Why Theology is Important

Recently a friend inquired of me regarding theology. Why is theology important? Is theology important? etc. below is my reply:

Thanks for the email questions, ___. I do appreciate your asking me to clarify things.

First, I think that before I answer the question of why theology is important, I’d better define what I mean by “theology” itself. This is important because you may (potentially) be using a different meaning of the word than I am, and that would lead us to be speaking past one another.

As you’re probably already aware of, the word theology is a combination of two Greek words, theos (“God”) and logos (“word”, “discourse” or “study”). So, strictly, speaking, theology means the word on/study of God. In broader terms, theology has come to mean the study of God and His dealings with His creation. It’s when we add this second phrase (“…and His dealings with His creation”) that we come to include discussions on creation, Christ, the church, etc.

The first part of my answer to the question of theology’s importance is that the Bible commands that we “do” theology. The biblical motivation for “doing” theology comes from passages that call us to “be transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Rom. 12:2), to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15), to love God with all of our minds (Mark 12:30), and to watch our life and doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16, see also all of 1 & 2 Tim. and Titus, especially Titus 2:1: “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.”).

This takes me to my second point: theology and doctrine are important in helping us to understand the Bible. Doctrine means little more than “teaching.” We all do theology, some do it unconsciously, and others apply themselves to doing it well. The best counter for bad doctrine (or bad theology) isn’t to avoid it, but rather to work at good or sound doctrine. If we want to know about salvation, then we need to know about the God who saves us. If we think of Jesus as merely a prophet or a wise man, we miss the Bible’s portrait of Jesus as both fully God and fully and perfectly human. Worst of all, we miss the heart of God’s saving work. The better we grasp right doctrine (what’s also known as “orthodoxy”) the better readers of the Bible we become.

Now, that having been said, sometimes theology can get quite complex. Not all passages or sections of Scripture are easy to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-17). The second reason for the complexity of some theology is simple (that is, the reason is simple, not the theology J). My theological mentor, John Frame, defines theology this way: Theology is the application of the Word of God, by persons, to all aspects of life. With this definition in mind, we can see that much of our theology is formed in response to the questions we bring to Scripture. The tougher, more technical, and sophisticated the questions, the tougher, more complex, and “meatier” are the responses. The whole point is to help people understand the richness of God’s word, at their level of sophistication.

Well, maybe…

The whole point of theology isn’t merely to fill our minds (as important as that is), but to fill our hearts as well. Theology focuses on God, a person. We strive to learn more about God, so that our heart will be filled with love for God Himself. A good example of this comes in Romans 11. Most biblical scholars agree that one of the hardest units in the book of Romans are chapters 9-11. There Paul speaks of election, predestination, the relationship between Jews and Gentiles and several other things. Painstakingly Paul addresses each issue, and provides God’s answer to it all. What’s amazing to note is that when all is said and done, Paul doesn’t say, “Well, there you have it, everything’s explained…no more mystery.” Instead he bursts into praise and worship (11:33-36).

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments 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.

You see, as we come to understand God’s word, rather than becoming dusty old library people, we should become people of praise and love toward God. And mystery doesn’t go away. In fact the more we come to learn, the more and more we realize the vast gulf between our knowledge and God’s knowledge (“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”).

Theology is a discipline. Just like we are to pray, praise, and practice fellowship, so we are to learn and feast on the treasures of God’s word.

Here’s a great little book to start on your journey:

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Posted on August 13, 2009, in Theological Studies. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I was interested by the question, but unfortunately, I stopped reading when my eyes lay on “[…] the question of theology’s importance is that the Bible commands that we “do” theology”.

    The bible commands you to all sorts of brutal, inhumane, immoral acts. Are you obliging? I’m pretty sure you’re not, which should be reassuring, I imagine.

  2. In short order (because Paul Copan addresses much of this issue so well), i’d direct your attention to his article, “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?” published in Philosophia Christi, but also available online here:

    http://www.epsociety.org/library/articles.asp?pid=45

    I fear that behind your statements and question is a misleadingly synchronic reading of Scripture that doesn’t take into consideration the epochal changes in redemptive history that nearly all Christians take for granted when reading the Bible (whether they are able to articulate a sophisticated theory of these epochal changes or not).

    No Christian reads the book of Joshua, for example, and believes that the more “controversial” commands of the book of literally normative for all time. No one. And it’s not an arbitrary “cutting up” of the Bible, but based on sound theological and hermeneutical principles.

  3. Thanks for your reply, Joseph. Well, you can call it “sound theological and hermeneutical principles”, I rather tend to think it has a far simpler name: convenience.

    I started reading the article you mention and stopped reading for the same reason I stopped reading yours. Convenience. It is convenient to start with “the Bible commands that…”, just as it is to say “they have not handled the biblical texts with proper care, and they often draw conclusions that most Christians (save the theonomistic sorts) would repudiate.”

    Because on all accounts, beyond “epochal changes in redemptive history”, it just means forgetting about the embarrassing parts — which I completely understand, though. Just like it’s difficult to promote Ted Haggart’s ‘grandeur d’âme’, it’s more and more difficult to promote books and traditions which carry such to-handle-with-care passages.

    Is theology important? I would say yes. It is as important as Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and remain on the same shelf. That one that reads: fairy tales.

  4. D.M.D,

    “Because on all accounts, beyond “epochal changes in redemptive history”, it just means forgetting about the embarrassing parts”

    Your argument doesn’t seem to have much logic. If Christians were determined to “forget about the embarrassing parts,” they would not have been so carefully preserved. Far from forgetting, the history of our Jewish traditional roots is a storehouse of treasure that many Christians are beginning to tap. Now perhaps I could remind you of something that you might have forgotten for “convenience”:

    God never commanded gentiles to live under Mosaic law. In fact, the scriptures pretty much lay out which of the Old Testament ceremonial commands are to be followed by gentile believers, and they are quite few in number. So, while it is true that we can learn a great deal about God’s purpose through the study of the Old Testament, it would be very silly for use to try to adopt principles that God has specifically excluded. This is the type of distinction that can be easily discovered by taking the time to study the Bible rather than simply look at the surface for things that appear contradictory.

  5. DMD, i’ve posted my response in two parts on the main page of the blog. I just didn’t want to post all of it here on the comments section.

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