Why Study Theology

For me theology is not the study of God. I find this concept incomprehensible. Imagine an ant looking back up a microscope and attempting to describe to his fellow ants the nature of the one examining him. The idea is preposterous. I understand Christian theology as the discipline that seeks to coherently describe and collate the doctrines of the Christian Faith. More than that, Systematic Theology helps us to answer the question ‘what does the Bible teach us today about any given topic?’

The Bible is not a spiritual dictionary. It does not arrange everything we need to know into categories. To understand what it teaches concerning faith and life we need to study and collate all that it teaches. This is Systematic Theology. In truth, all of us have a theology but often it is disorganised instead of systematic.

It is fatuous to argue that we do not need theology. We speak and act out of what we believe. Theology affects our lives and the lives of others. The better we can understand the Word of God, the better we can live, witness and influence others. All Christians, but pastors in particular, have a sacred duty to be proficient theologians (2 Tim 2:15). Ill-equipped ministers, both lay and professional, have greatly harmed believers and have discredited the church. On the other hand, gifted pastors who do have a developed systematic theology, have blessed and equipped so many believers.

Sometimes I come across someone who says “I don’t need theology because the Holy Spirit reveals to me all I need to know.” People might get such an idea from 1 John 2:27 of course;

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit — just as it has taught you, remain in him.

Now I really do not want to be offensive, but frankly anyone who quotes this text as a reason for not being concerned with theology is simply demonstrating their great need of it!

The verse in First John is part of a passage that starts in verse 18 and ends at verse 27. It is all about being on our guard against false teachers. John cites two protections against these men. Firstly, we are protected by the apostolic teaching (verse 24) and secondly, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Someone with a disorganised theology might try to separate verse 27 from verse 24. However, a systematic theology would protect from that error. The very first Christians devoted themselves to the Apostles Teaching (Acts 2:42) and the teaching ministry is both taught and demonstrated in many places in both Old and New Testaments (Eph 4:11 etc.). Sound and systematic theology demands that we acknowledge both the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the teaching ministry of the church.

Developing a systematic theology helps us to tap into the best the church has offered over the last 2,000 years. It is true that there has been a lot of error taught over the centuries. It is equally true that God has raised up wonderfully gifted teachers who have left a significant deposit of true understanding. The anointing we have from the Holy Spirit helps us to discern good from bad theology. So, it’s not a case of either theology or anointing, it’s a case of theology and anointing.

We are such a privileged generation! We have the benefit of two millennia of church life. We have access to the best minds and the purest spirits from all generations of believers. We have understandable versions of the Bible. We have books by the thousands. We have great seminaries and Bible Colleges.

The issue is not ‘should I study theology?’ The issue is ‘how should I study theology?’ My advice would be to enroll in a good theological programme. Failing that, make it a discipline to read at least one of the splendid systematic theologies available. Dr Millard J Erikson has produced ‘Christian Theology’ and Dr Wayne Grudem has written ‘Systematic Theology’. These works are both sound and comprehensive. The most effective way to understand the benefit of theology is to ‘do’ it. Karl Barth wrote, ‘The best theology would need no advocates: it would prove itself.’

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