*This post is old… like from the beginning of blogging old. I might nuance this differently if asked the same question today, but the essence remains the same. It originally appeared at The Charismanglican blog (June 2010).
The question of why theology matters is an interesting one. On one hand, it could be said that knowing Jesus through the Spirit is what actually matters and theology actually gets in the way of such a relationship. On the other hand, it could just as easily be said that all we need is the right set of theology (doctrine) and our relationship with God will not be a ‘feeling’ but will be from the knowledge of the ‘right answers.’ I personally think that both of these extremes demonstrate much of what is wrong with the church in America today.
For those who think that theology leads to intellectualism and away from relationship I would say—no matter what, we all form theology in one way or another. And if we are not thinking for ourselves and wrestling with the tough issues, then pop-theology will lead us astray (which is why we see so many passionate Christians with weird views of heaven, the end times, salvation, science, ethics, etc.). This is true not merely in regards to cognitive beliefs, but in how we attempt to implement the reality of our relationship to God. Our poorly reflected upon theology can actually be detrimental to the relationship we seek and can cause us to show the world a Jesus that is contrary to the Scriptures. Now, on the other end of the spectrum (those who want to demonstrate that they have all the ‘right answers’) the risk is that they are never open to new ideas or a move of the Spirit. These folks are the ones who get into culture wars and get so tied up in their fundamentalist dogma, that they end up looking as anti-intellectual as the other group that was described. This anti-intellectualism discredits Christianity as an outdated and possibly harmful religion that ought to just simply die out.
My belief is that another way is possible. I think that our theology can point us toward God in a relational way while also living in pursuit of the truth. Except, in this perspective, truth is not something that is ever captured, but is always a few paces in front of us, inviting us to keep recklessly chasing after it. The harder we run, the further we seem from it; because we begin to develop a healthy respect for how large and uncontainable truth actually is. And although truth seems far off in many ways; the surprise of it all is that our relationship to the truth simultaneously seems to become more and more intimate, as though we were jogging side-by-side. This close-yet-distant approach to truth is one that allows our theology and our relationships to God to come together in a beautiful unity. Such a relationship with God, who is truth, informs our theology which then informs our praxis.
So, with this understanding of theology and connection to God; why does theology matter today? Well, it seems that as we do theology, we can do so without many of the culture wars of the past. Lots of the presumed ‘right answers’ now become the wrong ones, for the sake of biblical integrity and the mission of God in the world. We can approach dialogues about truth with great humility, rather than militancy. We can reflect Christianly in new ways about ethical issues that prior had seemed as though they were closed cases. We can show our culture that a relationship to God that is informed by this kind of truth-pursuit will actually lead to their benefit. And in doing all of these things, I believe that we will find that the reign of God will be reflected on the earth in new and exciting ways.