If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. 1 Timothy 6:3-5
Have you ever heard someone say "Don't get lost in theology; just get into a close personal relationship with Jesus?" Is this a valid statement? By the way, many well-known pastors have made a similar statement many times as have many church leaders! And, when you take a gander at these people's personal lives or their spiritual formation or their church's real community and world impact, you will see major things lacking! I am not talking about well-lit parking lots with good signage or nice carpet in the rooms; you will see an extreme lack of spiritual maturity, an absence of the flow of the Fruit of the Spirit and effectual Christianity! So, this begs that question, how important is theology and what happens when we think the above opening statement is true?
What is Theology?
Theology comes from the Greek and literally means "knowledge about God." "Theo" means God and "olgy" means the study of, while doctrine means the system of particular beliefs. Theology contains the character and attributes of God, whereas doctrine houses the various teachings, instructions, principles, and creeds of the church that are accepted and that are essential for faith and our practice of Christian growth (Ezra 7:10; John 6:45; 7:17; 8:31-32; 7:17; 16:7-14; Rom. 10:17; Eph. 4:14-15; 2 Thess. 2:10-12; 1 Tim 4:6-7; 2 Tim. 3:15; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Peter 3:17-18).
Yet, many Christians, including our leaders today, are proclaiming that theology is not important or needed; all we need to do is to love Jesus. If you have ever read through even one book in the Bible and paid heed to God's Word, you will know that this is not so! You could not get through John or any Epistle with that assumption. Yes, a lot of negative attacks and abuses have come to Christians and to the Church and its infighting over the centuries. I have seen my share of unfair fights that would make one wonder if theology and doctrine really are important. As a church consultant and a pastor, all I see are negative reactions and little effectual action. Yes, Theology has built-in controversy and argumentation and will always follow this hullabaloo because people naturally do not want to know or follow God and His ways; instead, they will create their own doctrines that are unbiblical for which a course-correction is needed and the truth proclaimed by godly Bible-following people. But, never forget that good doctrine is birthed by our Most Holy God who wants us to know Him, grow in Him, and be His examples to the world.
Theology has always seemed to cause reaction-Jesus reacting to the pious fraud Pharisees and correcting their aberrant views with His correct council of doctrine. Paul takes up this mantle by carefully crafting His Epistles with truthful instructions to a new Church in chaos, needing guidance and course-corrections. We also have the Early Church Fathers involved in many mini-reformations that although are lost to history, these great minds, such as Aquinas, worked at correcting the course with correct doctrine. The Reformation was birthed from the biggest reaction to the apathetic and corrupt Catholic Church, followed by the countless schemes and schisms of reactions to reactions. In fact, Francis Schaffer's entire scope of ministry was to wake the Church up to its apathy and wayward doctrines and future concerns, as we still do at his Institute.
When the Law was given, it was an action of God and we are to respond to it. Jesus fulfilled the Law for us and gives us His grace so we react to His love with our faith and then gratitude; it then becomes an action in our lives. So, if Jesus, the Disciples, the Disciple's disciples, the Reformers, and the great thinkers and doers of the Christian faith thought that theology was relevant and central to one's faith and church operations, then yes, theology and doctrine are important!
So, is it true that all we have to do is love Jesus? Well, then another must-know question will come up: Who is Jesus? Once you ask the question, "who is God," you have ventured into the realm of theology. If you want to know who Jesus is and/or what He has done, then you are in the midst of doctrine. As Christians, we are not to start our faith as theologians, nor replace faith with theology. We do not start out as Calvinists or Armenians, or whatever theological system is of the day or of your church. We must start with accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. By doing so, we accept God's Word. Through His Word, we define what His truth means from His Word. This is what theology is all about! It is not the necessary, the starting, or the ending. It is the understanding and the application of what Schaeffer defined as "true Truth." If you say theology is not important or irrelevant or dangerous, then God is not important, because theology is studying and knowing and understanding God-who He is, His attributes, His Work, His love, and so on. To deny theology necessitates denying God too! To deny doctrine means we deny knowing and growing in our Lord and Savior!
Good Doctrine is Disappearing!
