‘I Don’t Need Theology, I Just Need Jesus’ Just Means You Have Bad Theology

‘I Don’t Need Theology, I Just Need Jesus’ Just Means You Have Bad Theology June 3, 2019

There has been some debate as to who first uttered the phrase made famous by Keyser Söze in 1995’s cinematic classic The Usual Suspects. Approaching the end of the film, the mythical crime kingpin states, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” If you haven’t seen the film, this moment is a confession of sorts. Until now, the audience is not sure of Söze’s identity. The viewer spends the film seeing others cower under his influence without seeing him. So much so, his reputation grows into something beyond that of a normal man; many doubting his existence.

Unlike the film, I won’t go as far as to say it’s the “greatest” trick the devil ever pulled, though that worked well for cinematic effect. However, I will agree that one of the most effective methods for disarming an enemy is to convince them the opposition is imaginary. This is especially true when it comes to the spiritual and religious; there is a fine line between denial and manipulation.

If you’ve spent any time reading this blog, you already know we are passionate about theology. We believe it critically important, completely captivating, and objectively unavoidable. No one can avoid making theological statements and producing theological positions. Even the smallest utterance about God, religion, nature, or humanity speaks volumes about one’s worldview and relationship with Jesus. The theological claims of Christianity and Jesus are far too cosmic and all-encompassing to be a non-issue. Indeed, everyone is a theologian, as the title of the late DR. R.C. Sproul’s books suggests.

A pursuit of theology is fundamental and vital to our make up as human beings. Because we bear the Imago Dei (we are made in the image of God), we’re designed with natural propensities for the spiritual and divine. We are wired to pursue theology – if not formally, then certainly informally. Even atheists, by their own self-admission, are going out of the way to classify themselves by an a-theological position. The great efforts made to publicly deny God are, in and of themselves, admissions of the great importance God plays in our world. It’s for reasons like these the statements that deny the need for theology are so absurd to me. Yet, it is not the militant atheist’s denial of theology that frustrates me the most – it is Christian’s. Their denial statements are often phrased something like this: “I don’t need theology; I just need Jesus.”

The irony of such elucidations is that they are, in and of themselves, theological statements. What they’re effectively saying is: “I don’t know much about Jesus, and I really don’t care enough to learn.” An absolute refusal to learn about someone is a polite way to say you don’t think much of them. The classic analogy here is the picture of marriage. No spouse would dare say “I love my wife, but I don’t know anything about her.” Those that we love, we get to know. We invest time and energy into such relationships; we work at it because we deeply care. Can we really say we love someone that we know nothing about?

Theology is critical for all, especially for Christians. A denial of the need for theology is often just an excuse for laziness and disbelief. It is this poor logic that plights the liberal and shallow branches of Christianity. Embracing such deceptions, they will convince themselves that aimless acceptance and/or misguided passion is an adequate replacement for Jesus’ propitiation of God’s wrath. As I have said elsewhere: we must know God rightly if we are to know Him at all.

A Christian that willingly denies the need for theology is like one getting a car with poor steering, bad brakes, and weak suspension. Certainly, the car may move, but it will be subject to whatever rough terrain or road may offer; it will be very intolerable. Soon, the less tumultuous wide path becomes attractive. Yet, it is the narrow path that our Lord requires us to take if are to meet Jesus in Heaven. To stay this course and navigate the terrain, Christians require the guidance and discernment found only through a lifelong dedication to the study of God’s word.

Having made my primary point, I think it important to say that I do believe there are some genuine Christians who make such absurd statements. In their case, we must remember that all Christians are in the process of sanctification. Some of us are further along than others. I shudder to think at some of the theological statements I made when I was a newer Christian (that is not to say I have achieved any superior level of sanctification. I’m only pointing out I have come a long way from where I started; I still have a long way to go!).  In these instances, and with these individuals, we can lean on the kindness and perfect love of Christ overcoming their temporary ignorance. Christ, who began a good work in them, will bring it to completion. In time, they will come to understand how true love and theology are intertwined.

For the others, who would rather die on Ignorance Hill than study their bible, attend church, or serve their community – their minds have been warped by the lies of Satan. Whatever image or relationship they think they have is not with the Jesus of the bible. How could it be? They don’t know anything about him. Having convinced them theology is effectively useless, Satan has compromised their best means of protection–the truth of the living God.

