: the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially : the study of God and of God’s relation to the world
It is one of those topics that makes many people uncomfortable. Like politics, theology is, by nature, divisive; most of the time there is no middle ground and it forces people to choose sides. Ironically, it often brings out the worst in people.
Still, I believe theology is necessary. In fact, I believe it’s unavoidable. Each of us has an opinion on God, or is in the process of forming one based on study or experience.
In light of that, here are 3 ways not to use theology. There are many more, but let’s start here.
1. Theology as a weapon
I’m right. You’re wrong. Nana-nana-boo-boo!
is cute in the mouth of a child, but when it comes from an adult, a supposed “mature” follower of Christ, it’s devastating, especially with the thought of Heaven and Hell looming in the distance.
Regardless of your seminary training or lack thereof, your take on eschatology, or whether you’re a Presbyterian, a Complementarian, or a hardcore Vegetarian, if your message is wrapped in pride it will be ineffective. Even worse, it will be repulsive
Quoting scripture to prove points and establish belief is great.I recommend memorizing this one first:
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. (Ephesians 4:15 NLT)
At some point, biblical truth has to flow from the mind (knowledge) to the heart (love for others) and out through the hands and feet (service and generosity).
2. Over think it.
The only thing worse than a know-it-all is a Christian know-it-all. Yes, Theology is a field of study, which by definition involves reasoning and analysis, but the Bible is more than a text-book; it is a God-inspired series of books meant to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ.
When theological study becomes a purely academic pursuit, the beauty is lost. I have been involved in conversations that became debates that eventually lead to frustration and confusion, and in some cases, fractured relationships. We would just take turns one-upping each other in biblical understanding and interpretation. These talks were all head and no heart.
And anybody with even a cursory understanding of the Bible knows that God is after both.
Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” (Matthew 23:37 NLT)
Theology that is purely intellectual may impress some people, but is that the point?
3. Under think it.
This is the other end of the spectrum. People on this side of theology rely solely on feelings and experience.
The only problem here is that feelings are fickle. Feelings lie.
Moods swing. Experience is relative. Feelings change with weather and circumstance.
Truth, however, does not. If it’s true it’s true.
For this reason, theology needs an anchor of some kind, a reference. I suggest the Bible. But using the Bible requires study, which in turn requires thought. Remember, while God desires the heart, and all the emotion and feeling that comes with it, He is also after the mind.
People need to know—You need to know!—why you believe what you believe, what shapes your world view. These are a few books that have helped me:
To me, Christian Theology is not about, “Here are all the answers,” as much as it is about, “Here is the one who has all the answers.” It’s a directional sign, not a destination.
What would you add to this list? Joint the discussion below.
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Photo Credit: notashamed (Creative Commons)