Why Does Theology Matter?
Religion is about man’s response to God; Theology is about God and His plan for man.
Christians live disconnected lives because there is a huge gap between what they say they believe and how they live. Truth taken in (without determination to love the truth and be changed and transformed by it) winds up deadening the hearer.
Orthodoxy must be joined to orthopraxy. We must study theology in a doxological manner or it will ‘pickle’ us like formaldehyde.
Our culture has become even more hardened its rebellious commitment to autonomy. Because of Enlightenment principles and assumptions; morality has been increasingly divorced from theology. People treat ethics today as if morality can exist and be known apart from God. The Western concept of spirituality has encouraged a breach between spirituality and theology. In reality; theology is the foundation for all correct living; for living unto God; for the art of living to God’s glory. The study of theology ought to be a spiritual exercise. Ethics and doctrine are like Siamese twins; inseparable. Ethics is theology in action.
“Theology is the science of God and of the relations between God and the universe” A. H. Strong (Pettegrew, Ethics; Theology in Action, p. 4).
God’s goal in creating the universe was to share Himself with others. This is God’s universe. The emanation of God’s fullness of good is bound up in the knowledge of God; the holiness of God; and the happiness of the creature. God’s desire is that we will glorify Him by enjoying His ‘God-ness’. The unbeliever will ultimately glorify God by magnifying His justice—God will get glory from your life one way or the other because this is His universe. In Romans 11:33 ff. Paul is on top of a theological mountain. It is impossible to thwart God’s created purpose for the universe (Pettegrew, pp. 5, 6).
Only Christianity has a true ethical system based upon theology—we must teach, preach, and model the impact of theology on ethics—that’s our job. We are made in God’s image to be the likeness of God. This knowledge will cause us to view the Fall as incapacitating man so that he cannot, and will not, meet God’s ethical standards without divine grace (Pettegrew, p. 8).
Highlights from God in the Wasteland, by David Wells
Jay Wegter, Editor (Abridged Version of Citations)
Intro. – The Church is enfeebled because it has lost the sense of God’s holiness and sovereignty. God rests too inconsequentially upon the Church – His truth is too distant, the gospel too easy, Christ too common. Divine transcendence has been abandoned for immanence (this produces a “faith” of little consequence).
26 – Evangelicalism increasingly saw itself as a “civil religion” that could help keep society in check in issues such as abortion, family values, prayer in school. Relevance in politics of the day replaced a passion for truth. Without God’s truth, both grace and judgment are lost. Evangelicalism exists as an informal religious establishment that derives its power from culture, not theology! In the last 30 years, there has been an almost complete decline of confessional interest.
28-29 – Protestant orthodoxy has been altered to fit an atmosphere of “pleasantness and light.” Churches are filled with those who wear a happy face, but who have no religious passions (see Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections). Modernity has twisted Evangelicalism to the point where interest in the truth of God is severely lacking. The therapeutic and managerial have replaced love of the truth.
44-45 – The biblical writers consistently wrote from a theocentric vantage point. Secular modernity is consistently anthropocentric. The anthropocentric is diametrically opposed to the theocentric. The foundational biblical truth is that all things receive their meaning from God; pluralism is godless because it denies that fact.
46-47 – The Enlightenment redefined all things in light of humanism; it took an anti- theocentric stance. Contemporary culture redefines human life as an impersonal genetic code, humans are less and less defined by choices.
55 – Today’s Evangelicals practice a religion wed to worldliness. Results are measured by “successful” entrepreneurship. Biblical truth is dislocated from life. Discernment is gone. The Church’s theological soul is dying as a result. The Church is no longer taking its bearings from God who is centrally holy.
56 – Evangelicalism, having abandoned theology, is running on the high octane fuel of modernity, therefore it cannot see the alien values inside it! In this condition, the Church cannot recognize or dislodge worldliness.
