Why Theology Matters

by Nov 18, 2014

Some Christians get cold sweats when they hear the word “theology.” I’ve even heard a pastor tell his people not to get too “theological.” Leave that to the seminary professors with dusty books stacked high in their dark offices.

Many Christians have trouble believing that we can really understand God and his plan. God is so big, and we’re so small — how could we ever really understand him and his ways?

It sounds like a humble thing to ask, but that humility isn’t actually humility at all. As G.K. Chesterton said more than a hundred years ago, “What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.”

It sounds humble to say we can’t really understand God, but it’s actually one of the most prideful things you could possibly say. Because we’re telling God, “We don’t think you’re a wise enough and powerful enough to reveal yourself to us in a way we can understand, so we’re not even going to try to understand you.” We’re saying, “All those people who think they can understand God are wrong. We’re the only ones who really understands the truth, and that’s the fact that God is un-understandable!”

But here’s the thing: everyone has some kind of understanding of God. Everyone has theology, whether they know it or not. Everyone goes through a process to decide what they believe and don’t. That’s theology. The only question is whether it’s good theology or bad theology.

Everyone Has Theology

Everyone has an idea in their head of what God is like. Maybe he’s the ultra-demanding boss in the sky who’s never satisfied with you. Or maybe he’s the nice old uncle who always gives you a pass when you mess up, “Hey, nobody’s perfect! Just believe in yourself more! Always next time!” Maybe he’s the deadbeat dad who’s always somewhere else and never has time for you.

Whatever you think about God, mankind, and the world is your theology. It can be either consistent and scriptural theology or it can be theology that you pieced together from things you’ve experienced, things you heard from a pastor on the radio, things in the latest book you read, and things you saw on the side of a Starbucks cup.

Forming Scriptural Theology

Paul firmly believed that it’s possible to form a consistent framework of scriptural beliefs:

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:13)

There’s a pattern of theology that you can find in Scripture. A consistent collection of beliefs that spans the whole Bible. It all culminates in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus, and his death on the cross for our sins.

And it needs to be guarded “by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.” Because it’s so easy to lose. I saw a study last week that blew my mind.

  • More than 30% of evangelicals think it’s possible the Father is more divine than the son. In other words, they believe Jesus isn’t fully God.
  • 56% of us think it’s possible that we contribute to our salvation through our good works.
  • 71% of us think that we take the first step of faith, and then God responds with grace.

All of those beliefs directly contradict Scripture, but they all go together. If Jesus isn’t fully God, then we can’t fully lean on him for salvation. And so we’ve gotta do good works to make sure God loves us. Which means we’ve gotta take the first step, so God can respond with grace. Which means we will always feel like failures because we don’t always do that, or we’ll change the required works so we can do that.

Your Holiness Hinges on Your Theology

This is why Paul challenged us to guard against this kind of bad theology:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, 6and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. (Romans 16:17-19)

Paul rejoiced over the Romans’ obedience and holiness, but he knew how quickly it could be affected by bad theology. He knew that what you believe dramatically affects what you do.

For a long time, that was tough to prove. For as long as I can remember, we’ve heard statistics that say that born-again Christians aren’t any different from the world around us when it comes to our morality. Our divorce rate is the same as the rest of the world. Our teens are having premarital sex at the same rate than the rest of the world (even higher, according to some surveys!)

But finally a few years ago, George Barna decided to tweak the survey a little bit. Rather than simply asking people if they were born-again Christians, he asked them a few questions about what they believe. He separated out the people who believe that Jesus is the way, truth, life and no one comes to the Father except through him and also believe that all Scripture is inspired by God and is inerrant and authoritative and gives absolute truth. What he found was that this group lives a lot differently than the world.

This group is nine times more likely than others to avoid Internet porn. They’re twice as likely to volunteer to help needy people. And the list went on and on. So Paul’s right! What you do flows from what you believe! It flows from your theology.

That’s why we really value theology in our church.  We have a group of people right now in Antioch School who are building a theology of mission as they go through the book of Acts. Next semester, they’ll build a theology of church life, going though Paul’s epistles. Then next summer, we’ll have a weeklong Systematic Theology Intensive class taught by Bruce Ware. That course will be open to anyone, so keep your ears open for details.

Because, as Paul makes clear, if you want to have better obedience, you need to have better theology.