WHY THEOLOGY MATTERS
Written by Doug Ponder on August 7, 2013
Getting Theology Wrong
Until very recently in history the importance of theology was understood by all. Today, however, it is widely the case that we no longer understand why theology matters. (Hence this article.) On top of this, we have added to our ignorance two errors concerning what theology is and who theology should be studied by.
Our first error is thinking of theology as a subject to be studied only by those who are “paid to do it.” For many, that brings pastors and professors to mind. It seems that we fall prey to thinking this way because of the second error: we see theology as an academic discipline with little or no practical affect on our lives, except maybe to make many who study theology much more proud and much less like Jesus.
When these errors are combined, as they so often are, we end up with an ugly cocktail of falsehood: theology becomes seen as something for only arrogant people who like to argue a lot and read dry books written by dead guys. Nothing could be further from the truth!
What Theology Really Is
In reality, theology is the study of “living to God,” as the Puritan theologian William Ames wrote. It is an examination and analysis of God and his purposes in order to live in appropriate response to him. In other words, theology is the study of how we ought to live before God.
That means every man or woman, no matter who they are, is a theologian. This is just as true of pastors as it is of plumbers. We are all theologians (students of theology) because we all have thoughts about God. Therefore, the question is not, “Am I a theologian?” but “Am I a good theologian?” That is, you shouldn’t ask yourself whether or not you have a theology. You certainly do. Everyone who has thoughts about God (including those who think he does not exist) has a theology. Instead, you ought to ask yourself if your theology is accurate. Do your ideas about God, about yourself, and about life line up with what God has about all of these things?
Why Theology Matters
One reason that theology is so significant is because its conclusions affect every all other subject matter in the world. That’s why Christians in the middle ages called theology the “queen of the sciences.” They understood that every other field of study—mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, literature, art, etc.—all these are approached with thoughts about what kind of world we are living in, why we are here, and where things are headed.
People who think they can live life or “do ministry” without theology are naively mistaken. All of us are living out the effects of a particular theology every moment of every day. You do what you do because of what you believe about God, about yourself, and about the world. Theology changes everything, either for good or for evil.
To summarize: If the God of the Bible exists, then you are accountable to him in all that you do. Theology is studying what God has said about himself, his creation, and his purposes in order to know how we ought to respond to him. Therefore, the extent to which we pursue theology with diligence and humility undoubtedly mirrors the extent to which we are able to understand, to obey, and to love God himself.
How Theology Should Be Studied
Once you realize that studying theology simply means studying what God has said about himself and his creation, we ought to approach theology in the following ways:
1. With humility – We’ll never know everything, since we’re not God. We also must be humble enough to admit that we may be wrong about a great deal of what we think. This shouldn’t scare us, since the most significant teachings of Scripture are quite plain (that God is creator, that we belong to him, that we all reject him and disobey in our own ways, that we all need Jesus to redeem us from our sinful rebellion and slavery to death).
2. With diligence – Studying what God has said requires time and effort. It is not something that we can do as children and then be done with it forever. Nor is it merely a surface-level matter, as if five minutes of speed reading each day will shape and form our minds. Studying God is a lifelong endeavor.
3. With passion – Studying God is not a dry, academic pursuit. He is a living God, and when we study what he has said we ought always to remember Who it is that we are learning about. God calls us to know him, not just know about him.
4. With others – Studying theology is not a solo project. We ought to be humble enough to realize that we are not the first and only person to have thought about these matters before. Thus we should study theology in community, both in “conversation” with the writings of Christians in church history, and in communion with other believers in our local church. It is not for nothing that God gives some the gift of teaching for the building up of the entire body (Eph. 4:11-16).
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.