66-67 – Why has the 20th Century seen the “triumph” of Arminianism? ANSWER: In the “theology” of democracy, experience and testimony are authoritative. If theology is not translated into technique, people lose interest – legitimacy is only given to ideas that “work.”
69-71 – Evangelicalism’s new value system; remove the barriers to conversion, and you’ll get the numbers. McGavran’s formula for church growth is applied sociology.
Raw pragmatism intrudes into churches where the confessional and the theological has faded. Whentheology is not at the center, managers and marketers will conduct the “business” of the Church.
90, 91 – With God relegated to the outer margins, the ear-tickling request becomes, “tell us about self.” Once God is excluded from reality – religion may be nothing more than a fascination with ourselves. How terrifying a possibility it is that the immanent may completely replace the transcendent. When the imminent alone is remaining, and it is psychologized, God’s reality becomes no different than our own! He is there to satisfy our needs – He has no real authority. Ultimately, He bores us.
94, 97 – Postmodernism eats away every transcendent reference point. There is no longer any meaning outside of self. Human potential becomes the disordered self in need of order. The empty, dismantled self (with its inner void), runs to psychology to fill it. Religion becomes completely based upon self.
103 – In the culture of modernity, the Creator-creature distinction is in trouble. The traditional biblical theism of God external instead of internal is falling apart.
105 – There is a new epistemology in religion – the “Kantian” mind superimposes its own opinions upon the data. The subjective triumphs over the objective; pluralism and deconstructionism reign. (Kant’s existentialism regarded the realm of absolutes to be totally “upper story,” or beyond reality.)
112, 113 – The culture of modernity is characterized by pride and self-absorption. People are so self occupied they refuse to hear anything that would disturb their intuition that they are correct about what is true and right. By contrast, the Bible declares that there is no redemption where self is in tyranny. The sovereignty of self destroys both church and worship. There is no recovery but by biblical doctrine.
114 – Modernity embraces a god who can be used. Psychologized culture has an affinity for the relational, but a “dis-ease” for the moral. The modern church wants the love of God, but not the holiness of God.
115 – There is trauma in retaining the Scriptural, theocentric God of grandeur. The radical reconstruction of self by God’s revealed doctrine is needed or the knowledge of the Holy One will not sink in. The cost of retaining the knowledge of God is ongoing repentance.
116, 117 – Objective truth in redemptive history is the revealer of who God is. God’s redemptive presence in truth and holiness are found only on His terms, not ours. We must have God transcendent in holiness, or we do not know Him!
118 – Modernity is appalled by the great things of God. Addiction to modernity can only be opposed by a mind steeped in the Word of God.
120-122 – Modernity dislocates the significance of God from life. God’s moral “otherness” is converted into relatedness. In the transition from transcendence to immanence, God becomes a convenient means to satisfy self. God’s “otherness” is increasingly lost in compromised Evangelicalism.
132, 134 – The only way to be God-centered is to be Christ-centered. Pluralism dislikes the exclusivity of Christ-centeredness. (The glorified Christ of eschatology who returns as Lord of history to judge the earth and consummate all things is assiduously avoided by modernity.) Disinterest in God’s holiness always results in a lack of interest in the pursuit of godliness and little interest in the reception of holiness from God.
135-138 – Victimhood is not interested in dwelling upon the holiness of God. God’s Word affirms that all God is and does is holiness. God’s holiness carries with it the demand of exclusive loyalty to Him. The experimental knowledge of God’s holiness should move us to awe, obedience, fervent prayer, ongoing repentance, and submission to His moral authority.
140, 141 – Burning purity and tenderness are joined in covenant. His holiness reveals sin. His holiness necessitates the work of Christ. God’s holiness and majesty belong together and interpret one another. His holiness is synonymous with His majesty in many passages (i.e. Ex 15:11).
142, 143 – There must be an echo of holiness in those who approach God. That echo manifests itself in separation and consecration unto God. God’s holiness is intrusive to the inner man. To approach God’s holiness is to have the life of the inner man invaded by light that exposes everything.
