Theologians seek answers to questions about God. What is God like? What is God’s purpose for humankind? What are God’s purposes for the world? How do we know about God? These are the kinds of questions to which theologians seek answers. A “theologian” is a person who studies God and the created order with reference to God.
Typically, however, when we hear the term “theologian,” we often think of an individual with high academic credentials sitting in an ivory tower musing over intellectual dilemmas, composing articles for journals only read by others like him or her, and arguing about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.
However, in point of fact, everybody’s a theologian. Everyone adheres to some kind of understanding about the identity of God, the knowability of God, the purposes of God, etc.
In light of this fact, I would like to propose that the study of theology is important for everyone. Since you are a theologian, you might as well be a good theologian. More importantly, I believe our theology will ultimately dictate the course of our lives.
Within modern Western Christianity, the way theology functions is often misunderstood. Some Christians view theological statements simply as things to be affirmed. We have a set of doctrines we must uphold if we are to be counted as orthodox or biblical or believing the right things. But if this is the only thing important about our theology, this is really nothing more than a form of legalism. Legalism says that our sense of well being before God is based on what we do or don’t do. In this form of theological legalism, then, the thing we need to do is know and affirm the right stuff. And so we go about filling our minds with the right theological answers in order to comfort ourselves that our Christianity is authentic. Theology, under this system, has little relevance for everyday life. It functions only as a litmus test to see who believes the right things and who believes the wrong things. And if you can regurgitate the correct set of theological beliefs, then you can be assured that you’re okay.
If this describes you (as it has described me at times!), beware, for “even the demons believe, and tremble” (James 2:19).
Other Christians sometimes minimize theology to a place of complete unimportance. They might look at the group of Christians I’ve just described and see them as a bunch of bitter, judgmental, and self-righteous jerks. As a result, they might fall into the trap of thinking that theology isn’t important at all. They think we need to stop worrying about all of the ins and outs of theology and instead just do what the Bible says.
I think there is both some truth and some error in what each of these two groups believe. The group who sees no value in Christian theology is correct in recognizing that there is no value in theological formulations for merely intellectual purposes. If we are merely playing academic games, our theology actually condemns us. But I also think that, like the other group, they are wrong in thinking that the whole purpose theology exists is for purely intellectual purposes.
The group that values theology, I believe, is correct in having a high regard for theology. However, the value of theology isn’t so we can gain God’s approval by virtue of the fact that we believe the right things. God’s approval comes to us based solely upon what Jesus has done through his life, death, and resurrection. The value of theology is in presenting us with the God who has revealed himself in the Bible. The Bible is a collection of theological documents. The biblical authors were doing theology. The Bible does not just contain a list of things to do. In fact, all of the things the Bible calls us to do are grounded in what the Bible teaches about who God is. The goal of theology for the Christian is to present us with our God so that we might grow in our love for him. Christian theology is about God making himself known to us. It’s about our relationship with our Creator.
We are all theologians. Let us therefore work towards good theology and allow our theology to function in the way God intended it to function.
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).