Why Theology Matters
Did you know that you are a theologian? You may not be a pastor, seminary professor, or biblical scholar, but you are a theologian. The word itself refers to the study of God or religious doctrines, or to a body of beliefs about those things. If you have any opinions at all about God, the bible, or what the bible teaches, you are a theologian. In fact, even atheism is a theological position. Therefore, even atheists are theologians.
There are many people who hold to the idea that theology, or doctrine, doesn’t matter that much. God’s word takes that option away from us when it says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The first commandment tells us that we are to worship the one true God only. It is obvious then that we must know who God is and what he has revealed to us, otherwise we would not know how, or which God, to worship. If we don’t know those things, we cannot obey the first commandment. The first commandment tells us to be good theologians! So the question is not whether we are theologians. The question is whether our theology is God honoring. God honoring theology is theology which tells the truth about God as revealed in the bible and points people to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Errant theology always undercuts the gospel in some way. That is why theology matters. With Easter Sunday still fresh in our minds, consider the example of Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead. There are many people who claim that belief in Jesus’ real, bodily resurrection is not necessary so long as we believe in Jesus and follow what he taught. But is that true? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” In verse 20 of the same chapter, Paul goes on to refer to Christ as the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (died).”
In other words, then, if Jesus is not actually a resurrected man, then we may as well sleep in on Sunday mornings. The reason I bring the bodily resurrection up is because it is a theological issue. If you read 1 Corinthians 15 you will see that Jesus’ literal, physical resurrection is central to the gospel. A gospel with a non-resurrected Christ, then, is a different gospel. The gospel itself is a theological announcement.
Paul again in Galatians states in Galatians 1:8-9, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
Correct theology is not simply a matter for stuffy, bookish types who like to live inside their heads. It is not simply a concern for ivory tower scholars. It is vital to the life of the Christian Church. That is why Jesus’ said in the great commission, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
It is a technical point, but the controlling phrase Jesus’ marching orders is “make disciples”. The commands to baptize and teach aren’t actually verbs in Greek. They’re participles. Don’t let that make you nervous. All this means is that they describe what making disciples looks like. What that means is that being a disciple of Jesus, or making disciples of Jesus, involves knowing what he taught. That means being a theologian.
Of course none of this means that everyone has to be an expert. Different people in the Church have different gifts and interests, and that’s okay. What it does mean is that we are called to understand what the word of God teaches as well as we can in our several callings and according to our differing abilities and inclinations. When we make the effort, we are rewarded with deeper knowledge of our Lord, greater assurance of his love and care for us, and firmer confidence as we seek to be effective ambassadors to a world that desperately needs the most important bit of theology we have: The gospel.
Book Recommendation: “Everyone’s a Theologian”, by R.C. Sproul