Many people ask for help in understanding the importance of Christian theology in a believer’s life, why it matters and how they can become better theologians. I thought I would spend a day creating the ultimate go-to resource for anyone skeptical about Christian theology and those who are considering growing deeper in the Christian faith.
I am glad to offer you a two-page Ultimate Guide to Christian Theology Cheat Sheet and a 3,300-word mini-book that follows.
Chapter 2: What is the purpose of theology?
Chapter 4: What Does It Mean to Do Theology?
Chapter 6: What is the biggest question of theology?
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about Christian theology and why theology matters. No, I am not considering to go to a Christian seminary or school of divinity. I have been reflecting on the importance of a solid grounding in sound Christian theology in every believer’s life.
One question that haunted me day and night like a hungry hyena was:
Does theology matter, really?
If it does, how can everyone become sound in Christian theology?
After all, the Bible clearly says God is enraged by bad theology. Job’s friends had a bad theology of suffering and God wasn’t happy about it. And they wanted to make Job a disciple out of it.
This angered God (Job 42:7), “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” Bad Christian theology is nothing but a failure to speak well of God.
No, God is not an insecure bully that jumps on everyone that views him in a bad light. He’s a loving God who wants you to enjoy the fruits of knowing him. Remember, this is eternal life, knowing Him.
Please include attribution to gracemusing.com with this graphic.
So, then what causes bad Christian theology? This is what Jesus Christ had to say about it:
[quote title=”Matthew 22:29″ scheme=”blue” fg_color=”#ffffff”]You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. [/quote]
Bad Christian theology is bred when you don’t know the Scriptures or God’s power. But, the problem is we only view bad theology in terms of Jehovah’s Witness, Jim Jones and televangelists. If you go back to Job 42, it becomes clearly:
[bctt tweet=”Bad Christian theology is speaking wrongly about God to yourself and to others.” username=”VaSanganyado”]
In their new book, Rooted: Theology for the Growing Church, J.A. Medders, and Brandon D. Smith agreed, “Theology is all about God: all God is, all he has done, all he does, and all he will do. And the task of theology is that we would speak of God rightly, truthfully, and worshipfully.”
And they continued, “Theology isn’t simply for the mind—it’s for life. We are to speak the right things about God, and we are to live rightly for God, that we may worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23–24).” Why does theology matter? “Theology matters because worship matters. God’s glory matters, and therefore, how we worship God matters.”
Pondering on this fact, 3 questions jumped out to me, if bad theology is not speaking what is right about God, then:
- What am I saying about God to myself?
- Are the words that I tell myself to speak right of God?
- How can I tell myself words that are right about God?
Looking back at the past twelve months, I realized I had cultivated a lot of appalling theology. I listened to the lies of the enemy. A created a god who didn’t care about my family, my health, my social life, my emotions and my career.
I believed I had to work hard if I wanted to succeed in anything. I believed I wasn’t good enough for anything. I believed my sins disappointed God and he was getting tired of me. I spoke wrongly to myself about God.
I was in error. I didn’t know the scriptures and the power of God. And if God was angry at me, he had every reason to: I did not speak what was right about him.
I am tired of bad Christian theology because it stole my joy, my peace, and my life. Importantly, I am tired of misrepresenting Christ before my family, friends, and community. I am tired of failing to experience the fruits of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
I am tired of the words that ring in my mind that no one around me hears. I am tired of the silent whispers that wake me up at night to remind me of what could be and isn’t. I am tired of the sermons that linger in my heart that robs of God’s glory and grants satan unwarranted honor.
I am tired of a purposeless theology that only demands I know the right people and the right verses. I am tired of a theology that encourages pride and only gives me an ID card for a theological country club. I am tired of trying to belong to a Christian group because of the books I read and the dead people I know.
That is not the purpose of theology. The purpose of theology is that I may know Christ and the power of his resurrection because in knowing him every aspect of my life is transformed and conformed into his image.
Again, in other words, the aim of theology is to help me speak right of God, to myself, others and God. Therefore, theology matters because everything I say about God matters.
[quote title=”Carolyn Custis James.” scheme=”blue” fg_color=”#ffffff”]Whether our theology is good or flawed, those we love most will be first to feel the effects. [/quote]
Jesus Christ reminds me, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Every word I tell myself about God reveals the hidden beliefs I treasure in my heart. If I listen more to the accusations of the devil and his agents, then bad theology sprouts again.
The only recipe for cultivating good Christian theology is knowing the Scriptures and God’s power. But God is Spirit and his word is spiritual, how can I know the Scriptures and his power then? In other words, what does it mean to do theology?
I believe every person who proclaims salvation in Jesus Christ should answer this question. Your answer will reveal if you’re inclined toward bad theology or a Christian theology that honors and glorifies Jesus. Your answer shows what you think is the biblical way of doing theology.
