead one to correct doctrine and a correct view of God. A solid grasp on correct doctrine, coupled with a correct view of God, ought to lead one to a more holy way of living as he strives more and more to please God.

Too often I've seen blissfully ignorant Christians take some sort of ridiculous pride in their ignorance of even the most rudimentary portions of theology. I once heard a pastor proudly proclaim, "I ain't no theologian" (that's a word-for-word quote). The sad part was that this proclamation was made during his ordination (a sham if I've ever seen one). The purpose of the ordination was so that he could be sent out to pastor a church elsewhere. He went and within 2 years the church had all but vanished from the face of the earth. That pastor went back to his sending church with tales of how the people were against him the whole time and he was just glad to be back amongst "God's people". (By the way, even though this guy should have known that he was in no way prepared for the pastorate, I hold the pastor of the sending church even more responsible.....another reason I'm so thrilled to be away from the psychotic fringes of IFB-dom). While this is purely anecdotal, there are a million stories just like this one. While these same people can quote Matthew 22:37 by heart, very few of them have ever bothered to consider what the phrase "with all your mind" might encompass.

Is the study of theology really all that important? Absolutely! Let's strive to engage our hearts and minds in diligent study of the things of God. I began a new study on the Doctrine of Scripture this week and came across this great statement from R.C. Sproul, "The Word of God can be in the mind without being in the heart; but it cannot be in the heart without first being in the mind."


Marty Colborn said...


Theology is not for theologians. They mess it up! (a generalization) - Theology is simply getting to know our Saviour better. Through our Bible study we walk with Jesus and He teaches us the things concerning Himself as He did the disciples on the Emmaus road. Theology is nothing more than that, really: walking with Jesus. As far as we are ignorant of Him, we are idolators, for we are living by an imagined view of Him, rather than by a view of Him in His glory as He really is. Granted, we see through a glass darkly, but as we read, and as the Spirit of God teaches us, we grow up into Him, and our theology becomes more accurate. Any theology lesson that doesn't draw us nearer to Christ, goes amiss.

I think that people reacted the way they did because of the term "systematic theology". The name invokes images of tedious study, poring over huge volumes of dry, dusty writings, learning polysyllabic words that never see the light of day except in such volumes themselves.

Systematic theology is a great blessing, really, because it is studying a particular subject to find out the mind of Christ on that subject, (e.g. - what does the Bible say about the incarnation of Christ?) Studying a particular subject exhaustively (not tiringly, but completely), corrects our errors and loose thinking about that subject, and we are able to worship Christ better because we know Him better. The promise is that we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. I know that the promise speaks of the future, but the more we see Him as He is (and that will always be limited here on earth), the more we are transformed into His image, from grace to grace.

BTW - if you want to read a theologian whose writings (though difficult to read at times)reflect as deep a devotion to Christ as I have seen anywhere, read John Owen's The Glory of Christ. Although Owen uses words like "prolix" (and he might be so at times), and "ineffable", a dictionary will clear those up for you, and you will be greatly blessed for having takent the time to read that book.

Ellis Murphree said...

Thanks for your thoughts here, Marty. As always, you challenge me, my friend. I've read a bit of Owens over the years and have come to enjoy him (as I do most of the Puritan writers), but I don't recall reading the work you mentioned. I'll have to check it out!

Little Sung Little Flock said...


I have no objection to theology as worthy of every Christian's attention in the way you define it.

But I find that when people use the term [this] theology, or [that] theology, that theology is merely a way of compartmentalizing the great truths of scripture into mere schools of thought, to which we can pick and choose and subscribe freely as we wish.

Doctrine, on the other hand, has a much stronger connotation and is not open for debate, but known only by obedience (John 7:17).

For this reason, I don't tend to trust Christians that make a lot of "theology" but avoid "doctrine." Very often they are disobedient, because the words of Scripture have no effect on their personal "theology."

Just a thought. :)