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God's curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God's curse! Galatians 6:6-9
Yes, we have a big problem in the church today as theology is ignored and good doctrine disappears or is watered down from the pulpit and the airways, and is replaced by what "feels good" or what we feel is needed-Christian junk food. When theology disappears from the church and its leaders, we will have a "free for all" of what we think is truth. The situation will be created where God is moved to the backseat to the god of self or of the favored trend of the day as the central focus of our faith and that will carve a road to hell. We as a church, or as a single, practicing Christian, will be unable to think wisely about our culture, who we are in Christ, or who He is and what He did. Instead, we will take in what feels good, leaving God and His ways behind us. We will be reveling in the irrational, while Christ stands at the door and knocks. Because of the noise of our Will, we will not hear or open the door! All that will achieve is dishonesty, an erosion of His conviction, and the absence of discipleship leading to a vacant faith and an empty and/or useless Church.
We, as human beings, tend to be swayed easily by ideas, a leader's personality, new encounters, and/or experiences that tantalize us. New religious formats and thinking are appealing as we seek the latest and greatest, but what we think is great usually is not. We become captive to traditions and influenced by arguments and feelings that are persuasive. But, we must never substitute our ideas for God's! When we follow the latest fad, then we want more. We get bored with our car and want a new and better one, and so forth. We do this with our doctrines and churches too, and this is sad and bad! The advertising machine in Madison Avenue knows this well, as we all want more, and they use this trait as a tool to appeal to us, to push us in the direction they want so to sell or influence us in some way. We must be on guard not to allow such things to infuse, influence, or govern us. We have His Word, His wisdom, His influence, and Holy Spirit; there is nothing better! We have His fullness; there is no better filler than His presence! Therefore, we must be aware of our nature to seek what is wrong and fleeting, and always be on guard, never allowing ourselves to be cheated by wrong thinking or by chasing the wrong things, because this robs us of greater opportunities and treasures in Christ! The bottom line is this: we do need good theology and doctrine and we do not need any substitute or the world's distractions because we are complete in Christ! Do not be one who seeks to please the world while causing others to reject our loving and living Lord by your misguided doctrines or your fruitless life!
Remember, John, Paul, and Peter wrote their Epistles under the inspiration and directive of God to proclaim the truth of who Christ was and is, and what He wants us to know and do and be. In so doing, they provided us with the explanation and plan of salvation, the role of the Church, the inclusion of the Gentile world, and the importance of growing in and then sharing our faith. This is all theology and doctrine! For this reason, our study of the Bible is very important as the foundation for our knowledge of doctrine and truth. This is theology! Understanding the Bible is theology! Understanding God is theology! Doing what God says is Doctrine, because He is giving us instructions regarding who and what the Christian faith is!
A church without theology is a church without God, as theology is about knowing who God is and what He has done for us! A theology without a loving, sovereign God is simply not an option for the church or our daily faith, because we will replace Him with idols, (anything that takes the place of God, from a totem pole to money, is an idol) or our own will! A Christian life without good doctrine behind it will be meaningless and shallow at best; erroneous and cultist at worst!
Therefore, theology, good theology, is a logical system of truth that is rationally defused from what the Scriptures clearly teach. We are never to read in what is not there or just believe in something because it is what we grew up being taught. We begin as Bible-believing Christians who crave to put the Bible first-above all desires, feelings, or schemes of thought.
Good Theology is Practical
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:12-14
Good Theology is based on the Bible, not human whims and false thinking; it shows us the goodness and character of God. Doctrine is the practical cabinet that holds His instructions and displays His righteousness in full view. It is the display case that shows us the abundance of what He wants us to know such as maturity, character, and Fruit of the Spirit. It helps us be real with our faith, present to the world who and what Christ is, and to be used for the Church. It moves theory into action and theology into practical care and love. Good doctrine displays integrity, honesty, and compassion to others and allows us to do the right thing even when we do not feel like doing so.
Theology is our understanding of who God is and what He has done for us. This directly translates into who we are and what we do. If you think theology is not important in regard to daily life and relationships, consider how it relates to our feelings and how we view God, ourselves, and others around us:
Justification means we are completely forgiven by God by what Christ has done! God's righteousness is covering us! There is nothing that we can add to it, such as good works or clean living. Thus, we have no balance to weigh a judgment on someone else! (Rom. 2:5-16; 3:22; 5:1;10; 9:30; Phil. 3:4-14; I John 1:9).
