Why Theology Matters

Why Theology Matters January 4, 2022

Why Theology Matters

I have often been asked, in various words, why theology matters. I have devoted much of my life, all of my adult life, to the study and teaching of theology—focusing on Christian theology. I admit that I have grown weary of hearing the question and answering it. I also admit that it’s a good question and I should not be weary of it.

Unfortunately, however, some people, even some good Christians, seem impervious to any answer. No matter what I or anyone says, they will always think badly of theology. How often have I heard that theology is “questioning God?” Even after I have explained what theology is and is not. It’s then, I think, that I have a right to be weary of the question.

No, theology is not questioning God. O, I suppose some theologians have questioned God, but most theologians would say that they are not questioning God but questioning human persons’ ideas and teachings about God—their own and others’.

So what is theology, really, and why does it matter?

*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*

Put most simply “theology” is “faith seeking understanding.” There is a kind of theology that does not being with faith and it is called “philosophical theology.” I have studied that much, but it is not what I am writing about here. Here I am writing specifically about Christian theology and Christian theology begins with faith and seeks to understand, as far as possible, what God has revealed about himself and how best to comprehend that which can be comprehended about God. Why?

Why? Because God cares what we think and say about him! Why else would God have given a massive written revelation of himself and even come as one of us in Jesus Christ? Why would he have sent prophets and apostles to teach us about him? Why would God care what we say about him in worship? Because God cares what we think and say about him.

Let’s face it. There’s a lot of nonsense being spoken and believed among Christians. How do we know it’s nonsense? First, because it contradicts what God has revealed about himself. Second, because it contradicts itself. Even out language about God—especially insofar as it is meant to be persuasive—must obey the law of non-contradiction. Otherwise, we don’t even know what someone means if they communicate sheer logical contradictions—even about God.

Theology uses revelation, especially scripture, reason, especially logic, tradition, and experience to examine messages claiming to be Christian and to develop reasonable beliefs, doctrines, about God. All of that is for the main purpose of honoring God. It is also for the people of God, to regulate their worship and witness.

Swiss theologian Emil Brunner used an analogy to explain why theology is necessary for the churches. He asked who would ever object to a food inspector taking vegetables and fruits from the produce department of a grocery store to inspect them for their nutritional value and for possible harm they might cause those who eat them? Hopefully nobody would ask “Why fruit and vegetable inspection?” Well know it’s important for our health and well-being.

So it is with theology. The critical task of theology is to examine messages claiming to be Christian, testing them according to the Word of God, tradition (the Great Tradition of what Christians have always believed, everywhere and at all times), reason (logic), and experience (the movement of the Holy Spirit among the people of God not overriding scripture but applying it and giving insight and wisdom collectively).

But I return to my main point. God is not honored by folk religion that revels in feelings of comfort even to the ignoring of what God has revealed about himself.

I could tell a hundred stories of Christians who reveled in folk religion–to the detriment of what God says about himself in scripture. I wrote an entire book about this entitled Questions to All Your Answers: A Journey from Folk Religion to Examined Faith (Zondervan, 2007). If you want to know more about folk religion and examined faith (theology), I suggest you buy the book and read it.

The bottom line is that God is not pleased with beliefs and teachings that are contrary to what he has revealed about himself in Jesus Christ and scripture or that ignore the Great Tradition of the faithfully people of God down through the ages or that revel in ignorance (“Don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is already made up”) or that ignore the moving of the Holy Spirit through faithful prophets among the people of God today. But the moving of the Holy Spirit today must not be interpreted in a way that violates what God has already revealed.

I must also here recommend my/our book Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God co-authored with Stanley J. Grenz (InterVarsity Press, 1992). It’s easy to read and has sold many thousands of copies in several languages. After all these years it is still being used as a textbook in some Christian seminaries. All glory of God!

*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined).

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