Many modern words that we use for various areas of study and knowledge find their roots in Greek words. The term “theology” is no different.
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As a suffix, “-logy” means “the study of.” It itself comes from the Greek word “logos,” which Christians will recognize as meaning “word.”
So in various areas of knowledge, we study words, research, teachings, etc. in our desire to expand our understanding.
“Biology” comes from the Greek word “bios,” meaning “life” – the study of life.
“Psychology” comes from the Greek word “psyche,” meaning “soul” – the study of the soul.
“Cardiology” comes from the Greek word “kardia,” meaning “heart” – the study of the heart (medically).
There are endless more examples, but for our purposes today, we also have “theology,” from the Greek word “theos,” meaning God – the study of God.
“We need sound theology!” our preachers and teachers say.
Or “That’s weak theology”!
Or “You need to work on your theology!”
So what exactly are we saying?
At its simplest, our theology is our understanding of God. His nature, character, will, ways – the sum total of what we know about Him.
For the Christ-follower, this understanding is confirmed through Scripture, as revealed by the Holy Spirit. As we learn the Word, we learn more about who God is.
If we are being honest, our experience in life also informs our theology, for better or for worse. Experience always needs to submit to the Word, but our experience of God and life and the living out of Scripture also has a profound effect on what we believe about God, and even how we read the Word, what passages we choose to emphasize, etc.
But we are told time and again in Scripture how important our doctrine is, how important the Scriptures are, how important proper beliefs are – this is crucial stuff (1Tim 1.9-11; 4.16; 2Tim 4.3; Titus 1.9; etc).
But why is it so important?
Maybe first we should discuss what good theology is not for, although many Christians use it this way:
- Good theology is not to be used as a weapon against non-believers.
- Good theology is not to make us feel smarter than other people.
- Good theology is not to self-elevate us above others who believe differently.
- Good theology is not to be emphasized at the expense of living out what we believe.
- Good theology is not to come at the expense of good character.
- Good theology is not about feeling superior or acting dismissively or condescendingly in any way towards other people, especially other believers.
There are lots of reasons for good theology: it shows us who God is, it gives the knowledge of His will, it keeps us grounded in truth, it protects us from error and sin, it (at its best) leads us to godly action, it becomes an act of worship and devotion to God – the list could go on.
But all of these things serve an even bigger, ultimate reason for good theology:
It brings us into closer communion with God.
For me, this is the most important thing.
Good theology introduces us to a Person.
Theology is not meant to become an end to itself.
It is not meant to begin and end with words and classes and debates and discussions and doctrine, as important as those things are.
Good theology brings us into a relationship with the Living God.
Jesus warned the Pharisees that their pursuit of sound doctrine was not enough on its own:
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5.39-40)
The study of Scripture is only important insofar as it leads us to the Person of Jesus Christ.
Without that, we are people who know a lot of things about God, but who do not know God Himself.
I can know a lot about Abraham Lincoln through study, but I cannot know him.
Jesus also warned that it was very possible to know about Him, even doing good things in His Name, but still miss the mark:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Mt 7.21-23)
So knowledge about God is not the same as knowing Him and obeying Him.
These are sobering words from Jesus, and they call us beyond just “the study of God.”
In Jesus, God was reconciling all people back to Himself (2Cor 5.18-19).
There was a separation from God that happened in Eden where we lost our communion with Him (see Gen 3).
But in Christ, that communion is restored.
Good theology is important. It does many important things.
But its main job is to bring us into union with Christ. All of the other benefits flow out of this important reality: our theology draws us closer to God.
This should be our main focus and our main goal. Let everything else submit to this. May our learning, our study, and our knowledge bring us into the presence of the Living God, that we may rest peacefully in our communion with Him.
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