My response to justification is I do not need to fear the expectations of others or my own failure because God accepts me! Therefore I do not need to withdraw, gossip, manipulate, or be overly driven to succeed; I do not need to please others for my self-approval. My focus is on God's glory and His Kingdom!
Reconciliation means I am at peace with God because Jesus reconciles me to God, so I am not an enemy of God; I am accepted by Him and need not fear His wrath and punishment. Since I am at peace, I am no longer at war with God. I realize, as a believer, that I am in a fallen world that is still at war with God (2 Cor.5:18-21; Eph.2:16; Col. 1:20-22).
My response to reconciliation is realizing I have harmony in Christ. I do not need the approval of people when I have God's. I do not need to fear being rejected or not accepted by others. I can be an instrument of His peace and character regardless of what others do to me. I can relax and in Him, be vulnerable to build relationships with others without fear.
Propitiation means God deeply loves me! His blood and grace cover me. God's wrath is appeased by the sacrifice that Christ made on my behalf. I no longer need to fear losing out on love or being rejected. I know that God loves me and desires me to model His character with love, care, and respect. This allows Christ's amazing grace to cover all the evil within me (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 3:21-26; Eph. 2:8-9).
My response to propitiation is that I do not need to go around feeling unloved, blaming and slandering others to make myself feel good. I do not need to put others down when they do not meet my standards, because I certainly do not meet God's! So, my actions can be in response to the transformation of Christ's grace by living an honest life. I can remove the hypocrisy in me that can cause so much destruction.
Regeneration means that Christ is at work in me, and through the Holy Spirit is making me completely new. He is my hope! This fact hits me when I have a sense of my need and futility. If I continue in sin, I realize that my regeneration is in question because the control of the Christian life is grace, not sin! (Matt. 5:3; Rom. 6:15-23; Gal. 4:19).
My response to regeneration is a desire to be humble, knowledgeable and repentant, always seeking God. I can be a changed person and move in the direction of maturity and fullness in His Kingdom. My identity is in Christ and all I do is because of Him. So, my desire is to continue to operate with passion, truth, and conviction.
Theology is Understanding God
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13
Understanding who God is and what He has done for us affects all of our being, including relationships, goals, and the direction we take in life. We cannot rely on our own efforts, skills, personal connections, or beliefs. How we come across to others is directly related to how we see ourselves in Christ. If our relationship with Christ is on track and growing, so are our relationships! Our self-esteem must come from who we are in Christ and what Christ has done for us. This should give us an enormous satisfaction and sense of worth. The King and Creator of the universe cares for me and loves me! He is living within, guiding, loving, and holding me and wants me to know Him and grow in Him and then show it around! There is no adequate substitution for that! But, it is sad that we try so hard to substitute the wonders of the truth of what Christ did for us with false doctrines that are stupid, insignificant lies.
Many great people have said this over the millennia, "Our strength is shown in the things we stand for; our weakness is shown in the things we fall for. People of genius are admired; people of wealth are envied; people of power are feared;but only people of characterare trusted." Can you see yourself in those words? We create our world of relationships by our choices through our own use of words; so, use them wisely!
Theology is the knowledge and application of faith!
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you-guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. 2 Timothy 1:13-14
Theology is our boot camp and our duty is in application; it is the instrument with which God feeds our souls and grows our faith. Yet, it is the least thing considered by the average Christian's pursuit, especially those who never take ownership of their faith, who grew up in a church and see it as cultural and a duty rather than devotion and lifestyle. The danger for the Christian is to sit in a pew, learn all he/she can, and then take comfort in that knowledge, never doing anything with it. It is the church that refuses to evangelize-the Christians who refuse to share their faith or to model Christ on Mondays as well as Sundays. Be aware; you will be harshly judged. You are no better than the Pharisees. The proof test is this: do you use people, or serve them? Do you just gather information, or do you apply it? (Hos.6:6; Mica. 6:6-8; Matt. 12 9-14; James 1:21-27)!