A typical response that shows the wrong way of doing theology will be, you can know the scriptures and the power of God through:
- Consistently studying the Bible: studying the Scriptures is good, even the Pharisees studied the Scriptures yet they were in error.
- Consistently going to church: constantly fellowship with other believers is good, the Pharisees were good in attending their local synagogue too.
- Consistently discussing the word: talking with others about matters of faith is great, even Pharisees met with their pals and talked about Scriptures and their interpretation.
- Consistently praying to God: nothing beats talking to God always, Pharisees had a reputation of praying always and ensuring everyone knows about it.
- Consistently fasting before God: denying yourself food in order to focus on Christ is honorable, the Pharisees fasted regularly too.
Besides the Pharisees and Job’s three friends, the Bible is littered with numerous stories of people who didn’t know what it means to do theology.
One of the most damning accounts is of Jannes and Jambres. The Bible doesn’t talk much about who they were or what they did exactly. They’re not even mentioned in the Old Testament. Yet, their lives stand out to teach us what it means to do theology.
[quote title=”2 Timothy 3:8″ scheme=”blue” fg_color=”#ffffff”]Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.[/quote]
They’re three things about Jannes and Jambres, I want you to notice:
- They opposed the truth: you do theology right when you embrace the truth. And Jesus is the truth.
- They had corrupted mind: doing theology means having your mind renewed each day by the power of the gospel.
- They were disqualified regarding the faith: you do theology right when you start by knowing you’re accepted in the faith because of what Jesus Christ did on the Cross.
But the verse above is not isolated, it is building from an argument that started a verse before. Verse 7 answers the why question: why did they oppose the truth, why was their mind corrupted, and why were they disqualified in the faith?
Because they were, “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” Jannes and Jambres had several opportunities to learn, they several opportunities to correct their warped theology, they had several opportunities to do theology right, but they chose not to.
They settled for (vs 5), “having an appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” So, they became:
[quote title=”2 Timothy 3:2-4″ scheme=”blue” fg_color=”#ffffff”]Lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. [/quote]
Coming back to our question: what does it mean to do theology? Doing theology simply means walking in the power of godliness through embracing the truth, a renewed heart, and qualification by faith.
How can you really cultivate good Christian theology in your life? In other words, how can you know the Scriptures and the power of God?
A Pharisee and a Samaritan woman once had a similar question and they asked Jesus about it.
To the Pharisee he said:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:6, 8
And to the Samaritan he said:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:21, 24
After hearing this, the Samaritan woman understood that only Christ was the true source of good theology. And so she said (John 4:25-26), “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” To which Jesus answered, “I who speak to you am he.”
Immediately, her theology was transformed. The Samaritan woman stopped speaking wrongly about God and became a mouthpiece of God’s faithfulness and truth (John 4:29), “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
The Samaritan woman only began to know the Scriptures and the power of God when she started knowing who Jesus is. Why? Because Jesus is the living word that proceeds from the Father. And he’s also the full expression of the power of God.
God’s power is not presented best in signs and wonders but in the person of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, knowing Jesus is knowing God’s power and meeting Jesus is meeting God’s word. Jesus is the full description and total personification of solid and good Christian theology. He shows us who the Father is and gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us into that knowledge.
This is why he said (John 14:6), “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Good Christian theology leads us to the throne of grace. Good Christian theology liberates us through the truth. And good Christian theology is a source of life to us and those around us and those who are going to come before us.
To non-believers, the biggest question of theology is: does God exist or is Jesus Christ really the Savior and fully God? If you’re a Christian, I believe God gave you the grace to settle this question.
What is the biggest question of theology every Christian should have? The temptation is rife among Christians to consider their differences in tradition as the most important theological question.
Reformed Christians argue Calvin’s TULIP offers the most important theological questions. Charismatics and Pentecostals like me insist on the present day ministry of the Holy Spirit.
But, before we can answer the question what is the most important theology question, let’s start from the basics. What is Christian theology?
Kelly M. Kapic gave the perfect answer in A Little Book for New Theologians (link contains sample chapter):
[quote title=”Kelly M. Kapic” scheme=”blue” fg_color=”#ffffff”]Christian theology is an active response to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, whereby the believer, in the power of the Holy Spirit, subordinate to the testimonies of the prophets and apostles as recorded in the Scriptures and in communion with the saints, wrestles with and rests in the mysteries of God, his work and his world.[/quote]
Prof. Kapic’s definition goes beyond what is Christian theology. It also settled the question, “why does theology matter?”
I two months ago, I asked several prominent academic theologians, pastors, and Christian authors, “How can I become a better Christian theologian without going to seminary?” The results of that question were overwhelming.
