Christians need theology like we need to breathe. And like breathing, it’s so integral to who we are that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We can’t avoid theology, nor should we. Without theology, our faith is a corpse.
Not every Christian is a professional theologian teaching in the classroom or from the pulpit. But every Christian does theology. Theology, simply put, is attempting to explain and tie together truths mined from Scripture. Any time we make statements about truths from Scripture (Jesus is the Messiah; God is sovereign; humanity is sinful; salvation is by faith alone; etc.) we do theology.
According to the Bible, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). In order to be saved—to truly live—theology must be involved. It’s unavoidable.
Doing Theology with Humility
In the oldie-but-goodie Doing Theology in Today’s World, J. I. Packer writes an essay on the importance of doing theology with humility, quoting Martin Luther at length. Here’s just a snippet of Luther’s points:
Firstly, you should know that the Holy Scriptures constitute a book that turns the wisdom of all other books into foolishness. Secondly, take care that you do not grow weary or think that you have done enough when you have read, heard, and spoken [the Bible’s words] once or twice, and that you then have complete understanding. Thirdly, [learn] not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s Word is, wisdom beyond all wisdom.
Working at a Bible college for three years and spending seven years (so far) as a student in biblical and theological training, it’s always said that doing theology is a humble person’s task. Pride puffs up, leaving the theologian with nothing but Spirit-less fodder for intramural debates. Humility, on the other hand, allows for God-exaltation to happen in one’s life and work.
As a person grows in knowledge of Scripture, pride creeps into our hearts like a quiet mouse in a dark kitchen looking for a feast. We want to be right and to show others we’re right, and so we begin to forget that none of this is about us. We forget that the only reason we can even attempt theology is because God graciously revealed himself to us. And if we don’t turn on the light of the gospel and remind ourselves of God’s glory and beauty, pride will set up shop in our hearts for an extended stay. Theology will become about us.
Theology literally means words about God. God-talk. So doing theology is no small thing! We’re attempting to describe the character, acts, and will of an infinite, perfect being with our own finite, imperfect language. So in order to even attempt doing theology humbly, let me encourage you to consider three things.
1. There is no such thing as a presupposition-free theology.
We all bring contextual baggage to the text, interpreting through particular lenses and with predetermined biases. We do all we can to be objective, but we must understand that we don’t read the Bible in a vacuum. This means we need to be aware of and honest about our blind spots.
2. There is no such thing as a perfect theology.
Nobody, nowhere has it all figured out. The reason there are seemingly endless theological systems and nuances is because nobody’s theology is inerrant. The mantra “always reforming” should be actually true for us. This means we should always be willing to be wrong and to learn from others, since we’ll never “arrive.”
3. There is no such thing as a “personal” theology.
Theology is not kept to ourselves and shouldn’t be kept to ourselves. First of all, our words and actions reflect our theology. Good theology creates good ethics. You can’t hide bad theology. Second, if theology is about God, then it should be shared. As ministers of reconciliation, messengers of good news, we shouldn’t hide our theology under a bowl. Rather, our theology should convict and drive us toward a lived-out faith. This means we need to be careful what we believe and how we speak as we imperfectly point toward the perfect One.
Sharing the Gift
Every Christian should care about theology. Doing theology is seeking to know and love God better, and using that knowledge to know and love others better. When we tell someone, “You are a sinner, but Christ loves you and died for you,” we should do so humbly. Christ has been gracious to involve us in his mission, not only exhorting us to “go” but promising he “will be with us always, until the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19–20).
We didn’t invent theology—we don’t own it. We don’t deserve theology—we receive it as a gift. We don’t hoard theology—we share it.