The following is adapted from Summit’s Theology for Women quarterly teaching series. You can watch or listen to the two sessions from “Why Theology Matters….for Women” on the Summit Christian sermon archive.
I’ll never forget the day. It was one of my first days on campus as a freshman at the University of British Columbia. It was a typically gorgeous Vancouver day. One of those stunning northwest September days that seem to be a demonstration of God’s mercy towards us before the fall and winter set in.
I was taking a walk across campus, getting a feel for this place where I would spend the next five years, when I stumbled upon a beautiful building in the middle of campus. The sign read: “Regent College.”
Now the University of British Columbia is a massive institution. Forty-thousand undergraduate students, ten-thousand grad students, fifteen-thousand faculty and staff. But right in the heart of this monument to secularism is Regent College, one of the most respected theological seminaries in Canada. So on this beautiful, dry, late summer day, I decided to go in. And me being, well… me, I ended up browsing around the bookstore.
As I was browsing, a particular book caught my eye on the shelf - It was called The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. I had no where to go, so I opened the book and began to read. The first chapter began with a phrase that absolutely gripped me:
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
If you were to write out what’s most important about you, you’d probably start with your biggest personal identifiers: your marital status, your job, your education, your cultural background, your family relationships. It’s not likely, “how I think about God” would make the top 5. Yet, Tozer says that our understanding of God, what we believe about him, our theology, is number one on the inventory of importance. In other words, theology matters.
Theology is scary for a lot of people. We can easily associate theology only with big books, big beards, and big arguments. “Just give me Jesus,” we say, “not all this business about theology.” But for a Christian, theology is unavoidable. Every Christian is a theologian. Even if you “just want Jesus,” you have to believe something about who Jesus is. The content of that belief is inherently and deeply theological.
The question for every Christian then is not whether they will do theology, it’s whether they will do it well. Will you think deeply, studying, and thinking, and wrestling with what God reveals in his word about himself, about Christ, man, salvation, the Church, or will you simply form your beliefs through the default influences of your own feelings and the ideas of our culture? The former is doing good theology, the latter… not so much.
Theology, good theology, matters. Let me give you five reasons why:
1. Good theology glorifies God.
Right from the garden the Bible reveals God’s primary purpose for humanity. Humans are made as image-bearers. God has created people to reflect his glory in the world he has made. The Westminster Catechism captures humanity’s purpose succinctly: our chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Glorifying God as his image-bearers means reflecting who he is and what he is like. We make truth known about him. Now, just like Adam and Even in the garden, we do this in many ways. First, we glorify God in our actions. How we work, our creativity, the way we love others, the way we parent our children, all we do can be a means to glorifying God.
Second, we glorify God in our thinking. If we don’t have an understanding of God as he truly is, while we might reflect him in part through how we live, we’re missing a key component of what it means to glorify him. In the way I think about God, talk about him, understand his word, sing to him, and tell others about him I am reflecting an image of who he is. Good, biblically faithful, well thought through theology glorifies God because it humbly seeks to reflect a clear, accurate image of him in what we think and speak.
2. Good theology helps you love Jesus more.
One of the worst caricatures of theologians is the stuffy, dusty, white-bearded old man in spectacles; a Scrooge-like figure far more comfortable with books than people, with a heart slowly shriveling from study. That picture expresses one of the biggest objections many Christians have to thinking deeply when it comes to theology: “Won’t theology dull my love for Jesus?”
In fact, just the opposite is true. Jesus himself connects our deep thinking about God to our deepened love for him. In Matthew 22 Jesus reminds his listeners of the greatest commandment in the law. Here it is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).
Jesus is saying that we need to love all of God with all of ourselves. This kind of loving requires the engagement of our minds. Followers of Jesus need to enlist their intellects in cultivating a growing love for God. John Piper helps define what this looks like. Loving God with our minds means “that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express this heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.”1
Loving God and thinking deeply about him are wonderful dance partners. Thomas Goodwin, an English Puritan pastor, wrote these wonderful words about the interaction between deep thinking about God and deep loving of him:
Indeed, thoughts and affections are the mutual causes of each other: ‘Whilst I mused, the fire burned” (Ps. 39:3); so that thoughts are the bellows that kindle and inflame affections; and then if they are inflamed, they cause thoughts to boil; therefore men newly converted to God, having new and strong affections, can with more pleasure think of God than any.2
There is a mutual responsiveness between good theology and love for God. Good theology results in deepened affections for God, which in turn leads to a deeper study of his person, character, and ways through his word. Theology and love are a self-perpetuating cycle that results in the heartfelt worship of our Creator and Redeemer.
3. Good theology helps you understand yourself better.
Everyone wants to understand themselves better. An entire industry has been built around that assumption. If you go to the self-help section of your local Barnes & Noble you’ll discover it. But true knowledge of ourselves can’t come from the latest pop psychology book. True self-knowledge can only come from a true knowledge of God, because it’s God who defines who we are and what we’re made for.
John Calvin, began his theological thinking with this same thesis.
“Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self,” he asserts in the first chapter of his Institutes. “It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.”3
Calvin’s contention, and I think it is a biblical one, is that we cannot define who we are on our own. It is our Creator who defines us, and so we must know him to truly know ourselves.
4. Good theology anchors you.
Truth is the great anchor for a Christian. Truth steadies us when around us is blowing “every wind of doctrine”, and it stabilizes us through suffering and hardship. When God feels distant and temptation feels near, sometimes the only solid ground we’re able to find is the bedrock truths about God we’ve settled in our hearts and minds.
Trial always has a way of revealing our heart theology. We may think we think about God in certain ways, but hardship will show us what we actually believe. Are we sure of his goodness? His providence? The certainty of his salvation? Hardship will show us. That is why we have to put effort into thinking rightly while the waters are calm, so that when the waves start churning our hearts will be anchored.
5. Good theology is really, really practical.
Everything from how you parent your children to how you arrange flowers is affected by your theology. My theology even influences the type of coffee I buy. Theology literally affects everything we do, whether we are aware of it or not. How we parent our children will be influenced by how we understand original sin and the nature of God’s salvation. How we work at our jobs will be affected by our understanding of God’s purposes in creation and the effect of the fall. How we think about God and his nature will impact how we read books, celebrate beauty, appreciate music, savor good food. Our theology literally shapes every area of our lives.
Theology matters. How you think about God makes a difference. It’s what is most important about you.
If you’ve never read, thought, studied deeply and you’re not quite sure where to start, hold on. Next week we’ll look at four practical ways to begin growing theologically.
1 John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 88.
2 Ibid, 90.
3 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559 ed. Vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 37.