By Amber Mann Riggs
For years, the word “theology” made my spiritual stomach churn. It was like putting the Bible on a lab table to be dissected like a dead, formaldehyde soaked frog, its cells being torn apart until they no longer resembled the organs and ligaments that had once made the frog bound with life.
Then I transferred to a Christian university. And what was the very first course on my schedule? None other than Introduction to Theology.
My bias against theology shattered like the clay pots covering the torches of Gideon’s army. Suddenly, everything became brighter.
Theology – “the study of God” – is far from lifeless. On the contrary, it breathes life into my understanding of who God is, who I am in relation to Him, and how I am to interact with the world.
It is theology that penetrated my heart with the truth that followers of Jesus are re-created as leaders; we are called to influence the people and spaces around us to come into alignment with God’s intent for earth to be a physical manifestation of His Kingdom.
AS A CHRISTIAN LEADER, THERE ARE MANY REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT THEOLOGY:
1. YOU ARE ALREADY A THEOLOGIAN
It’s true. In fact, so is your neighbor, your hairdresser/barber, your mailman, and the man whose picture was on the news last night because he is the prime suspect in a burglary.
In Who Needs Theology?, Grenz and Olson observe that because theology literally means “God-thought” 1, and everyone has an opinion resulting from their thoughts on who God is, that actually makes everyone a theologian.
The distinction lies in how accurately our various theologies line up with God’s revelation of Himself.
The only way to compare your theology against God’s revelation is to learn His theology as He reveals Himself to us. Fortunately…
2. THEOLOGY GIVES YOU TOOLS TO HELP YOU EXAMINE YOUR BELIEFS ABOUT GOD
None of us can think accurately about God in a vacuum. He is much too vast for that.
Not only are you not the only one thinking about God today but people have been thinking about Him for thousands of years. And He is so magnificent that we all have different perspectives of who He is. In other words, we need each other, and He has given us tools that we can use together.
Most significantly, Jesus Christ reveals God personally in human form. Because of Jesus, we can have a living interaction with a living God.
Scripture reveals God through written text and story. It contains the divine revelation of God. It instructs us as it tells the story of God interacting with humans. A relevant Christian theology must always be in agreement with the Bible.
God has also given us the theological heritage of the Church. This is more than just tradition. The Church has always sought to communicate God’s relevant truth. However, certain doctrines have been affirmed since the first century. Certain interpretations of scripture have proved to be universal and unchanging. Absolute. On the other hand, certain periods of Christianity have embraced or dismissed other issues and interpretations in reaction to a need for cultural relevance. We do the same thing today. We may not “lose” truth, but we may focus on different parts of it or interpret it in different ways as we interact with our world and Scripture.
God also communicates Himself “to all persons at all times in all places” through natural revelation. 2. He continually makes himself known to us through nature, his ongoing interactions with humanity throughout history, and the moral consciousness of humans.
Another tool is the thought-forms of our current culture. It means that we hear and see the “spiritual cries” of the world we live in. What are the cries of our culture? How does this culture think? What things are important to us?
Thus, one of the benefits of theology is that…
3. IT HELPS YOU DISCOVER GOD’S TAKE ON CONTEMPORARY CULTURE
Jesus was aware of the questions of His contemporaries, and He shaped His response to address their questions. What questions are people in our culture asking today? How does Jesus want to respond to them through the Church?
As we apply God’s timeless truths to our culture, we discover how powerfully theology speaks directly to the problems, longings, and philosophies of contemporary culture. 3
However, in addition to giving us cultural insight,
4. THEOLOGY HELPS YOU MAKE CONNECTIONS YOU WOULDN’T OTHERWISE SEE
There are so many things in this world that simply seem isolated from one another, when the reality is that our world is a tightly integrated ecosystem of thoughts and behaviors.
Theology has the power to relate different doctrines and scriptural studies and sciences to one another by integrating them into a fluid thought. For example, relating the study of the Church (ecclesiology) to the study of Christ (Christology) to the study of humankind (anthropology) within one central theme. This is called a systematic theology. We develop a systematic theology by means of an integrative motif. Grenz and Olson define an integrative motif as: “the central idea that provides the thematic perspective in light of which the theologian understands all other theological concepts and gives them their relative meaning or value” (p. 116).
I have personally made many meaningful connections through the integrative motif of the Kingdom of God.
This is particularly valuable because…
5. IT GIVES YOU CLARITY ON EFFECTIVELY IMPACTING YOUR SPHERES OF INFLUENCE
As Christian leaders, we know that Christ is to be the ultimate focus and message of our lives. Theology takes this a step further and plays a significant role in shaping your character, contextualizing your calling, and giving you a vision for specifically how your life is to point people to Christ and help them come into alignment with God’s plan for them and His world.
In short, theology is particularly foundational in helping you increase your influence as a Christian.
Another example of this is how…
6. THEOLOGY HELPS YOU COMMUNICATE CHRISTIAN BELIEFS IN A MEANINGFUL WAY THAT PEOPLE CAN UNDERSTAND
A significant component of communication is listening. Recall theology’s special sensitivity to hearing the “spiritual cries” of the world that we live in and its ability to respond to those cries.
Jesus knew what was important to the woman at the well. He also knew what was important to Nicodemus. And He communicated His good news to them in a way that was relevant to their situations.
Theology plays a significant role in equipping us to do the same.
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO ABOUT IT?
Although He was fully God, Jesus was also fully human, and He developed His theology much like we do today: He studied the Bible within the context of the Jewish educational system, He asked experienced teachers difficult questions about God and let others ask difficult questions of Him 4, He listened to the cries of His culture, and He sought out God’s answers to those cries.
Wherever you are on your journey as a theologian, may your thoughts of God draw your heart, mind, and actions closer and closer to Truth of Who He is.
- Greek: theos means “God”, logos means “thought” or “reason”.
- Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), p. 178
- Grenz and Olson, Who Needs Theology?, p. 100
- see Luke 2:46-47