“Does theology really matter? I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I believe in the Bible. Isn’t that enough?” Reactions to theology are mixed, but more often than not, theology is viewed with suspicion. After all, isn’t theology responsible for divisions among Christians? Don’t theological arguments result in more heat than light? Given all the negative aspects associated with theology, does it really matter? This article will explore the meaning and relevance of Christian theology, both on a personal level as well as in general terms in reference to the church as a whole.
Know the Truth
Jesus called his followers to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24, NIV), later adding, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32, NIV). But what sort of God are we to worship and how do we know we are worshiping “in spirit and in truth”? If the truth will set us free, then it seems quite reasonable to want to determine what truth, specifically, will set us free.
This is where theology can help us a great deal. Far from being an area of study reserved only for academics or the clergy, theology is important to every Christian. In short, theology is the study of God, encompassing concepts such as His nature, the nature of reality, the human condition, the person of Christ and more. But our study of theology must extend beyond merely learning facts and information. That’s where applying theology on a practical level – often called practical theology – also comes into play.
In Philippians 3:10, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection …” To know Christ is to know theology. C.S. Lewis once said, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” Similarly, good theology must exist, not only because bad theology needs to be answered, but also because good theology ensures that we are indeed worshiping God “in spirit and in truth,” and that we “know Christ” as He would have us know Him.
Doctrine and Dogma?
Still, theology makes some Christians wary. Dogma and doctrine are not usually perceived as pleasant and inviting words or concepts. Instead, they tend to bring up a distaste for the “establishment” of “organized religion” and the seeming rule of some elite faction over the masses. This, however, is far from what true theology is supposed to do.
As Robert Bowman has written, too often we perceive doctrine as “irrelevant, impractical, divisive, unspiritual and unknowable.” But is this really the case? It’s true that sometimes doctrine and theology come across this way. However, the abuse and misuse of theology and doctrine does not mean that the proper and positive uses of it are to be ignored.
Theology, in fact, is extremely relevant, practical, uniting, spiritual and knowable. Through it we learn truths about God, His Son, our individual and collective human predicament, the nature of salvation and much more. Understood properly, theology equips us with the tools we need to cope with every aspect of life.
Theology: Our Foundation
For instance, we may not think of prayer as theology, but the foundation of prayer is theology. We pray because we know a loving and personal God exists and hears us. This is not a distant, indifferent God, but the all-powerful God of the universe who is active in His creation, wanting the best for us. As Gerard Manley Hopkins has written, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Theology, then, is both practical and relevant. It is practical in that it should influence our lives on a very real and daily level. But it is also relevant in that it applies to every aspect of life, not just nitpicking points of theological disagreement.
Biblically-based theology unites God’s people and has done so throughout the centuries. The idea that Christians can’t agree about anything is a myth. Ever since the first Christians gathered in worship, until now, they have agreed on a core set of beliefs and essentials. Knowing that we are in theological agreement about concepts such as the nature of God, the person of Christ, and issues of salvation and redemption, provide unity to the Church. Granted, there are areas of disagreement, but if one takes a step back and looks at the great points of agreement throughout the centuries, as gleaned from the Bible as well as historic creeds, what we agree on is far greater than what we disagree on.
Spiritual and Knowable
Moreover, theology is deeply spiritual and knowable. Healthy theology leads to healthy spirituality. God has called us to love Him with not only heart, soul and strength, but also with our minds (Mark 12:30). Thinking through what we believe about God and why – the “doing of theology” – is not unspiritual, but in fact will lead us to worship God in spirit and in truth. Our feelings and experiences have a place within worship and within our daily lives, but it is theology that will keep us on the proper path, ensuring that we are indeed serving and knowing God in a manner that is honoring to Him and His Word.
But is theology knowable? Aren’t aspects of it simply beyond us and, therefore, not applicable to us? After all, even God said, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV). It is true that God is infinitely wiser and more knowledgeable than we are. But this is not the same as stating that we cannot know anything about God, including the study of theology. Indeed, God has taken it upon Himself to reveal great truths to us through His Word. In short, we are limited in what we can know, but we can know. Thus, theology is knowable.
Humbly Approaching God
Being a theologian is the task of every Christian; being a professional theologian is not. This, however, does not excuse us from using the mind God has given us to seek to understand and know Him better. As we seek to learn more about theology and God’s wonderful truths and their relevance to our lives, we must do so with a sense of humility and awe, desiring “to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10) and to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). To this end, other articles in this series on theology will address Jesus, the human condition, the solution to the human predicament (salvation) and the nature of the Christian church. While not an exhaustive look at every aspect of theology, the goal of this series is to offer an introductory overview of theology accessible to everyone.
Does theology matter? It matters a great deal. Knowing the truth about who God is, who Christ is, and how we can be saved and reconciled with God is not only important, but also eternally relevant and significant.
 Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Orthodoxy and Heresy (Baker Books, 1992), p. 15.