143, 144 – If holiness slips from a central position, then the centrality of Christ is lost. One cannot enter the knowledge of the Holy as a consumer, ONLY as a sinner. Sin, grace, and faith are emptied of meaning apart from the holiness of God.
145-148 – The implications of God’s holiness are missing in the Church. God’s authority and power are passé. Self is sovereign; authority now is only a private reference.
150, 151 – God’s Word is our only safety from heresy and modernity. Our safety resides in our passion for His holiness and His truth.
156 157 – The Enlightenment broke the connection between culture and religious truth. As a consequence, values are now shaped by modernization – the result is an existence of emptiness without meaning. Society’s values no longer come from the transcendent.
159 – Man without the transcendent has lost his roots in the world; pseudo freedom comes at an infinite cost – a palpable lostness pervades. There is no sense of God’s providence; it’s but a chance universe moving toward an uncertain end. By contrast,
Christ is the Architect of providence. His cross is at the center of providence.
198-201 – After 1960, the veneration and fulfillment of self replaced an assessment of self of personal moral failure in need of rectification. The new ideology has taken command; we can find meaning only to the extent that we can get in touch with the self. Self expression has eclipsed self control. The mystical and the individualistic have created the soil of the therapeutic.
206 – The Church has lost its theological vision. Without theology she cannot know God as He is, and she cannot live aright unto Him. Theology is increasingly at odds with reality in the minds of seminary students (p. 208).
209-211 – Seminary students are increasingly attracted to immanence and not transcendence. Here are the consequences of immanence without transcendence: Fulfillment is achieved through the process of looking within. The disconformity in the world is internalized into privatized meaning. There is an increasing civility toward other religions (the exclusivity of the Gospel is minimized). The whole human nature is corrupt, but self is not. Self is innocent – self provides an accurate vantage point from which to interpret the world.
With an ever increasing number of seminary students, contemporary assumptions have more control over the inner life and over world view than the Word of God (p. 212).
“The Coming Evangelical Crisis”
Gary Johnson, Does Theology Still Matter? (pp. 57-73)
Today we have countless churches with operations directors/practitioners who do almost anything but make sense of the church’s theological message. For most students the Protestant Reformation had no more significance than the coronation of some European king hundreds of years ago.
John Donne’s remark is a most appropriate retort when students chafed at hearing Edwards’, “Sinner’s in the Hands of an Angry God,” “You must have a very mean and unworthy estimate of God if you stipulate that He ought to behave as you yourself would behave if you were God.” (Add Psalm 50 at this point.)
Theology has been marginalized as psychology and (doctrine-less) pietism has enthroned spiritual experience and the self. In the minds of many, theology fails the test of pragmatism; if practicality cannot be immediately discerned; then the doctrine is nothing but ‘never never land’ as one pastor quipped.
Theology is not merely intellectual training in orthodox propositions; theology is the vital knowledge of God which is intended to engage the whole person. The study of theology must be joined to vision for one’s life; and not merely the apprehension and mastering of more orthodox facts.
Theology is to be preached as well as taught; a certain Christian life grows under the preaching of good theology. They world has a bitter antipathy to biblical doctrine. And increasingly churches are manifesting indifference toward doctrinal precision. At the root of this indifference is dislike of doctrinal assertions lest they cause controversy. They fear controversy more than error. What is not seen as not worth defending is very soon seen as not worth professing.
Doctrinal apathy has taken Evangelicalism captive. But a pure Gospel is worth defending; because a mutilated Gospel produces mutilated lives. We are sadly experiencing subjectivism that betrays its weakened hold on objective truth and reality of Christianity. People are surrendering the whole substance of Christianity but not the name Christianity. Emphasis is placed on life; not dogma; on spiritual experience; not creed. But Christianity consists in doctrines that are facts and facts that are doctrines. Convictions anchored in doctrine are the root on which the tree of Christianity grows. There is a direct proportion between the following: no convictions; no Christianity; scanty convictions; hunger-bitten Christianity; profound convictions; solid and substantial religion. The knowledge of God is eternal life, and to know God means to know Him aright.
