I’ve met so many people who have grown sick of theology. “It just seems like every pastor I meet says something different about the Bible.” “How do I know what is true?” “Theology is not important. What’s really important is just my personal relationship with Jesus.”
I understand the feeling. It seems that for every ten people there are eleven opinions. It seems that the more people are into “theology” the more they argue about apparently meaningless things instead of getting to the vitally important everyday work of being a Christian.
I’m against that sort of “theology” too. But I don’t think that’s the legitimate article. “Theology” that is all about my individual ideas of what is correct is not real theology. It’s a fake. It’s a forgery. It’s an imposter.
Let me ask you a question. What is the number one most applicable subject in life? Is it learning how to read? Is it loving your neighbor? Is it developing a trade so you can make money? While all these things are good and applicable subjects, they are not the *most* applicable subject. The most applicable, relevant subject is God. When you know God, you know your Creator. When you know your Creator, you know yourself. You know the world around you. You know what you are here to do and how to go about doing it. Knowing God makes sense of everything else. It infuses meaning into your reading, loving, and working.
C. S. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Theology literally means the study of God. Therefore theology is the most applicable and relevant of all studies. To say that we don’t need theology is to say that we don’t need to know God. Frankly, that’s absurd.
So where have we gone wrong? How has this fake theology taken over and caused so many problems? The root issue is pride. But this pride manifests in two distinct ways, in individualism and rationalism.
First let’s discuss individualism. In the West many people approach the study of God as an individual. I call this the me-and-my-Bible approach. I believe God will speak directly to me through the Scripture in such a way that I don’t need to be taught by anyone else. This sounds very pious, but its root is pride. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11 NIV).” God gave us teachers. We must listen to those whom God has gifted to interpret his Word, especially to the teachers of the past. Why do we think it acceptable to create novel interpretations of Scripture that contradict what God has been saying through the pastors and teachers he has raised up in his Church over the last 2000 years? Pride. We must sit at the feet of those that have gone before us and humbly listen to their voices as they explain the Scripture. If we don’t we simply make God after our own image. Without the voice of God’s teachers, we intently peer backwards through the last 2000 years trying to see Jesus, but like a man looking down a long dark well, we actually see the reflection of our own face in the water below. Curiously, the Jesus we see looks a lot like us! That’s not the Jesus we need, because that’s not the true God.
The second issue is rationalism. Since the Enlightenment, human reason (human thinking) has been elevated above all else as the key to finding truth. God has given us reason, so we must use it well. But the undue elevation of human reason as the only means of discovering truth has resulted in a simplistic and incomplete view of the human person and of the nature of truth. Humans become walking brains-on-a-stick and truth becomes propositional statements correctly understood. But the human person is more complex than that. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30 NIV).” And truth is not just a something to be intellectually known, but a Someone to be loved (which is, by the way, the Biblical definition of “known”) by the entire person, heart, soul, and mind. So the Bible is not primarily a textbook, but it is a prayerbook. It is a life-book. It is a worship book that invites our entire self, body and spirit, into communion with God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is true theology!
So as we begin to dig deeper into the Bible during our Sunday morning Bible study, let us approach the Scripture with humility, learning from the great teachers of the past, and desiring to know and love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let’s do some real theology!
Father Kurt is the Pastor of Light of Christ Anglican Church in Georgetown, TX