From time to time I will hear someone say (or see someone write) this is “why theology matters.” Generally, the person is pointing to an example of someone whom they believe to be a “messed up” or confused person, and they are concluding that the person’s views of God necessarily lead to the mistakes the person has made. From that perspective, if only the person believed all the “right” things about God – had “good” theology – then they would not lead such a questionable life.
AW Tozer gives us great wisdom when he writes that what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. There is great truth to the fact that what we believe impacts how we live. And what we believe about God has tremendous impact on how we act, speak, and live. If it doesn’t, then there really is no point to having any faith in a god or in the nonexistence of a god. And, we can see in all aspects of humanity that one’s beliefs give birth to one’s values and these give birth to one’s actions.
Because of all of this, people often conclude “theology matters.” Theology, the study of God, is a huge topic. Theology often is discussed in terms of one’s doctrinal views on such topics as soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), eschatology (the doctrine of end times), pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit), and various other “-ologies.” And, for many, the idea of keeping sound doctrine (Titus 1:9; Titus 2:1) becomes a premise-based understanding of what comports with the bible and such “-ologies.” There becomes a set of facts and concepts one must agree with about God to be a “good” Christian and to lead a good life. Theology itself isn’t a biblical term and I personally wonder what God thinks of when He thinks of theology. I definitely think it is worth asking Him.
I think a view of theology that looks to facts, reasoning, and theories alone misses God’s heart. First, I’ve known many people, including myself and many biblical heroes, who seemed to have “sound doctrine,” yet they lived messy lives. Second, as soon as we think we have God all figured out, both in our lives and in biblical accounts, God throws us curve balls. Because God’s ways are different and higher than our own, I believe that as soon as we place God in a tidy factual box we are in danger of making ourselves gods who have God fully figured out. Many great theologians have quite different perspectives on how God works and they all typically have sound biblical reasoning for their disagreements. Third, concluding that great faith is based upon one’s intellectual or factual grasp of Who God Is has the potential of leaving out the less studied, the less academically inclined, and those whose personality gives a greater focus on feelings and intuition. I don’t think God judges his children based on their intellect or intellectual understanding (alone) of Who God Is.
Finally, God is always inviting us to know Him intimately and personally (yada in the Hebrew and ginosko in the Greek). This isn’t an invitation solely to know facts or premises about God; rather, we are invited into an intimate relationship with God (facts, experience, feeling, and intuition), in whose image we were created. He seems to long for us to know His character of goodness, kindness, gentleness, patience, love, mercy, wrath, justice, and more. It’s like God wants us to know Him like I long for my wife to know me – not just my measurements and preferences, but how I feel and think in a variety of circumstances and settings and how I experience life and love and liberty. God created us not only to know, but also to be known, and He longs to be known intimately as well.
Is it possible a focus on how God saves or a list of facts about God as derived from Scripture is not at all what God is asking us to “know”; instead, is he longing for for us to know the love and kindness that compels him to save? Is He hoping we will capture his parental heart to see His children ask Him for advice and help? Does God really care if we have a perfect understanding of His sovereignty, or is HIs heart yearning for us to be more like Him in his compassion for all creatures? And, when we do this, will we be truly studying and knowing God – having a good theology – that will manifest in a more godly life? Is this the basis of knowledge that will lead to godliness (and greater discipleship of the nations)? The answer seems somewhat obvious to me.