“What Happened to the Reformation?”
From the chapter, “Evangelism Rooted in Scripture,” by Joel Beeke
[In Puritan times,] systematic theology was to the pastor what anatomy was to a physician. Only in light of the whole body of divinity could a minister provide a diagnosis of; prescribe for; and ultimately cure spiritual disease in those who were plagued by the body of sin and death (pp. 234, 235).
The Puritan preachers proclaimed the fact the mankind’s condition was one of moral rebellion against God. Our moral condition reaps eternal guilt; through the Fall we inherit depravity which makes us unfit for God, holiness, and heaven. Sinners have a bad record in heaven (a legal problem); and a bad heart (a moral problem). Both factors make us unfit for communion with God. No personal reformation can avail; nothing short of regeneration can reverse the problem (Jn 3:3-7). Puritan preachers offered Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King. They did not separate His benefits from His Person while ignoring His claims as Lord (ibid.).
We ourselves must be conquered by the mighty truths of God (p. 251).
“No Place for Truth”
Whatever happened to Evangelical Theology?
7 – The effect of secularization has been to marginalize God and to make the transcendence of God irrelevant. The church has substituted the search for the knowledge of God with the search for the knowledge of self. There has been a net loss in the ability to think ‘Christian-ly’ about this world.
12 – True theology is driven by a passion for truth. 95, 96 -- The loss of theology has produced a shift from God to self; and from exposition in the pulpit to psychologizing. The reigning anti-theological mood is causing the church to lose her soul; she is severing her link to historical and Protestant orthodoxy.
108, 109 – Modernity is pouring into the vacuum left by an anti-theological mood. The result is a faith, unlike historic orthodoxy, that no longer defines itself theologically. Wherever modernity intrudes into the church; social space will be emptied of theology. Where theology is relegated to the periphery; it will lose its ability to define what evangelical life is.
136 – By banishing theology to the periphery (and not in the center of evangelical life) there is a resulting diminished sense of truth. Truth is only central in religious disposition when theology is close at hand. Nothing short of repentance needed to recover our theological soul. The erosion of truth will let in the tide of modernity. This is the issue: Who owns Evangelicalism?
It is the inextinguishable knowledge of being owned by the transcendent God that forms character; and His ownership challenges every other contender, including that of the modern world.
178 – Modernity’s influence is found in psychologizing which cuts the nerve of evangelical identity because the common assumption beneath the self movement is the perfectibility of human nature. This assumption is anathema to the Christian Gospel.
181 – Modernity is washing away our internal reality so that our capacity to think theologically is being emptied out. There is a profound correlation between the functioning of a substantial moral self and the ability to sustain a substantial theology that has moral force. The latter needs the former; the collapse of the former leads to the disappearance of the latter. Psychologizing undermines the desire and capacity to think, without which theology is obviously impossible. The psychologizing process identifies access to reality with subjective experience rather than objective thought.
182, 183 – The Evangelical church has succumbed to some of the seductive overtures which offer what is exciting over what is true. There is a resultant spreading wave of unreason. God’s place in the world is reduced to the domain of private consciousness; His external acts of redemption are trimmed to fit the experience of personal salvation; His providence in the world shrinks to whatever is necessary to having a good day; His Word becomes intuition; conviction fades into evanescent opinion. Theology becomes therapy—serving the therapeutic model of faith. Biblical interest is replaced by a search for happiness; holiness is replaced by a search for wholeness; truth is replaced by feelings; and ethics by feeling good about oneself. The past recedes; the church recedes; all that remains is self. Psychologizing of faith is destroying the Christian mind. Theology was written for the Church; when people are no longer compelled by God’s truth; they can be compelled by anything (cults and heresies find fertile soil).
