Do you consider yourself a theologian? I assume not. I certainly didn’t for many years.

Looking back, however, it’s clear I didn’t understand what theology was about. I basically figured it was a holy hobby for Christian geeks. Sure, I was vaguely thankful for scholars who stroked their chins and wrote Bible commentaries, but my working assumption was that the real action in the Christian life was with the heart and the hands.

When I was a sophomore or junior in college, however, I came across a verse in the Book of Psalms that I’d never noticed before: “Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them” (Ps. 111:2).

I was a bit startled. “Studied” is not the verb I would’ve expected. “Acknowledged” or “remembered” or “celebrated,” maybe, but “studied”? I thought Christianity was supposed to be fun. Why is the Bible talking like it’s finals week?

Apparently, when it comes to Christianity, class is always in session.

Study from Love

Think about it: We study what we love, don’t we?

When I was a kid, I studied Michael Jordan statistics—not because I loved numbers (I actually hated math), but because I loved Jordan. It’s a silly example, but it reveals a timeless truth: We long to learn about what we love. I didn’t study Jordan stats because I liked studying. I didn’t study Jordan stats under coercion. I studied Jordan stats because I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could about the hero I revered.

On the other hand, imagine you asked me about my wife. I could respond, with tears in my eyes, “Oh, she’s incredible—the most amazing girl I’ve ever known! She’s from Oregon, has gorgeous red hair, and hates chocolate.” My actual chocolate-loving brunette wife who hails from Virginia would not exactly be honored by this description, now, would she? Of course not. I can gush all day long about what my wife is like, but unless my words reflect who she actually is, she’ll be insulted.

If we’re so careful to study and accurately represent our heroes and lovers, why are we lackadaisical in how we talk about our Creator?

Think It Out

As we have seen, the Old Testament psalms challenge us to adopt a posture of careful study as we approach God’s Word. This theme continues in the New Testament. In Matthew 22, a Pharisee comes to Jesus with a question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:36–37)

Many of us know this verse and love the heart-and-soul part. But we shouldn’t stop too soon. The greatest commandment, Jesus insists, includes loving God with your mind.

How are you doing in that department? Do you approach your Bible with an alert and engaged mind? Are you prepared to read slowly, to ponder carefully, and to study seriously?

In Acts 17, Paul and Silas have fled persecution in Thessalonica and have arrived in Berea, a city in northern Greece. They enter the local Jewish synagogue and begin proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah. How does the audience respond? “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

The Berean Jews don’t listen mindlessly; they check the teaching against the Hebrew Scriptures. Notice Luke doesn’t rebuke them for not taking an apostle at his word; he commends them. The Bereans’ impulse to pause and slow down—to study—reveals their noble character. They are loving God with their minds.

Study to Worship

Romans 9–11 are three of the weightiest chapters in the entire Bible—the deep end of the theological pool. And yet notice how Paul concludes:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! . . . For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:33, 36)

So, what arrested Paul’s heart and moved him to erupt in worship? In the context of the passage, the answer is plain: doctrine. Doctrine drove him to delight. His theology exploded like fireworks into doxology.

The purpose of theology is to stoke your worship, to deepen your love, to fuel your mission, and to sustain your life.

We study God to praise God. And we cannot praise what we do not know. Friend, don’t let anyone ever convince you that theology is impractical, that it distracts, that it impedes worship or hinders mission. Any good thing can be misused, of course, but the purpose of theology has never been to make you feel smarter. It’s certainly not to make you feel superior. The purpose of theology is to stoke your worship, to deepen your love, to fuel your mission, and to sustain your life.

Because when suffering arrives unbidden in your life, and the bottom falls out, you will either have something solid and sure to stand on—or not.

You’re a Theologian, so Become a Good One

In one sense, all it takes to be a theologian is to have an opinion about God. That’s it. The moment you think or say anything about him or her or it or whatever “God” is to you, you’re doing theology.

The real question, therefore, is not whether you are a theologian. It’s whether you are a good one.

Do you want deeper worship? Richer joy? Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, as the hymn says? Then approach your Bible with a learner’s posture, asking the Author to teach you marvelous things. Don’t just water ski across the surface of Scripture’s waters. Put on scuba gear. Dive in and explore the wonders of the biblical world.

As my campus minister, Dan Flynn, used to say, “The Bible is the best book that’s ever read me.” Master it. Better yet, submerge yourself in it, and let it master you.

Editors’ note: 

This is an adapted excerpt from Matt Smethurst’s book Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures for Approaching God’s Word (10Publishing, 2019).

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