Alternatively, the deceived will create a god who looks very little like the God of the bible and very much like themselves. He approves the things they approve and condemns those who use scripture to challenge their views. As already mentioned, there is a thin line between denial and manipulation. In this case, a denial of the existence of holy biblical God permits manipulation of the soul. When one, in the name of love, denies the need for theology, they open the gate and invite the lion in to devour them whole.

Good theology is not for just for white-haired men in towers with books. It is for all. Perhaps even more so for the youngest and weakest Christian. Theology is the lifeblood of Christianity. You cannot possess one without the other. To know even the smallest truth about Jesus is to be a theologian and this is good! Theology gives us backbones and allows us to stand up when faced with turmoil. When we rightly understand the greatness of Jesus and His extraordinary salvation, the burdens of life become lighter. Theology is a path to all the goodness of heaven because Jesus is the righteous embodiment of theology.

The importance of sound theology and doctrine all is all over the bible. Consider Paul’s weighty instructions to Timothy as an example: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).

Some will read this and think that I erred too far on the side doctrine and am neglecting love. But I ask you how you can have one without the other? Sincere biblical love is only understood and rightly applied when we rightly understand and apply the doctrine of Jesus. Often what we pass off as love is cheap, shallow, and empty. I may have more relaxed conversations if I refuse to tell those around me of the sins that God surely sees. But am I being loving? Can I consider myself a true friend if I believe someone to be dangling over the pit of hell and say nothing?

Real love is found in servant-hood, sacrifice, church community, and caring for your neighbor. Sometimes truly caring for those around us requires hard truths because they are truths. To allow the perpetuation of lie is not loving; it is the opposite. Love and doctrine go perfectly together; they are different sides of the same coin. It is impossible to know doctrine, love, or God without the scripture. This is where the oracles of God and His gospel are contained. It is this special means by which God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.

Psalm 119 is extraordinarily helpful here. I do not think a coincidence that the single longest chapter in scripture (176 verses) is dedicated to the loving the law of God. The psalmist reminds us over and over how his true delight and protection is only found in knowing God, via His word. He writes:

 

Oh how I love your law!

    It is my meditation all the day.

Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,

    for it is ever with me.

 I have more understanding than all my teachers,

    for your testimonies are my meditation.

I understand more than the aged,

    for I keep your precepts.

I hold back my feet from every evil way,

    in order to keep your word.

I do not turn aside from your rules,

    for you have taught me.

How sweet are your words to my taste,

    sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Through your precepts I get understanding;

    therefore I hate every false way.

(Psalm 119:97-104)

 

Knowing God, as He is presented in scripture, is a non-negotiable for Christians. Theology offers a eternal well of joy and shield of protection from the enemy. Any Christian who thinks they can continue with a “no creed but Christ” is setting themselves up for failure. Anyone with this paradigm should truly self-evaluate if they really love the Lord at all. A denial of the need for theology is a denial of the Lord Jesus.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    Thank you for this article. I heartily agree with its main point. I disagree with certain of its lesser points. I think he may not properly distinguish between theology and philosophy. I do agree that everyone is a theologian. Having an opinion about God makes one no more a theologian than having an opinion about the weather makes one a meteorologist. Many people are indifferent about God, even though they believe He exists, and thus indifferent about theology.

    Based upon my own observations, I think that the primary reason why many Christians believe things like “I don’t need theology; I just need Jesus” is an ignorance of what theology is. Many of them would get upset if they were to hear someone loudly deny that Jesus is the Son of God, that He is not God Incarnate, that He is the propitiation for ours sins, that He reigns from Heaven, and that forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation with God are through Him alone. They would insist that these are all true. Yet they do not realize that what they are insisting upon are theological doctrines. They may think of them as something else, e.g. “facts about Jesus”. They think of theology and doctrine as man-made, i.e. not biblical.

    (I know of a highly respected theologian, professor of Christian theology, and prolific author of theological articles and books, who identifies as an evangelical, and who distinguishes between “biblical teaching”, which, to him, is what the Bible teaches, and “doctrine”, which, to him, is man-made. If someone like him can make this false distinction, how much more so someone who is not as learned in the Bible and theology as he is?)

    I think another reason why many Christians believe things like “I don’t need theology; I just need Jesus” is that they believe that Jesus is for everyone but theology is for people who are smarter than they are. They do not realize that they already know elementary theology, and that they could learn more easily.