216, 217 – Genuine leadership in the church is NOT finding out what everyone wants; it is a matter of teaching and explaining what has not been so well grasped, where the demands of God’s truths and culture pull in opposite directions. In the absence of public vision, it is easy to equate the norms of culture with the truths of God. Without real leaders we’ll be led by ‘pollsters’. Only theology can impart the vision of God which alone can sustain His people in the caldron of modernity. Theology is about seeing the gaping chasm that lies between truth and the nostrums of modernized society; and seeing how to practice that truth in this world. Without theology there is no faith; no believing; no Christian hope.
247 – Due to a professionalized clergy; we have allowed theology to be drained from the ministry—and at the same time expect the church to be nurtured in the knowledge of God. We laugh at those who think that theology is of vital importance; but then are shocked to find the superficial and unbelieving in our midst.
256 – God has been replaced by the church. The life of the church has produced a ‘surrogate truth’—so much so that this church life provides the justification for all theological learning. The skills and techniques for church management determine what theology should be studied; the priority is no longer the importance of the truth itself.
Strong winds are blowing in the church—winds of religious consumerism. And pastors are tailoring their ministries to meet the demands of the religious consumers. A genuinely biblical and God-centered ministry is almost certain to collide head-on with the self-absorption and anthropocentric focus that is now normative in so many evangelical churches.
261 – Modern worldviews have gone deep into the soul; they are wed to the psychology of our age. In much of Evangelicalism, our worldview is modern; it no longer allows us to think in terms of the supernatural or absolute truth as the biblical authors could—who proclaimed that God gives truth that is final and enduring.
288 – The citizens of our time believe so little in God because they believe in so much of what is modern. I believe so little in the modern world because I believe so much in the Transcendent, in God as sovereign and His Word as absolute. I believe in His power to actualize His truth in human life. Evangelicals who have bought into the priority of spiritual experience and self, may imagine themselves safe from modernism; but in reality are servile captives.
Evangelicals have lost their capacity for dissent; they stand on too easy terms with modernism. The requisite dissent arises out of the vision of God in His otherness, and this vision has now largely faded; a fact most obviously evidenced by the disappearance of theology in the evangelical Church.
296 – Evangelicalism has been too accommodating to modernity. As a consequence it has lost its traditional understanding of the sufficiency and centrality of God. It has turned from dependence on God tomanagement of God. Its inward looking self-confidence has produced an attempt to manage God. Surely this alienates us from Him; for God has never been managed or tamed. His sovereignty over the church is not subject to manipulation. The apparent ‘smoothness’ of God in the evangelical world is a sure sign that His truth in its purity and power is not driving evangelicalism.
299-301 – Modern experience does not provide access to God; God alone provides this access. It originates in His grace grounded in Christ Jesus. The experience of self has been made into an idol. Only the objectivity of God’s revealed truth can lead us back to Christ. In order to better diagnose the shallowness and poverty of the worldview of modernity; we must read the vastness of God’s purposes against the canvas of eternity.
All of God’s purposes are in Christ. The Son of God brought everything into harmony with the holiness of God. To be sure; this harmony has two different expressions: justification and judgment. In both, the holiness of God comes into it full and awful expression. In the one case, it does so in Him who bears the consequences of that wrath on behalf of those He represents; in the other case, it is expressed in the final and awesome alienation of those in whom God’s judgment vindicates for all eternity His holiness. (God will fill creation with His holiness; His moral majesty; God’s will is going to be done on earth as it is in heaven.) This holiness of God without the cross is incomprehensible.
Under this bright light of God’s holiness, modernity is seen for the darkness it is. Modernity empties life of serious moral purpose—it removes the consciousness that reality is fundamentally moral. God’s holiness is fundamental to who He is; what He has done; and what He will do. The key to it all is that we have lost God’s otherness; His holiness and transcendence. (Evangelicalism has settled on God’s immanence; interpreting His immanence as friendliness with modernity.)