Here are the five major highlights:
- I wrote a 4,500-word expert roundup. It’s the third longest post I ever wrote. The longest is 11,000 words.
- The post was viewed at least 5,700 times in less than 3 weeks. It’s the most viewed post on my blog.
- Shared and liked nearly 700 times on Facebook, Google Plus, and Pinterest. It’s the most shared post on my blog
- Featured on Tim Challies’ a la carte, Aaron Armstrong’s Links I Like, JD Greear’s Wisdom for Your Weekend and Nick MacDonald’s Weekend Java Awards.
- It’s ranked highly on Google for several keywords on Christian theology and theologians. It’s the third source of organic traffic behind my review of Wm. Paul Young’s Eve and my commentary on the practice of bride price (lobola).
But that was just the beginning. The real miracle of the post was happening in my heart. God cared more about me than the performance of the post.
While my article did its rounds on the internet and I reveled on my one week of fame (Yes, the hype lasted more than a week), my heart was on a pilgrimage. In the viral post, renowned theologian, Kevin J. Vanhoozer wrote:
“What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ in the 21st century?” is perhaps the ultimate theological question.
I agree with Prof. Vanhoozer, the most important question of theology is, “What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ in the 21st century?”
To Nabeel Qureshi and many other Muslims, following Jesus means betraying their families. To Coptic Christians in Libya, following Jesus meant losing their life. To my wife’s friend, following Jesus meant being disowned by her family, changing her name and fleeing her country afraid of her life.
But to most of us, it’s not that radical. But that doesn’t mean it’s less important. It means we have to be super careful and highly discerning.
This is why.
The problem we have all of us is we tend to view life as compartments: spiritual life, family life, vocational life, social life, financial life, political life and educational life. Have you ever wondered why you get offended when a Christian blogger talks about politics?
The followers of Jesus Christ in the 21st century sadly surrender only their spiritual life at his feet. We’re comfortable in controlling our political or financial decisions. We don’t need Christ to interfere with our education, vocation, finances. We’re the masters of our families and social life.
Isn’t that what it means to be ever learning and failing to come to the knowledge of the truth? Isn’t being the master of our own lives the mark of denying Christ before the word? Isn’t controlling our lives equivalent to rejecting Christ?
How gracious he’s that we remain his brothers and sisters, after all, we have done.
Contrast our attitudes to the lordship of Christ with the Shema.
[quote title=”Mark 12:29-30″ scheme=”blue” fg_color=”#ffffff”]The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. [/quote]
As I thought of Prof. Vanhoozer’s question, I realized it challenged how I studied the Bible. Instead of seeking answers, instructions and the stories, I wanted to meet the Christ of the Bible. Being a follower of Christ meant meeting Jesus daily in his word and in my life.
If good Christian theology is speaking right of God, then Prof. Vanhoozer’s question seeks to answer why do we have to speak right of God?
2,000 years ago, Jesus answered (John 8:31-32), “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
- Following Jesus in the 21st century means being truly Christ’s disciple
It means denying everything that life can offer so that you can gain Christ. It means taking permanent abode in his living words and wisely appropriating them to your life. It means experiencing the life of Jesus Christ daily.
- Following Jesus in the 21st century means walking in the freedom
Walking in the freedom of truth and the Spirit. It means being free, free from the slavery of sin, from trying to be good, and from all lies of the enemy. It means being free indeed and freedom doesn’t mean an absence of suffering.
- Following Jesus in the 21st century means trusting God
Trusting God with our mind, with our spirit and with our body. It means trusting God in our finances, health, education, careers, family, community and politics. It means surrendering everything at the feet of Christ.
- Following Jesus in the 21st century means confronting our worldviews with the gospel
It means to allow the gospel to be the scalpel and light for examining our culture and not the other way round. It means being ready to surrender our thought system and priced beliefs for the sake of the gospel.
- Following Jesus in the 21st century means being an ambassador of Christ
It means you are the book anyone around you can ever read about the person of Jesus Christ. It means your finances, health, vocation, etc. are the pages written Jesus’ story.
For that reason, the Germany Bible scholar, Helmut Thielick observed in A Little Exercise for Young Theologians:
How all-important it is that a vigorous spiritual life, in close association with the Holy Scriptures and in the midst of the Christian community, be maintained as a background to theological work, and that the unformed shadows of thought always derive their life-blood from that source.
The Scriptures and the power of God are the life-blood of a faithful and true Christian life. They are the lifeline for good Christian theology. And they are the only things that can transform our worldview for the honor and glory of God.
So, then what does it mean to follow Jesus Christ in the 21st Century? Following Jesus in the 21st century means allowing daily your everyday life to be formed, changed and molded by the Scriptures and the power of God. In other words, following Jesus in the 21st century means speaking right of God, before God, to others and to yourself.
Isn’t that the reason theology matters?