As a millennial Christian that speaks frequently with other believers of our day, I am shocked at the lack of urgency for sound doctrine and theology. Religion, doctrine, denomination, church, confession, catechism, dogmatic…words that are very precious to me have become like bad words among many Evangelicals today. Despite the temptation to blame this new thinking in Christianity on millennials like myself (especially since our demographic deserves much blame for the degradation of worship and church service structure today), the truth is that many older Christians tend to hold this dangerous philosophy: theology doesn’t matter.
For the sake of not offending anyone, we are encouraged to not discuss deep theological questions concerning what we believe and why we believe it. We would rather encourage one another to avoid confrontation and just get along. Such questions include the following: What does the Bible say on predestination? Are all spiritual gifts in operation today? Is there any goodness in man? Is the Bible, the Word of God, sufficient for all knowledge and wisdom?
Consider the books that have shaken the Evangelical community: The Shack, Jesus Calling, Heaven is For Real, and Your Best Life Now. Rather than challenging the popular best-sellers based on what the Bible teaches concerning theology, many Evangelicals, and even Evangelical leaders, have defended these books. Anyone that questions literary works based on biblical theology is now considered to be a legalist or a wolf that divides the church.
I still remember when Todd Bentley, a self-proclaimed apostle who was “called by God” to heal people by kicking or punching them, was rising in popularity among many Christians (a mystery that to this day I can’t explain). The host of Wretched Radio, Todd Friel, decided to dedicate a radio broadcast to expose Todd Bentley for who he was: a false prophet. Friel used Scripture after Scripture to prove his point that Bentley was not an apostle, and was in fact a wolf who was too lazy to dress in sheep’s clothing. Friel received many calls in which he was called a heretic, a blasphemer, and a legalist for not being willing to accept the “new wave of the Spirit” claiming that the Holy Spirit could heal through violence.
Sadly, but surely, it was proven that Friel was proven right. Bentley turned out to have had sexual affairs with multiple women in the congregation he pastored as well as being drunk before and during his sermons. He was also charged with assault and was supposedly responsible for many injuries through his “healing tactics”. It was only after this that people began questioning Bentley, however, rather than directly warning Christians to stay away from Him, famous leaders such as Dr. John Piper and Dr. Michael Brown (both men who I deeply admire) only told listeners and readers to exercise caution.
Now more than ever, with many more like Todd Bentley in Evangelical spheres, we need theology and a good understanding of Scripture to keep us away from false doctrine and false teachers. Books, blogs, and sermons on theology have become widely available to any potential Christian, but it is sad when many think that they don’t need it. Theology should not be thought of as a nuisance, but a necessity. In other words, theology is not a bad word! The study of theology among churches should be a great concern, and the desire of learning the attributes of God and church history should be rampant across Evangelical Christianity.
I can’t imagine a life in which a Christian doesn’t try to seek out knowledge in these areas. I read through Westminster Catechism, London Baptist Confession, Institutes of the Christian Religion, and many other reformed writings and I marvel at the veracity of the men who dedicated their lives to the study of who God is. The most interesting thing about all these theologians is that they all desired that the farmer with the plow would be as knowledgeable about the Bible and theological studies. That is the reason why they would translate the Bible to the common tongue and why they would publish their theological works and make them available to the public.
John Calvin, at one point a man who intended to be a humanist lawyer, converted to the faith in the year 1533. Calvin was at the age of 24 when he converted, but that didn’t stop him from his passion to study the truth of the Bible and God’s nature. By the year 1541, John Calvin had dedicated most of his time, both day and night, to studying theology and finally published his most famous work, Institutes of the Christian Religion. In it he stressed the importance of a Christian’s concern for the glory of God, as well as affirming biblical doctrines. This man prior to conversion believed that the Bible was a waste of time and that it would be better to be a humanist, but his conversion made Him realize that theology was the most important thing in his life.
Now it is one thing to say that theology is important based on one’s regenerated intellect, the testimonies of other theologians, and the ever pressing dangers of apostasy, but it becomes a bigger deal for Christians when we see evidence in the Scriptures that theological studies are encouraged, whether it be for vocation or understanding. There are two key applications taken from the Bible concerning theology:
Hold Firm to Teachings
Paul writes on the importance of latching on to the teachings of the apostles in Titus 1:9 (ESV) saying, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Sound doctrine that was taught to us is absolutely necessary for defending our faith and giving instruction to those who need it. Now the argument behind ignoring certain doctrinal statements such as The London Baptist Confession (the confession I mostly subscribe to) and the Nicene Creed is that it was written by humans and that we are not to follow human interpretation and teachings. Yet, Paul says this in 2 Timothy 1:13 (ESV): “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
Paul encourages us to follow his pattern, despite the fact that he is a human. These theologians followed the Scripture, and they wrote and wrote with the intention to explain the Bible through the Bible. Following doctrinal statements that were concluded from biblical texts and meticulous study of God’s divine nature would be encouraged by Apostle Paul, not discouraged as many modern Evangelicals would have us think.
Grow in Knowledge of Theology
This is not something that concerns only pastors, professors, Christians philosophers, and theologians, but this concerns all who profess to be in the Christian religion. In Hebrews 5:12-14 the writer was making the statement that the knowledge of God is impossible apart from truly coming to know Him. We must first have our eyes be opened by the Holy Spirit, thereby we can accept the truth of God and begin learning the elementary doctrines of the faith. However, people get confused into thinking that is where we ought to stay, but that is far from what the Bible teaches.
The writer begins clarifying in Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV) that we are to move forward in the faith and begin asking deep theological questions: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.” Some actually believe that in the Christian life all one needs is love. Yet the writer of Hebrews must seem to not understand the “enlightened” philosophy of modern Christians as he seems to say that we are to move further in the faith.
There is more to Christianity then to have faith in God, be baptized, know the promise of Heaven, and recognize the judgement to come. God wants us to study Him and go on to a greater maturity so that we can begin seeking a true relationship with Him. Often times people who love theology get accused of being people who are like the Pharisees. However, it says in the Bible that the Pharisees studied in vain. In Christ, we study the Bible, the works of theologians, and commentaries to seek the glory of God and to know Him as best we can. We also must understand that we are only to know what God allows us to know. It’s pointless to ask questions like: where did God come from? It won’t do us any good. Rather we are to study Him according to His will.
I am clueless as to how Christianity has become so shallow for so many. Refusal to study the attributes of God robs one’s joy and passion. I truly believe that the more you know of God, the higher your praise, admiration, and worship of Him goes in life. If we abandon theology for the sake of not wanting to be like the Pharisees or like “dry bones” then we are missing out on the potential God has in store for us. His word calls us to study Him and to seek Him. If we even begin to believe that theology no longer remains important for one second, then we have lost sight of God and we need to be reminded of His glorious honor and infinite nature that makes the chase of God ever more delightful.
Soli Deo Gloria.