“This church does not need theology, we just need Jesus!”
I was stunned. This pastor had just told his entire congregation that theology, the very thing he was about to spend 45 minutes doing, was not welcome in his church.
Now, before you think I’m judging him, let me first say that I understand! Theology has often been associated with a tweed jacket and an inability to use words people comprehend.
The academic ivory tower has contributed to the creation of a coalition of “all I need is Jesus” people, just like the pastor I quoted above – a side with a tendency of making everything so palatable that 30 year olds eat the spiritual equivalent of 6-year olds. This leaves neither side in dialogue.
Trevor Hart defined theology with two simple words: “faith thinking.” It’s another way of defining theology in the tradition of Augustine and St. Anselm, who said it this way: “faith seeking understanding.” It is this kind of thinking that contributes to a worldview, and that worldview shapes not only how we see the world, but also how we act within it, based on the kinds of questions we asked beforehand. Therefore, our theology is not best reflected in what we say, but in what we do.
What if theology is bigger than a frayed tweed jacket, or the anti-intellectualism bred by a contempt for learning?
A heart on fire is a heart that recognizes Jesus enough to participate with Him in His work in the world. Theology helps us as a guide along the journey. That way when we do participate, we know it is done according to the way the Master would have done it!
Here are four reasons why theology is important:
1. The study of God helps us determine our faith...
...or our “way of being in the world.” Jesus had a worldview. Jesus detailed it in Mark chapter 1: “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom is at hand, so change the way you think and go on believing in this good news!” This was Jesus’ theology because it guided his way of ministry. The question is not, “Are we doing theology?” The true question is, “Are we doing it well?”
2. We love the God we know
The pluralism of today makes it easy to mistake a therapeutic god for the God of Israel. It is very important that the god we claim to love is the God of Jesus Christ. Theology helps us encounter God as encounters with God also challenge our theology. (Honestly, I’m not sure which happens more often!)
3. It saves churches from falling into the cult of personality
It takes a people who are committed to accountability, and that includes the statements they make about God. Covenants are public realities. And when there’s a thin conception of God being taught, the only reason some begin to return is because of the personality.
4. We have to speak of God
A pre-requisite to doing theology should be the acknowledgement that we begin doing it poorly...and that’s OK. Even by saying the word “God” we diminish the essence and grandeur of God’s nature. Nevertheless, we as Christians are compelled to speak of God because we have discovered a love so deep that we must tell everyone.
Christianity is not a private faith. It is a public witness to the reality of God’s new world. The King has come, and who are we not to proclaim it? It is to that end that theology must be reclaimed; untangled from the fear and judgment of the past.
Jon is a school teacher, writer, father to Declan, husband to Lauren, Texan, and seminarian. His Texan identity makes him a bad pacifist, but he trusts Jesus with it. As a tamed cynic, he enjoys gospeling and spending too much on coffee. He has a heart for ecumenism, the sacraments, and the moving of the Holy Spirit. Follow him on twitter @jonbeadle - and read him here: www.jonbeadle.com