A few years ago, I was having dinner with a family from church. Knowing my penchant for theological inquiry, the matriarch of the family decided to ask a genuine theological question: “David, I know Jesus is God, and I know the Father is God. When Jesus was on the cross, though, why does he pray to himself, saying ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
I proceeded to explain that while we are monotheists (i.e., believing in one God), our God exists forever in three persons who are the same in essence, co-equal in power, glory, and authority. From there I explained the difference between persons and natures and how, on the cross, Jesus, the eternal person of the Son made incarnate, prays to the person of the Father—though Jesus is, in his essence, the very same God. At which point her son, a seasoned pastor himself, chuckled and said, “You have more to say about that than the Bible does.”
That bothered me. Instead of joining the chorus or rejoicing in theological instruction, he threw up his intellectual white flag and encouraged everyone else to do likewise. Rather than doing the hard work of grasping the whole of Scripture to understand the part, he seemed to suggest theologians complicate things beyond the basics of the gospel.
Maybe you feel similarly. If that’s you, let me first say you’re not wrong. Theologians are the first to affirm the perspicuity of Scripture, a doctrine that says when it comes to matters of faith and salvation, the Bible’s meaning is evident.
The gospel is indeed simple: God created the world, we sinned, Jesus saves, and we need to trust and follow him. Some matters, though, like the writings of Paul, are challenging to grasp, as even Peter conceded (2 Pet. 3:16). The gospel is simple, but theology often isn’t.
Doctrine is the foundational building block for all we say and believe. Faith without a bedrock of orthodox belief is akin to building your house on shifting sand. And yet the undertaking of learning theology can be onerous.
If you want to eat meat, you have to learn to chew.
Theology introduces a host of new terms and concepts (sanctification, penal substitution, verbal plenary inspiration, and so on). Delving into the deep things of God can be mind-bending. It forces you to wrestle with ostensible contradictions (cf. Deut. 28:63 and Ezek. 18:32). Studying to show yourself approved is time-consuming and can even be grief-producing (Eccles. 1:18; 12:2). Doctrine cannot be watered down or simplified. If you want to eat meat, you have to learn to chew.
Theology Is Worth It
With all these occupational hazards, I understand the rationale to retreat and “leave it to the professionals.” Before you run for the hills, though, let me point out something a wise man told me when I had similar impulses. In every other area of our lives, when we believe something has real import, we rise to the challenge.
Think about it. When something affects our money, we rise to the challenge. Even if you don’t know the difference between a monkey wrench and a rolling pin, you would never pay the mechanic $1,000 to change your oil. You’d watch videos, ask questions, borrow tools, call a friend for help, or learn to do it yourself.
When it affects our loved ones, we rise to the challenge. Even if you failed high-school biology, when a loved one gets sick and it seems the doctor is speaking miles over your head, you write things down, ask for definitions, research treatment options, and calculate possible side effects.
In every other sphere of life that we believe has real effect, we rise to the challenge. Why, then, do we so easily throw in the towel when it comes to matters of God, faith, and doctrine?
In every other area of our lives, when we believe something has real import, we rise to the challenge.
Maybe the issue isn’t whether learning theology is too difficult. Perhaps the real question is whether or not we actually believe theology will have any real effect on our lives. Friend, it will. Deep and vibrant theology will comfort you when tragedy strikes, anchor you when the waves of doubt swell, add meaning to the mundane, give substance for your work and purpose to your rest, and put before you the hope of God’s kingdom toward which to walk.
When many disciples walked away due to the difficulty of his teaching, Jesus asked the twelve if they wanted to go as well. Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Peter understood that while theology is difficult, it is always worth it. May we as well.