    Regarding “It is this poor logic that plights the liberal and shallow branches of Christianity”: I don’t know what the author means by the “liberal” branches. Does he mean professed Christians who believe in liberal theology, e.g. those who hold to so-called “Progressive Christianity”? As he knows, liberal theologians have written a multitude of theological books. One might say that their problem is not a lack of interest in theology, but an aversion to certain theological truths.

    In conclusion: this divinely-inspired admonition shows that knowledge of theology is an aspect of spiritual growth:

    But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
    –II Peter 3:18 (ESV)

    • Joshua Sonofnone

      This is why some choose to distinguish between Biblical theology and systematic theology. Although you did not use the terms “Biblical theology” and “systematic theology,” what you have written could help someone make distinctions between the two terms. The verse you quote supports knowing Jesus more deeply as well as knowing more about Jesus, which certainly relates to theology. Like you, I would agree with the major points the author of the article is making.

  • Christiane Smith

    two quotes:

    ““I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity; I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees.” (Anne Lamott)

    and

    “After one moment when I bowed my head
    And the whole world turned over and came upright,
    And I came out where the old road shone white.
    I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
    Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
    Being not unlovable but strange and light;
    Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
    But softly, as men smile about the dead
    The sages have a hundred maps to give
    That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
    They rattle reason out through many a sieve
    That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
    And all these things are less than dust to me
    Because my name is Lazarus and I live ”

    (G.K. Chesterton, ‘The Convert’)

  • Christiane Smith

    I don’t know about ‘evangelical’ but if a person is a Christian who ‘experiences’ Christ in a spiritual sense, I imagine they still would want to ‘know more’ about Him. Problem: there are so many ‘Christologies’ out there to examine that are ‘backed up’ by people quoting verses of Scripture.

    Here is one perspective that helps me to ‘experience’ Christ in the face of the truth that ‘si comprendis, non est Deus’ (translated “if we understand Him, it is not God’):
    “Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point.” Blaise Pascal
    (translated: “The heart has its reasons that reason cannot know.” )

  • Herrnhut

    The term Eucharist commonly used to denote communion is “eucharistia ( εὐχαριστίας ) “. It means thankfulness (Strong 2169). It is used only in Acts and Pauline letters when there were thanksgiving, an expression of gratefulness to the LORD. That is the attitude of followers of our LORD but it is not uniquely tied to the communion time. In fact, most high churches dispense the bread and wine with solemnity more like fearful and loathing afraid they may be judged because they told their pews that is why their may die early.

    The term Eulogy commonly used to denote funeral remembrance actually was used in the last super and communion passage “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26)

    The Greek word “blessed” is “eulogēsa” (εὐλογήσας). My LORD instituted the bread and wine to be His body broken for me and His blood shed for me with an eternal love not just for the eternal life but for my abundant life now. He has this repeated refrains in “I am the Bread of Life” in the Gospel of John chapter 6 to tell the religious highbrows, His body broken, crushed, grinded under the two mill stones**, handled, marred, baked to give life to all that draw near.

    That is why Paul, the grace secretary for the Risen Christ was told directly (with no one in between) “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:….” And it is that important because many religious leaders like the other apostles are still confused of the purpose of the communion. All the high church think of fear of the elements but Paul talked about blessing and thanksgiving. In fact if anyone who do not discern of the purpose of the body of Christ broken to bless us then they would be like the rest of the world get sick and die prematurely.. Many cessationist church people died young without healing and miracles since they say and believe no more miracles. While miracles happen every day in homes and hospitals even without a clergy since Jesus is in their midst. “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house…..”(The Acts chapter 2 – Pentecost)

  • Alan Drake

    *SO* Wrong !

    I renounced the Southern Baptist’s I grew up as because of the various positive evils they promote, based on their theology.

    After a period, I became convinced to join the Religious Society of Friends – the Quakers. One of the Divine joys of being a Quaker is the absence of theology.