The call of Theology is to continue to live in Christ, to be mentored and discipled so the truth of Christianity and solid doctrine get inside of us, and then goes outside of us as we pass on the message of God to someone else. This is not about tradition or customs or historical theology in a church. Rather, it is receiving the good news of Christ and then doing something with it, engaging the Word and Truth and passing it along-paying it forward (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 3:6; 1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 3:16; Titus 2:1).
In the Early Church, there were many different movements-just as today-lobbying for our attention and influence. Paul's point in his letters is that our influence and source for knowledge is very important, and we must make sure it comes from God and not trends, feelings, or humanistic ideas. This does not apply to academic discipline; rather, this is the "garbage-in-equals-garbage-out" thinking. What we put in our minds will drastically affect our virtue, values, character, and spiritual growth in how we are and behave in the world, either glorifying our Lord or tearing down His Church (2 Cor. 10:5; Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:6-9; 1 Tim. 6:20).
The call is to know and be prepared by faith, to grow in our spiritual maturity, to develop godly character, and to be infused by the Spirit and His resulting Fruit. Simply put, it is for this reason that Christ came. In the meantime, we partake in the building of His Kingdom with the bricks of our faith, each one interlocking with another. How are your bricks being formed and baked?
Theology is attaining Spiritual Maturity
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:8
The Colossians had received the True Gospel, but now they were diluting it with falsehoods, missing the main thing just as many churches, TV ministries, and so-called pastors do today. Theology has the theme of "paying it forward," meaning we receive a gift from God that is meant to be known and shared and passed on. We benefit from it and we get to continually use it, but we also get to show others so they can take it and pay and pass it on, and so forth. This is how most sports are played. The basketball is played forward, the ball is passed on, and everyone works as a team to further the game. Christianity is very similar with the exception that we all have the ball and we all keep it in play to one another while also passing it to the spectators. The reason Paul used this metaphor is because the Colossians had become complacent and believed that I received Christ so I can rest in my laurels and do nothing with my faith now. Saved? Yes, perhaps. But, of what good are we in the kingdom when we do not learn and grow in the Lord? What good are we if we are not able to further the Gospel because we are disobedient to His Word?
We tend to get taken captive, cheated, and spoiled. We are being robbed by many pastors and, as the Colossians passage states, carried off as a spoil or booty or plunder of war. Beware: do not be led astray, as you will not only miss God's blessing, but also become captive to the slavery of sin and error. This is the opposite of gratitude; it is not being thankful to Christ, so we disrespect Him and thus are motivated by hurt, resentment, frustration, or guilt, and more likely to buy into what is misleading and false.
The solution to a great Christian life is to pay it forward with learning about our Lord then passing on what we learn, and to be grateful for Christ's work on our behalf, so we want to eagerly pay forward with the faith. Being grounded in thankfulness is essential to our spiritual growth, to building healthy relationships, and for enjoyment in life. To be rooted, to take root in Christ, we must obey Him. We have to grow by learning and applying and sharing God's principles and love (Ruth 4:11; Psalm 28:5; 51:18; 69:35; 147:2; Jer. 1:10; 18:7; 24:6; 31:4; 45:4; 1 Cor. 3:5-17; Eph. 3:17).
Paul dealt head-to-head with Greek philosophy and its obsession with "the love of wisdom" which primarily focused on the pursuit of truth. But, when we fall outside of the scope of orthodoxy-that is, correct and true doctrine-instead of pursuing God, we chase what is hollow and fleeting, as in not rational or beneficial or true. We have to be aware that human reasoning and intellectualism are finite and flawed whereas God is infinite and True. When we make up what we want to know, we cheat and fail both ourselves and others. We are to love Christ and His wisdom and not the world's or what is error.
Good Theology based on God's Word
Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 1 Corinthians 14:20
We need to be aware of bad practices and traditions formed from bad ideas-those without merit, thought, or Scriptural guidance. The Pharisees were famous for making their own traditions then forcing and conniving so others would obey them, thus missing what God had actually intended. Jesus responded to them in Matthew 23. The point for us is to not make up traditions that remove or distract from His principles. We are to see the Church as His and us as the servants; we worship and placate Christ, lift Him up, and never allow our ways to become "front and center." Thus, we must make sure and certain, as Paul urges, that our traditions are from Christ, and that they are true, mutually beneficial, and used to further His Gospel and Kingdom.
