“Theology is the science of God and His relationship to man and the world.”
– Benjamin B. Warfield
R.C. Sproul recently released a book entitled, Everyone’s A Theologian. The title is true, everyone really is a theologian. Everyone has thoughts about God, humanity, and the world in which we live. Very often, those thoughts are demonstrated through our actions and relationships. Thus, there is a sense in which everyone is living out their theology.
The deeper question, however, is what kind of theologian are you? How do you form conclusions about God? Do you spend time reading Scripture? Do you use study helps? Are there people that you trust who can provide a check on your findings? I have heard people say that all they need to do is pick up the Bible, read it, and they can gain all the education they need. They do not need commentaries and certainly do not need a pastor or theologian telling them what to believe. Well, that is both true and not true. Yes, we can glean truths by reading Scripture, but we can also create heresies if we proceed unchecked.
Personally speaking, I employ a consistent method to studying theology (which I’ll post in more detail in the near future). But even before I embark on my study, I remind myself of some foundational points to engaging theology:
1. We may not theologize without emotion.
Theology is not purely cerebral. This is a discipline that connects the head with the heart. It is not uncommon for me to pause in the midst of my studies and be gripped with astonishment. Even in theological conversations with friends, I often have moments where something is impressed upon me in a profound way. Scripture sometimes uses the phraseology, “hunger and thirsting” to depict an intense longing for God. When we study we should do so with passion.
2. Theology rightly done involves praise, adoration, and worship.
In many respects, this flows from the first point. As we delve into understanding God’s holiness in contrast to our sinfulness, we begin to see His grace all the more. That grace ought to evoke a spirit of thanksgiving. Thus, we praise God for His mercies and long to proclaim His goodness to others. You know you are engaged in thoughtful theology when the desire to worship God intensifies.
3. Theology is attainable regardless of background.
Scripture has certain attributes, or characteristics. One of those characteristics is called clarity, or the more technical term perspicuity. What this means is that anyone can read Scripture and apprehend the truth of the Gospel. Of course, all this occurs through the illumination of the Holy Spirit but the fact remains that the Gospel message is clear. Interestingly, the New Testament was written in a commoners Greek dialect and not in an ultra-sophisticated manner. Regardless of one’s educational background, Scripture clearly presents the good news of Jesus Christ.
4. Godly Christians differ from one another.
A few months ago I got into a discussion about end-times theology. The person I was speaking with was inappropriately critical of people who hold to a particular stance on Christ’s return, which happened to be mine! The criticism was so harsh that he even ventured into questioning how someone can be saved and hold to that view. Without yielding to him my personal position on the matter, I tried to get him to understand that there are multiple views on this subject that are held by people who I trust and admire. Even though I may disagree with the other perspectives, I understand that there is room for differences on this very difficult doctrine. When studying theology, one must take into account whether they are engrossed in something which is essential or non-essential (more on this later).
5. There is a need in evangelism for more theological knowledge.
Evangelism is proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Sounds simple enough, right? The problem is we often go beyond merely saying, “Repent and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.” We often speak about things like God’s character, our sinfulness, the Holy Spirit, and heaven and hell. The more we say, the more we better make sure we know what we are talking about. Theology and doctrine matter. Since every Christian is called to proclaim the good news, it should be every Christian’s obligation to be well prepared. Studying theology can only enhance our evangelism.