Saturday, June 20, 2015
The Usefulness of Good Theology
Some years ago, while working toward my Bachelors’ degree, I took an introduction to psychology course. The class was generally not memorable except for one thing the teacher repeatedly said. “There is nothing quite so practical as a good theory.” I have come to appreciate the wisdom of this statement, for it fuses together what we so frequently (and unconsciously) separate in an unnatural way—intellectual thought processes from the practicalities of life. Examples of the reality of this fusion in life are many: The scientist testing a theory in “real world” conditions, a teacher employing well thought out strategies to present and get the children in the classroom to comprehend math concepts, the computer programmer who searches out what he knows about the specifics of the software and the hardware design to try to expand their usefulness and applications, the mother who intentionally and creatively implements principles of morality through her example and parental enforcement of boundaries. I could give more (and perhaps you could also).
The point is simple: To make any progress in real life, in one’s relationships or work, one must learn or develop a “theory” or strategy for how to solve problems or to help oneself make complicated moral decisions or to know how to discern what is true about spiritual matters. If it so needful for us to have guiding principles and strategies for “successful living” why then do so many people think that theology is unimportant? Why is it especially the case that so many self-identified Christians do not think that having sound, biblically grounded, theological views is not of crucial importance? (I am now referring not to people in the American culture who are non-church going but to those who say they believe the Bible to be true and attend church services.)
There is today a profoundly troubling ignorance of the Bible’s teachings and of Christian theology. But there is also a profoundly troubling trend in the behavior of Christians which contradicts plainly the teaching of the Lord Jesus and of the Bible in general. (Yes, I know that this could be said of every generation of Christians to some extent but the current time is uniquely notable in this regard.) We live in a time when many American Christians behave as if they were in fact not believers; that they are, for all practical purposes not followers of Jesus Christ (regardless of what they say). For behavior is communication and faith without corresponding good deeds is dead (James 2:26).
This situation is rooted in the fact that those who profess belief in Christ do not believe from the heart the truth as expressly taught in the Scriptures. Learning to think clearly about God’s truth and revelation (theology) and making a serious study of Scripture is neglected precisely because to do so would require one to be entirely too practical and real with God and other people. For there is nothing quite so practical as an understanding (rooted in the heart by faith) of God’s truth revealed in Scripture. Further, there is nothing quite so practical as knowledge gained and practiced through life experience (wisdom). Is this not what God dares us to step out by faith and learn by his power? (See Proverbs 8) Did not the Lord himself say that the way to truly know if his teaching is true is to resolve to do God’s will (that is, to practice what is right and true)? (See John 7:16-17)
So here is my final point: There is no actual dichotomy between intellectual formulations and one’s actual beliefs. What one actually believes theologically will be expressed one way or another; whether a person has the ability to articulate what he or she believes or not the core beliefs will be expressed in life. This, incidentally, is where hypocrisy is formed and nurtured. For when a person wants to present himself or herself in a positive but false manner then the mask wearing skills are developed and honed. And of course, eventually it will become clear to others that such persons are misrepresenting the reality of the their inner lives and character. Such is the wretched condition from which the Lord Jesus alone can deliver—through the power of his own blood.