What is ineffective and meaningless will hurt us even when we think it will not; it will distance us from God and His call for us. This is why Paul was so passionate to refute false teachers-then, now, and/or any who dare to come-with you are fools! God hates false teachers and those who dare to manipulate His children. They will not only be unacceptable, they will be severely judged. The pursuit of any sin will have a cost that we can't pay; we will be left empty, hurt, and living with the dire consequences thereof. Our fate is in Christ's hands, not in our works, ideas, or nature. Who Christ is and what He has done are far more profound and impacting truths than any philosophy or belief (Psalm 148: 2-4; Gal. 4:3-9; Col. 2:20; 2 Pet. 2:1-22)!Do not allow anything or anyone to come between you and Christ! It is enough to accept Christ as Savior for salvation; however, attaining spiritual maturity in the Christian life requires further steps. Christ must also be LORD-first and foremost-in one's life! We must continue to live in obedience and give Him glory. We need to grow deeper, formulating deep roots into Him and His Word from which to gain our nourishment and substance. In that way, we can continue to grow in our faith and be strong and vigorous for the faith as well as be discipled, apply what we learn, and allow it to take root even further and deeper. Consequently, our lives are filled in Christ and we will flow His Truth, love, and appreciation onto others. The key to all of this is having gratitude for who Christ is and what He has done for us. When we do this, no one can lead us astray; we will not buy into empty philosophies. However, we must always be on guard against false teachings and harmful ideas, for this is nonsense and even dangerous to one's faith and community. These come from evil thinking and pride, not from Christ. All we need is His fullness-and we already have that; for Christ lives in us and we are complete in Him. He is Lord over all-over any human ruler or anything in the universe.
If you do not have a sound, grounded, and biblical theology, you will be susceptible to false doctrines, apathy, disobedience, unfaithfulness, and even worldliness. God calls us to maturity and Fruit and without sound doctrine to know Him, you have no foundation of Truth on which to stand. You will lead a dysfunctional Christian life filled with strife, rotten fruit, sloth, a lack of faith, bad character, irresponsibility, and no discernment because you will not have a good, sound concept of God and His principles. Theology is imperative because it tells us who and what God is, what He has done, and what He wants us to know. To deny this, you deny Him and stay immature and mostly useless to the Kingdom of God (Deut. 6:4-9; 1 Cor. 13:11; 14:20; Phil. 2:12-13; Col. 2:8; Heb. 5:12-14)
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 1 Corinthians 13:11
Over the years, through many years of learning and struggle, I have slowly accepted the Calvinistic teachings on the five points of T.U.L.I.P as biblical and therefore true. I did not start out that way. I was discipled by a passionate Reformed leader, Francis Schaeffer, but he was not always around; and, for all of his oddity, he hooked me up with Ray Stedman, a great man of God who was somewhat Armenian and Dispensational. Thus, for years, I was firmly an Armenian and Holiness, even through seminary. Only after years of study, especially in the book of Romans, have I yielded to the Reformed Method of understanding, (obviously Schaffer wanted me to think, not just react). Not because I grew up in it, which I did; not because I went to a Reformed seminary, which I did; nor even because of Schaeffer, but because I came face to face with truth by deepening my conviction, and by careful study of God's Word. This quest has not been without fellow truth seekers, others of diverse backgrounds who sought the truth and came to the same conclusion. These include Augustine, Luther, Tyndale, Latimer, Knox, Wishart, Perkins, Rutherford, Bunyan, Owen, Charnock, Goodwin, Flavel, Watson, Henry, Watts, Edwards, Whitefield, Newton, Spurgeon, and of course John Calvin. For more information, see my article on "Calvinism from the Critics," Doctrine page.
Remember that we are never to separate theology from practice. Theology is the "who" and "why" that translates into the "do" and "be" of life. The question is, will we be dedicated to our Lord or to ourselves?
Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Matthew 4:4Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9
YES, Theology very Important!