Today begins a series of posts on the basics of systematic theology. Why do we need theology, and what are the essential truths to know about each doctrine? All the posts will be archived under the category “Theology 101.”
When I was a child, I had problems with migraines and for many years took four pills each day to prevent the headaches. The pills were very small — less than half the size of an aspirin, but they carried twice the potency in bitterness. So in the first years that I took them, my mother would hide them in a variety of foods like apple sauce or cheese whiz so that I would swallow them unawares. And if I became aware that I was eating the pill, I would certainly fuss about it and maybe even spit it out. I did not want that pill.
It seems that many believers have the same impression about theology. It is perceived as necessary but undesired. “Forget the theology; let’s get to the good stuff of theology” is a commonly spoken sentiment.
Yet theology is essential for every believer. Or it would be better to say, good theology is necessary for every believer. For every individual has and believes and lives a theology — the question is whether the theology is orthodox, healthy, life-giving, and God-honoring. So over the next couple of weeks, we will consider a number of theological essentials. Not every point of theology will be discussed, but some of the basic truths will be covered — consider this an introductory level theological discussion.
Perhaps the most basic question to address is this objection to theology — “why should we study theology?”
First of all, theology should be studied because it is the means to a comprehensive framework and understanding of God and His Word. We study theology to compile a broad comprehension of God and His Word. It is good to study individual books, but if we never systematize that study, we will miss out on the panorama and essential nature of His work and character.
Additionally, God has commanded us to pursue a rigorous understanding of Him. The Scriptures repeatedly exhort us to teach, keep and protect sound theology (e.g., 1 Tim. 4:6, 13-16; 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 4:1-4; Titus 1:9-11; 2:1, 7, 10; cf. also Rom. 16:17; Col. 1:28; 2 Jn. 8-11).
Finally, everyone lives his theology. What we believe informs and motivates what we do (which is why what we do reveals far more about what we truly believe than what we say we believe). Or said another way, “weak and unstable theology leads to unstable living” (cf. Eph. 4:14; 2 Jn. 8-11).
So as believers, we want to instruct our minds so that our beliefs will be changed in accordance with God’s truth and thereby our lives will also be changed. Our lives will always be moving in the direction of Christlikeness or in the direction of worldliness. What we believe will determine which way we move (Rom. 12:1-2). So we want to take in and meditate on Scripture and the truths and beliefs that will lead to sanctified living.
Theology is essential. Theology is beneficial. And theology is good, as J. I. Packer wrote:
“All theology is also spirituality, in the sense that it has an influence, good or bad, positive or negative, on its recipients’ relationship or lack of relationship to God. If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride.” [A Quest for Godliness]