To some, studying theology seems like a dry, stale process that sucks all the life out of the Christian faith.
We need to grow so much in loving others and serving God–in putting into practice what we already know–so why waste all this time debating doctrine and poring over the works of old theologians? Shouldn’t we focus on being servants, rather than scholars? Christianity isn’t college. It’s the “real world,” and we need to be a light in the world, not a critic in a closet!
Reformed Christians, in particular, are often portrayed as those who obsess over every jot and tittle of the Bible, yet don’t look up from their books long enough to interact with others and live out the gospel. We are seen as narrow-minded people, unwilling to consider new perspectives. We are zealous about the nuances of theology, but we have no compassion for the broken people around us who need Jesus.
Or, even worse, we “quench the Spirit” by focusing on the “letter of the Law” (wrongly interpreted as everything written down in Scripture), rather than on the “movements” of the Holy Spirit–which, they claim, don’t always fit in tightly with what the Bible says. We don’t give Him enough room to “work in mysterious ways” when we hold to a strict, systematic theology of what the Word teaches.
But are these accusations true?
First, we need to establish that there is a grain of truth to the “all head, no heart” criticism. It is certainly possible that we could find within ourselves a great paradox–one that should never exist in a Christian, yet can happen so easily to any one of us…
The paradox of constantly filling our minds with knowledge of Scripture and the words of theologians, yet lacking the fruit of the Spirit in our daily lives.
If what we learn doesn’t make us holier, then we are learning in vain. We are reading to puff ourselves up, rather than to grow in godliness to the glory of Christ.
But, let’s be clear–that is not the fault of theological study itself. It’s the fault of the Christian who is sinfully neglecting to put into practice what he or she knows to be true. So let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, rejecting doctrine and edifying biblical discussions, just because we sometimes struggle with applying what we know to our lives.
THEOLOGY THAT TRANSFORMS US
After all, theology is the study of God–it’s knowing Him and His truth more and more, an activity which should, and does, draw us nearer to Christ and Christlikeness, if we use it rightly. Jesus Himself knew Scripture better than anyone, and during His lifetime He applied it in order to obey the Father, resist temptation, love others, and fulfill God’s will.
And let’s not forget the role of the Holy Spirit in this. He is the one who illuminates the Word, not just so that we understand intellectually what we read, but also so that we understand it experientially, causing us to walk according to God’s wisdom, and teaching us how to love like Jesus does.
In fact, isn’t it the Word of God itself that the Lord uses to regenerate us? We are told that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). It’s through hearing the gospel preached that we are saved. 1 Peter also tells us that we have “been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1:23).
If we refuse to closely study the Bible and adopt its truths, we won’t know how to live and worship in a way that pleases God. We will be susceptible to false teachings that lead us astray. We won’t be abiding in Christ’s Word–which He says is an undeniable mark of a true disciple (John 8:31). How can we obey the Lord in all the moments of our days, if we don’t listen to Him?
Besides, it’s not biblical to simply wait for a “movement of the Spirit,” or to trust a feeling or “whisper” as though it were God’s voice to us. Neither can we look to an “inner guide” within us to tell us who He is and what He desires of us. Even if we could audibly hear Him or understand Him intuitively, we have something so much better–the complete, trustworthy Scripture, God’s undeniable Word, written down and preserved for centuries.
So let’s dig deep in the Bible and humbly ask the Spirit to teach us. He will show us how to apply what we learn to our daily walk. And as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18)–yes, grace and knowledge–we will be transformed, from one degree of glory to another.
Not just in our minds, but in our hearts–our whole being, bearing fruit for His name.