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Why Theology Matters

 

The word ‘theology’ arouses a mixed bag of emotions considering the wide range of understandings and even misunderstandings that have long existed in the minds of many in the Church. In our Indian context, theology is perceived by many as a subject only for the initiated – the clergy and the academicians. For some, theology is just a needless complication of what should ideally be a simple message of the gospel. For the rest, it bears no relevance or meaning to their everyday lives, thus making them simply apathetic to it. It is against this backdrop that we must examine the meaning and significance of theology.

Defining Theology

It is often suggested that ‘theology’ is simply the “study of God” based on the literal Greek translation of the word – Theos (God) and ology (study). While this description can be a good starting point, an honest consideration of this will require us to go beyond such a simplistic definition. John Frame, a theologian, addressing the question of what ‘theology’ means, notes that we often tend to delineate theology to typically one of two extremes – either a subjective understanding, where theology is predominantly about one’s religious feelings or a solely objective understanding, where theology is simply a collection of facts about God – one that is purely cognitive and has little to do with the experience of a human being.[1]  Considering these two extremes, Frame stresses the need for a balance and therefore defines theology as the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life.[2] Kevin Vanhoozer, another theologian and student of John Frame, builds on Frame’s definition to give it a better shape – that theology is the “ministry of the Word to the world: the application of the Bible to all areas of life.”[3] Based on these robust definitions, if theology does truly concern the study of the Word of the living God and how it relates to all of our lives, then surely we must wage thoughtful consideration to it.

Why Theology Matters
 

1. It helps us know God

The primary purpose of theology is to know God in a greater way, to the extent he has revealed Himself through His works of creation and His Word. While it is true that God can never be studied fully because he is above human comprehension, there still is a need for us to know the truths that He has chosen to reveal of Himself to His people. In Jeremiah 9:23 & 24, we are exhorted to boast not in our riches nor wisdom but only in our understanding and knowledge of God our Lord. As J.I. Packer in his book, “Knowing God”, remarks, there is no goal - higher, more exalting, and more compelling than our pursuit of knowing God.[4]  It matters that we engage in careful and diligent study of God’s revelation of Himself to his people, for in this, we see Creator God disclosing Himself to the created ones. However, it must also be qualified that our pursuit of this knowledge of God is not merely to master a set of principles or achieve some sort of abstract insights, but to grow in a loving relationship that we have been called to. To love someone is to know them inside out. We can’t claim to love someone without knowing them well. Likewise, our pursuit of theology is to know the person of Jesus deeply and grow deeper in love with Him.

 

2. It helps us know ourselves

“Without knowledge of God, there is no knowledge of self”[5] – this was the profound remark made by the Genevan reformer, John Calvin, in the opening section of his “Institutes of the Christian Religion”. In other words, a proper understanding of who we are can only be understood concerning who God is and what his perfect standards are. The more we seek God to speak to us through His holy and inspired Word, the greater the awareness of our fallen nature as our sin, guilt and shame is brought to light. Contrary to the dominant presuppositions and the occasional experiences denoting that theology can only lead to puffed-up theological hot heads, theology done right is supposed to make us humble, for it presents an accurate view of who we are. And, when we have a view of ourselves that is realistically informed by God’s Word, we begin to see our desperate need for a saviour. When our desperate longings are memorialized, we come to see how God in Christ knows us more than we could have ever known ourselves yet loves us more than we could ever imagine.

 

3. It helps shape our practices

In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul presents this crucial reminder that “all scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). From this, we see that there is great profit in the careful and diligent study of God’s word. Our pursuit of theology in the right manner leads us to have a firm grasp on the rich Biblical doctrines of Scripture which further helps us discern what is right from wrong. Importantly, we experience the greater benefits of being transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus. This ongoing experience shapes our practices and the way we live our everyday lives. We are instructed in the right way we are to relate with the world around us and love those who come our way. To summarize it succinctly, theology pursued in the right manner ensures that orthodoxy (right knowledge) leads to orthopraxy (right living). Thus, theology doesn’t simply become a cognitive exercise but becomes a guide bearing significant practical guidance.

 

4. It helps speak to our context & culture

Theology can often be perceived as irrelevant or bearing no significance in the present-day context. However, a careful analysis of the truths found in God’s Word would show us that it is relevant to every context and culture. In one sense, it is true that the Bible - a divinely inspired book is also a contextual book for God chose human writers who were products of a specific context. Yet, the very fact that this is divinely inspired tells us that the Bible also transcends culture. Thus, the burden of making sense of concepts and truths from an ancient age relatable to the people who are products of this age lies in healthy contextualization. Asian theologians, Timoteo Gener and Stephen Pardue argue that by communicating the teachings of the Bible in a manner that is relatable and understandable to a local context we fulfil the goal of theology – to serve the church and the people around us.[6] Thus, theology helps draw out principles and values that can be applied to every circumstance in our context and culture.

 

So why does theology matter? It matters for it is the ministry of God’s Holy Word to us that helps us know Him more while exposing our innate sinful nature. And as we come to a greater realization of who we truly are, we are reminded of our great need for the Saviour who is working on our hearts and thereby shaping our practices & rituals. It also matters for it has the potency to articulate the language of hope to even our context and culture. Importantly, theology matters - for it matters to God that we grow more and more into the likeness of His Son, Jesus. 

 

 *Written by Abishua Joel. Abishua Joel is pursuing his theological studies in SAIACS and served as an intern with Delhi School of Theology.*

 

 

[1] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, (P&R Publishing, 1987), 80–81.

[2] Frame, 80–81.

[3] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Charles A. Anderson, and Michael J. Sleasman, eds., Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends, Annotated edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, Div of Baker Publishing Group, 2007), 15.

[4] J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 3rd edition (Hodder & Stoughton, 2005), 36.

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 37.

[6] Timoteo D. Gener and Stephen T. Pardue, eds., Asian Christian Theology: Evangelical Perspectives (Langham Global Library, 2019), 43.

 

 

 

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