By Aaron Marks
Throughout history, Christians have experienced great division as a consequence of theological disharmony. Arguably, the pursuit of a theological framework has lead many unassuming believers down a dangerous path of heresy and apostasy. Teachers and students of the subject have been classified as arrogant and unloving as a result of their dogmatic approach to biblical topics. Likewise, it is often said that an over-emphasis on theology produces lazy Christians who just sit around and fight over non-essential issues. I know many young students of the Word who have seen the need for theological training as a barrier between them and their desire to preach and do missions. And I have seen my own mishandling of theology produce self-righteousness and arrogance in my life.
So understandably, some Christians have dismissed theology as both dangerous and unproductive. But throwing theology out with the bathwater isn’t a helpful resolve. This is because theology is unavoidable. Everyone, regardless of job or church background, is a theologian. We “theologize” anytime we think and speak about God. For example, statements like, “I believe Jesus is going to return” or “I believe God is like…” are theological in nature. John Frame states that, "the professor of theology at a university or seminary is no more or less a theologian than the youth minister who seeks to deal with the doubts of college students, or the Sunday school teacher who tells OT stories to children or the father who leads family devotions, or the person who does not teach in any obvious way but simply tries to obey Scripture" (Systematic Theology). This is why theology matters: what we believe effects what we do. When our theology is unorganized and inconsistent with the whole of Scripture, our ability to apply the Word of God is greatly hindered.
What is Theology?
In most simplistic terms, theology is the study of God. In his Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge defined theology as, “the exhibition of the facts of Scripture.” Additionally, John Frame defined it as, “the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life.” Thus, theology is essentially the study and application of Scripture. There are many disciplines within theology such as systematic theology, biblical theology, philosophical theology, and more. There are theological terms such as Trinity and incarnation that aren’t found in Scripture, but are useful for summarizing biblical concepts. Good theology is a result of thorough analysis of all Scriptures in relation to a particular topic. A doctrine is then formulated as a result of studying what the whole Bible teaches concerning that specific topic. All of this is done in order to equip and edify that body of Christ. The structures, terms, and summaries found in theology are intended to provide answers to doubts and questions concerning the inspiration of Scripture, the threeness of God, and the deity of Jesus Christ, to name a few. Most importantly, Wayne Grudem says that, “any Christian reading (theology) should find his or her Christian life enriched and deepened" (Systematic Theology). Therefore, theology rightly studied should result in Christian growth and practical application.
Why Our Theology Matters:
1. Theology provides a structure for Bible study
Theology, if used properly, is a great tool in the hand of any Christian for both personal and group bible studies. It provides a structure to help us understand the central themes that thread the entire Biblical story together. Furthermore, theology attempts to organize and compare complementary doctrines in order to protect against an, “imbalanced emphasis on only one aspect of the full biblical presentation” (Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology). So a general understanding of theological topics such as sin, justification, and sanctification will help provide sound answers to tough questions that may surface during the reading of a particular text. However, it's imperative that we ensure that our theology is the summation of the facts of Scripture, lest we fall guilty of twisting and contorting the Word in order to fit our own system of beliefs.
2. Theology informs church philosophy and practice
A church’s thinking about God effects its culture, ministries and mission. This is why it's so critical that we attend a local church that not only teaches sound doctrine, but also seeks to implement those truths. For instance, we believe that the eternal Son of God left his heavenly glory and took on flesh (incarnation) in order to rescue and redeem us. Therefore, we believe that we must step outside the four walls of the church and into our local contexts with the purpose to serve like Christ. This is why at VGF we are involved in outreach ministries such as Street Side Sunday School, Look Up Meal, and LIDS.
3. Theology creates doxology
It is said that good theology creates passionate doxology (corporate praise and worship). When God’s character and work are spoken from the pulpit or sung during praise, souls are nourished, affections are stirred, and obedience is produced. This is why at VGF our teachings and songs are full of rich theological truth. When the inexhaustible attributes of our God are magnified, our comfort, satisfaction, and joy in him increases so intensely that we can't help but declare in the same manner as the Apostle:
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! 'For who has known the mind of The Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." - Romans 11:33-36 (ESV)