    • Cyndi Watkins

      I’m with you, Alan. Some people, like Jack who wrote this column, are into “God as Revealed Through Scripture,” while others of us bask in “God as Holy Mystery.” The older I get and the more I study the Bible and Theology (which also encompasses the study of diverse religious thought), the more I love that Mystery. I think I would make a good Quaker.l

  • I think there is a lot of confusion on what theology is. Once upon a time theology was simply the study about God. Somewhere along the line it became the study about God and related. The related has now totally overshadowed the more important study about God. Once, I thought “If I could find a way, wouldn’t it be great to get a Masters in Theology — have classes in God as Creator, the Glory of God, the Names of God, the Mercy and Goodness of God, the Mystery of God, the dual nature of Christ, the Nature and Work of the Holy Spirit,…etc. Unfortunately, I no longer think such exists. All the Masters in Theology that I’ve seen should really be called Masters in Bible or Masters in Ministry — good things to be sure, but not what I was looking for.
    I started asking those who have been to seminary, “Did you have a single course that was completely about God in seminary?” The great majority have a 90-110hr. M. DIv. I’m up to over 40 now, 3 said yes.
    Some say. “We’re just trying to be practical.” In my life, the study and contemplation on the nature of God has absolutely been the most practical. It’s made the greatest change in my thinking and in my behavior, by far. I urge all Christians to get into it.

  • Kenneth Corbin

    Jesus himself did not seem to consider theology to be all that important. At least he did not talk about it much.

    • Glenda Poteet

      If Jesus did not teach Theology and consider it important, then what did He teach?

      • fractal

        Love.

    • Randy

      So on this view, Jesus never taught about God, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom, sin, salvation, the end-times, Satan, creation, the nature of humanity…and on and on and on. Everything he taught was theology. I think you missed the point of the article. Everything one says about God and anything related to God is theology. Everything in the Bible is theology. As Jesus said to the Sadducees, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29-33; Mark12:24-27) The Sadducees didn’t understand the power of God for resurrection, but also were wrong because of bad theology, a poor understanding of the Scriptures.

  • ounbbl

    What does it mean by theology? Whose theology? Which theology? Perhaps you mean doctrines – all doctrines (church, religious, political) are men-made.

  • I couldn’t agree more. It’s inconsistent to say that you love God, but don’t really want to know much about him. Paul makes clear in Ephesians 4:13-14 that the body of Christ is supposed to grow in maturity so that we are not swayed by every wind of doctrine. There isn’t one of us who couldn’t stand to be MORE grounded in God’s Word rather than less.

  • alan

    Then at the other end of the pendulum are those that worship the intellectual study of theology so much, they don’t know Christ or the Holy Spirit. They’re “holding to the form of godliness but denying its power.”

    And there’s plenty of theological views out there that are so dogmatic (and are usually named after a “great” theologian), it becomes bad theology.

  • Maltnothops

    “Even atheists, by their own self-admission, are going out of the way to classify themselves by an a-theological position. The great efforts made to publicly deny God are, in and of themselves, admissions of the great importance God plays in our world.”

    First, as far as I can tell, the overwhelming majority of atheists do not “deny” gods. They are unpersuaded of their existence. Most theists, on the other hand, “deny” most gods. To avoid confusion, you might want to distinguish between people who affirmatively assert that gods do not exist (“anti-theists” or “gnostic atheists”) and people who are absent belief in gods (“atheists” or “agnostic atheists”).

    Second, agnostic atheists don’t, as a general observation, think “God” plays any more of a role in the world than Christians think Ganesh plays a role in the world.

  • tovlogos

    Theology — The study of God — is the glue that binds biblical doctrines. The Trinity is a theological
    designation such that it is biblically sound, in fact it is impossible to miss — man didn’t “make biblical doctrine up, he studied
    the Scripture and saw the obvious. The Bible, Messiah, Father, Holy Spirit, angels, Man, sin, salvation,
    the church, prophecy and its fulfillment and all have their place in biblical theology. No man made up
    the doctrine of Christ, God, the doctrine of the Bible or the HS. They are there for us to study and
    by which to be sanctified — it is expedient if there are worthy teachers who can systematically make these subjects
    more quickly understandable and at the same time edifying. Theology is an overlay of spiritual reality, which is intimately
    connected to human reality applicable to the human soul, heart, mind. Everything Jesus said was Spirit…spiritual John 6:63, and
    pointed to heaven, John 3:3, confer John 1:24-33; 4:2,24, for starters.

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  • Randy Thompson

    To say “I don’t need theology” is another way of saying “I don’t like to think.” Whatever “Jesus” appears without theology is too often a superstition and not faith. We all have varying abilities when it comes to thinking, but the point is to use what we’ve got. Thanks for making this point.

  • I have recently realised that the armor of God in Scripture is all related to STANDING. Once we grasp that we are in Christ, the attacks of doubt have no effect. The breastplate of righteousness, for example is the knowledge that my righteousness is the gift of God in Christ, etc.

    • fractal

      Sounds real Butch.
      And arrogant.
      Insecure, too.

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