The Christian life is a theological life. That may sound strange at first, especially since so much that passes for theology seems to have so little to do with life. But a moments reflection will show that it is impossible to live the Christian life without theology.
The word theology is a shorthand term for knowing God. To know someone involves many things, not least of which is acquiring information about the person and fostering a relationship with that person. The two go together. For me to relate to my wife requires that I know certain things about her, and interact with her based on that knowledge. So it is with God. The work of theology involves acquiring correct knowledge about God. But it doesn’t stop there. What we believe about God inevitably shapes how we live. In this way, systematic and practical theology walk hand-in-hand. The goal of studying theology is not simply accumulating information about God but also knowing, loving, and worshipping God.
Stated differently, our views of theology reflect our views of God. In God in the Wasteland, Dr. David Wells explains the disappearance of theology in our culture. He states, “It is one of the defining marks of Our Time that God is now weightless. I do not mean by this that he is ethereal but rather that he has become unimportant.” In our day, theology is viewed as irrelevant because God is believed to be irrelevant. Yet seen from the vantage point of knowing and relating to God, theology is essential for living.
All people have a theology. In No Place for Truth, Wells presses us to reflect on the process of theologizing. He states, “Let us not think . . . that we really have a choice between having a theology and not having one. We all have our theologies, for we all have a way of putting things together in our own minds that, if we are Christian, has a shape that arises from our knowledge of God and his Word. We might not be conscious of the process. Indeed, we frequently are not. But at the very least we will organize our perceptions into some sort of pattern that seems to make sense to us. The question at issue, then, is not whether we will have a theology but whether it will be a good or bad one, whether we will become conscious of our thinking process or not, and, more particularly, whether we will learn to bring all our thoughts into obedience to Christ or not.” In other words, for a Christian, being a theologian isn’t optional. The real question concerns what kind of theologian will you be.
The point that Wells makes is encapsulated in R.C. Sproul’s introduction to systematic theology titled Everyone’s a Theologian. He states, “Theology is unavoidable for every Christian. It is our attempt to understand the truth that God has revealed to us—something every Christian does. So it is not a question of whether we are going to engage in theology; it is a question of whether our theology is sound or unsound.” Having established that all people have a theology, Sproul explains why theology ultimately matters. He states, “The purpose of theology is not to tickle our intellects but to instruct us in the ways of God, so that we can grow up into maturity and fullness of obedience to Him. That is why we engage in theology.”
There is a story about the puritan Richard Rogers that nicely captures the importance of theology for knowing God. When he was an old man, Rogers was approached by a gentleman who wished to communicate his estimation of the aging puritan. “Mr. Rogers, I like you and your company very well,” the gentleman exclaimed, “but you are so precise.” To which Roger countered, “O Sir, I serve a precise God.” The puritans were precise not because they were dour but because they were Christians. To live the Christian life involves precision about what Scripture teaches regarding what it means to know who God is and what he requires of us. To accomplish this, we must pursue the theological life.
Dr. John Tweeddale is academic dean and professor of Theology at Reformation Bible College.