The evangelical culture around me has a problem with the word “Theology”. Whenever the word is evoked, whether in the pulpit or prayer meetings, people react as though Gandalf had just spoken in the black speech of Mordor leaving the fellowship of the ring shocked and speechless. If you did not get that reference, serves you right for not watching or reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Now, the reaction that I was talking about; I am sure many of us are familiar with this. In fact, many of us might be among those who have a visible reaction to the word theology.
The most common responses to any talk about theology would be “Theology divides and love unites”, “I just want my Jesus, don’t give me any theology” and “Give me simple things and not complicated words”. In this article, I want to make a case for the necessity of true theology for true worship.
Consider this analogy made by Pr Kevin DeYoung. Say, you are married and go around telling people how much you love your wife. Listening to you talk about your love for her, someone approaches you and asks you more about your wife. They ask you what color your wife’s eyes are and what color her hair is or say how tall is she. And, you respond by saying, “Oh guys I don’t know all that and I don’t care about all that — I just…….I just love her”. Now any sensible man would be baffled by this response. We can’t help but wonder if this man would be able to find his wife from amongst a crowd. This is how the statement “I just want my Jesus and nothing else” works. If we were to just take that argument for its face value, it sounds good. After all, which child of God wouldn’t want Jesus? But if we were to dig deeper into this argument, we’d see it falling apart, like the married man’s claim about his love for his wife without knowing anything about her.
Who is Jesus? What are his likes and dislikes? What does he expect from you? Knowing answers to these questions are vital to be able to love Christ. Now if you know the answers to these questions, then at some level you are a theologian and if not, well we have to ask ourselves whether we worship the God of the Bible.
The word Theology is made of two Greek words, “Theos” (Θεός) and “Logos” (Λόγος) meaning “God” and “knowledge” respectively. It can be defined as the study of God, His nature and attributes. Though there are many approaches to studying theology, we can broadly classify it as Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology.
It is the systematic topical study of biblical doctrines. If we were to pick up a Systematic Theology textbook and go to its index page, we’d find that it covers several topics, like the doctrine of Church, the doctrine of Word, etc.
Biblical theology is the study of the doctrines of the Bible, arranged according to their chronological appearance in the bible with its appropriate historical context and background.
An easy way to differentiate between Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology is by taking an example of how each will treat a particular topic. Say the topic is Christ. Now systematic theology would cover it under the section called “Christology”, and gather everything the Bible has to say about Christ under that one heading. On the other hand, Biblical theology would examine how the revelation and understanding of Christ the messiah developed throughout the redemptive history.
Well, all present-day great theologians stand on the shoulders of giants. To be more precise Theological Giants who have devoted their lives to study and search the scripture and make solid theological resources that are useful to us. Studying the entire counsel of Word is not a short term mission. It would take us a lifetime and an afterlife to do that. Hence, we study Systematics. Studying systematic theology gives us a very solid footing to understand and study the bible. It also gives you the global context of the bible which helps you better understand the local context. This helps us do what is called Harmonizing the scripture. It doesn’t mean that we have to try and harmonize the Bible due to the lack thereof, because the passages of the Bible are in perfect harmony, but it is our task with the aid and unction of Holy Spirit to study passages in harmony.
Say, a person who has read the book of James only, could possibly believe that Salvation is through works by a quick reading of the text. Now if he had studied the doctrine of salvation, or “soteriology”, He’d know that’s not the case and dig further through the text to find the actual context of the passage.
Biblical theology, on the other hand, lets us understand how these doctrines relate to each other in the big picture of Redemptive History. I could learn the theology of angels (Angelology) and the theology of salvation (Soteriology). Now one of them is more important than the other, and studying Systematics alone wouldn’t help have such an understanding. But instead, if I were to study Biblical theology and how each of these doctrines present and unfold themselves across history, I’d be able to understand how they relate with each other and how each of the doctrines has to be applied in my life.
Consider Romans 12:1
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”Romans 12:1 ESV
When Apostle Paul makes an appeal to the church at Rome to devote their bodies at the service of Lord, he says that by doing so they are worshipping the Lord. Now how does he appeal to them to worship? Well, Paul gives them 11 chapters of heavy theology and calls them mercies of God. He urges the Roman churchgoers to look at the mercies of God and make use of them to be able to Worship. We live in a culture where worship is often misunderstood to be simply the euphoria experienced in a trance state induced by mindless repetitive singing of melodic songs with shallow theological content – what is called the “worship experience”. But that is far from Biblical worship, for Biblical worship involves an active, renewed and renewing mind (Romans 12:2) that’s always looking at theology or the many mercies of God to know and discern what the will of God and thereby presenting the self to worship that God.
I want to urge you all to learn theology and to renew your minds with the many mercies of God. If we seek to see revival, we should begin by worshipping our Lord. And to truly worship our Lord we have to know our Lord and to know our Lord we have to know His word.