Thursday, January 17, 2019

Why Study Theology?

I love the study of theology. Theology is the study of God and His word, both by examining the meaning of specific texts of Scripture as well as examining a particular issue as it is covered in the whole of Scripture. Yet, I am aware that not everyone shares this love of theology. In fact, some people actually see theology as something detrimental. They would prefer to simply live out and experience their Christian faith without studying it. They might read their Bible, but mostly to gain inspiration rather than to grow in knowledge and understanding. Why do we need more than this? Why should Christians study Scripture and grow in their understanding of Christian doctrine? Here are a few reasons:

1. Christians Are Disciples
A disciple is a student, a learner. This is the primary term used in the book of Acts to describe Christians. The disciples were marked by the fact that they "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2:42). Knowledge is necessary for faith and obedience. We cannot live the Christian life unless we understand the teachings of the Christian faith. A fundamental part of our identity is that we study God's truth, grow in understanding, and obediently apply this truth to our life. We see this expectation in the prayers of Paul: "And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent..." (Phil. 1:9–10); and "we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord" (Col. 1:9–10). The source for growth in wisdom and knowledge is the Scripture as it is taught, explained, and applied (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Col. 3:16).

2. Theology Recognizes the Unity of Scripture 
God’s truth is consistent. It does not come from multiple, conflicting sources. It naturally forms a unified system. It is true that there are gaps in our knowledge and that the revealed system of truth is not comprehensive. Yet, the truth we do have, even if it has tensions, does form one worldview, one system of thought. Whenever we compare two verses to come to a conclusion, we are practicing theology. Theology enables us to brings the Bible’s truths together and benefit from the teaching of the whole. It can be argued that systematic theology is inescapable. We all think from a system, a worldview. The question is whether our systematic theology will be biblical or not.

3. Theology Reveals our Inconsistencies
Because theology follows the implications of our beliefs and seeks consistency, it reveals our inconsistencies and compromises. It is not uncommon for people to believe contradictory things - our systems of thought are usually compromised and confused, consisting of various ideas we have picked up in the course of life without examining or harmonizing them. Unless we study theology, unbiblical beliefs can take root and produce further unbiblical beliefs and actions. These weeds stifle the growth and practice of biblical truth. A self-conscious effort to be biblically consistent and to have one’s system of thought drawn from the Bible enables us to root out these dangerous weeds and to plant biblical ideas in their place.

4. Theology Furthers our Understanding of God
When we study theology, we are getting to know God better. His character and His ways are made known in the whole of Scripture. When we study the details of His law or the details of His work of redemption, we get a better understanding of His holiness, grace, and love. In this way, we also clear up misunderstandings we might have about God. Knowledge about God is essential to a relationship with Him. Otherwise, we are treating God as an imaginary friend, a personalized god fit according to our needs and feelings.

5. Theology Strengthens our Defense of the Faith
The gospel could be summarized in a short sentence such as “Christ died for our sins and rose again on the third day,” but this summery assumes a larger framework in which this statement makes sense and is correctly understood. Evangelism and the defense of the faith requires us to know, summarize, and explain what we believe. It requires us to evaluate the unbeliever’s system and to recognize where it differs from ours. If we neglect the study of theology, our summery of the gospel can be dismissed as unimportant or distorted to conform with the unbeliever's current beliefs.

6. Theology Draws in the Wisdom of the Historical Church
Lastly, the study of theology enables us to benefit from the teachings of the historical church. Christ set up His church to be the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), to proclaim it with authority and to uphold it against all opponents (1 Tim. 4:11, Titus 1:9). Any teaching or preaching of the church will be theology – an attempted summery of biblical truth. It is true that the church has erred at times. It is still being discipled by Christ. But it would be foolish to start from scratch when Christians have worked together to understand Scripture for millennia. Not only is it beneficial to learn from others, and not only did Christ establish teachers in the church for the maturation of the church (Eph. 4:11-14), but teachers from other time periods help us transcend the pressures to compromise that we experience in the present.

My wish is that all God's people would have a desire for the truth and a love for the study of God and His word. It is glorious to see Christians filled with delight at learning more about God and His works and ways. Study is not the only part of the Christian life - things like work, prayer, eating, fellowship, and rest also take up time. Not everyone has the same intellectual gifts or training, and the teachers of the church are held to a higher standard than other Christians (James 3:1). Yet, it is a calling for all Christians to study theology and to grow more and more in the knowledge of God and His word. Take advantage of the opportunities you have. Prize the Christian Sabbath and the rest it gives you from work so that you might study God's word and be challenged and comforted by it and respond to it with faith and worship. Include study in your daily worship as individuals and families. In this way - by reading, listening, meditating, and conversing about God's truth - let the word of Christ dwell among you richly.

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