If you’re interested in studying theology then you’ve heard it in one form or another. Usually from older folks. “I don’t need your exegesis, I just need extra Jesus!”, “Doctrine divides”, “when I was young I cared about getting all my ducks in a row, now I just want to love people”, “when you’re older you’ll have less hills to die on”, “blah blah blah, I’m threatened by what you know”. Oops they don’t say that last one out loud.
I get the sentiment behind these pithy (ridiculous) sayings though. Their point is that they’re worried we are going to be all jacked up on theology to the neglect of loving people. That’s a good warning, but all these sayings, and the entire family of these sayings, miss a key point: everyone’s a theologian.
“Ok, Park, you’ve just traded a pithy saying for another.” Yeah, I know, but it’s really hard to escape them. Let me explain, If you open your mouth to talk about God… you are doing theology. As soon as you say “doctrine divides” you’re making a theological statement with all sorts of doctrinal implications. If you say, “we just need to focus less on doctrine and more on loving people” you’re assuming that doctrine has nothing to teach us about how we ought to love people, you’re assuming you can love people rightly without knowing what God has said about it.
When you say, “we can’t put God in a box”, you may have good intentions of protecting God’s freedom as the Creator to do all that He pleases, but you’re also missing the fact that God has revealed His nature and His will to us in the Bible. Maybe we can’t put God in a box, but God has put Himself in a Book such that we can know His will for our lives, how we are to relate to Him, how He loves us, and how we are to share that love with others.
Are there guys and gals out there who get puffed up with knowledge and beat their friends and family over the head with doctrine? There sure are! Does that poison theology as a whole? Of course not! If you’re a Christian, your duty is to -dare I say- grow in your knowledge of God (theology).
“WHAT!? Park, you’ve clearly been influenced by Enlightenment philosophy more than being guided by the Holy Spirit, I cannot believe you said the Christian’s duty is to grow in their theology. The Christian life is about eternal life!” Ok, well what is eternal life? “Ummm have you not read John 17:3? ‘this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent…. oh.” Exactly. Theology is about knowing God, as Christians we all do theology.
“But but but.. Love, Park! It’s all about love. You theology guys are such Pharisees, the rest of us just want unity and love and you’re twisting scripture to your own destruction in order to justify your legalism.” Wow, well, that was a very “loving” indictment you just lobbed at me.. I get what you’re saying, of course it’s all about love, the Bible would affirm that over and over. Take Paul’s letter to the Philippians for example, in chapter 1 verse 9 he writes, “and it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more,” – “Ok, Park, so I’m right and you agree, we just need love.” Well, look at the very next thing that Paul says, “with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ”. Paul prays that Christian’s love would abound more and more WITH knowledge and ALL discernment in order that we approve what is excellent. If we want to grow in love we need more knowledge and truth.
“Park, in today’s day and age we just need unity! We have all sorts of crazy stuff going on in America and around the world. If we are going to be like Christ we need to be unified and love each other. Guys like you cause unnecessary division amongst the brothers.” Again, I get what you’re saying but, yet again, the Apostle Paul disagrees with you. In chapter 4 of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “[Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
If you want unity, prepare for theology. Christ has blessed his church with teachers to help us know God more deeply, to help us grown up in our faith and love, and so we will be unified together in the knowledge of our Lord. If we are to avoid false doctrine devised by human cunning then we have to know proper doctrine. If we are to walk in unity after Christ we have to know how to walk after him and we have to know who he is. So while you claim that “doctrine divides”, the Bible tells us that doctrine unifies and builds up.
I get that with age comes wisdom and Lord willing, as I age I’ll grow in patience, wisdom, discernment, knowledge, and most of all, love. But to those who are worried about guys like me who “like that theology stuff”, I’m equally worried about you. I think some of you have become “dull of hearing”. Lots of you have been Christians for decades and although you ought to be teachers by now, you still need someone to teach you the basic tenets of the Christian faith. You should be taking us young bucks aside and teaching us how to speak truth in love, but instead you’re seeking to extinguish our flame? You’ve neglected your Sword and instead of training your powers of discernment with constant practice, you’re unskilled in the Word of righteousness.
Proper doctrine, applied in love, builds up individual believers, builds up the body of Christ, and equips us for every good work. We need doctrine, we need to step into our role as theologians not run from it.