300, 301 – With the loss of God’s holiness; sin and grace become empty terms. Divorced from the holiness of God; worship becomes mere entertainment. In reality, sin is defiance of God’s holiness. God’s holiness is the very foundation of reality. The Cross is the outworking and victory of God’s holiness; and faith is the recognition of God’s holiness. Knowing God is holy is the key to knowing life as it truly is; and knowing why Christ came; and knowing how life will end.
301 – It is this God, majestic and holy in His being, this God whose love knows no bounds because His holiness knows know limits—this is the God who has disappeared from the modern evangelical world. The death of theology has profound ramifications; theology is dying because the church lost its capacity for it. This is a sign of creeping death. By imbibing modernism and rejecting theology; we have elected to cross over into a world in which God has no place; in which reality has been re-written; in which Christ has become redundant; His Word irrelevant; and the Church must now find new reasons for its existence.
301 – Unless the church can recover the knowledge of what it means to live before a holy God; unless its worship can relearn humility, wonder, love, and praise – unless it can find again a moral purpose in the world that resonates with the holiness of God – theology will have no place in its life. The church must find a place for theology by refocusing itself on the centrality of God and then rest on His sufficiency. Those who find the modern world most relevant will find the moral purpose of God most irrelevant. It is only those who are consumed by God’s moral purpose in the world who have much to say to the world.
Orthodox facts must be connected to a life vision. Theology is essential because it constantly corrects our view of God. Man-centered religion is a ‘creeping force’ that is never idle. Theology is the only way to cultivate a high view of God.
Theology is the means of learning to love God with your whole mind. Because we live in a media culture;we are lazy intellectually; we fear to think anything in depth—we stay superficial. Theology stretches the mind and penetrates beyond our shallow thinking. God’s will and God’s mind must establish a mastery over your life (so much so that the Word of God dominates exceptionally over all of your life). Only then will you have a passion to know God; to love God; to do His will; to choose patterns of fellowship which manifest the knowledge of God.
Why does theology matter?
A summary of the reasons why we study theology:
1.) To know what you believe; and why you believe it (from Scripture) is one of the best preparations for ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’ (2 Tim 2:15).
2.) Theology is simply the application of Scripture to all areas of life. Without theology, it is nearly impossible to attain a unified biblical life view. Theology tells us about God; about ourselves; about the world; and about our place in it.
3.) Theology is the study of God and His works; His ways; His wonders; and His will. The study of theology prepares us to live unto God.
4.) Theology teaches us to think doctrinally under the moral government of God; thus theology assists inuniting the heart so that we manifest a life direction that has moral force (Ps 86:11, 12).
5.) The study of theology develops a passion for truth in the heart of the believer.
6.) Theology equips us to contend for the truth (Jude 3). A ‘pure Gospel’ is worth defending. A mutilated gospel produces broken lives. Theology equips us to defend the faith (1 Tim 4:6; 6:3, 4).
7.) Theology gives us the tools necessary to diagnose the prevalent errors of our culture. The study of doctrine provides a ‘lens’ to give us an informed compassion for the lost.
8.) The study of theology equips us to love God with the entire mind.
9.) Theology is a constant corrective; it keeps us from man-centered religion and man-centered philosophy. Theology lets us behold God as He is; not as we imagine Him to be. Thus, the study of theology instills in us high views of God in His holiness; sovereignty; and transcendence.
10.) Theology cultivates the religious affections; in so doing, it teaches us to study ‘doxologically’ (in a spirit of worship). The study of theology gives us the truths in a systematic fashion. The truths of Christ’s supremacy are designed to emotionally stagger us; without theology there is no awe of God.
11.) Theology unites every discipline and every field of knowledge. As Christians, our only philosophy of history is theology! Theology connects truth to life. Theology joins the character of God to morals and ethics.