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.
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: