What’s the Point of Theology?
By Jacob Porter, Adjunct Instructor, Houston Graduate School of Theology
Those who know me know that I’m a theology nerd. I can’t get enough of it. I read systematic theology textbooks for fun. They keep me awake at night.
But I have to keep a watch on myself. The beauty of how a doctrine is formulated and connected with other doctrines leaves me awestruck. But the beauty of a system is (or at least should) always be surpassed by the beauty of Jesus, who is the reason we want to know theology.
We want to know Jesus more. That’s why theology matters. All doctrine, if rooted in the Scripture, should make us love him more. One of my favorite theologians of the nineteenth century, John L. Dagg, stated this well in his Manual of Theology:
The study of religious truth ought to be undertaken and prosecuted from a sense of duty, and with a view to the improvement of the heart. When learned, it ought not to be laid on the shelf, as an object of speculation; but it should be deposited deep in the heart, where its sanctifying power ought to be felt. To study theology, for the purpose of gratifying curiosity, or preparing for a profession, is an abuse and profanation of what ought to be regarded as most holy. To learn things pertaining to God, merely for the sake of amusement, or secular advantage, or to gratify the mere love of knowledge, is to treat the Most High with contempt. (13)
As religious beings, let us seek to understand the truths of religion. As immortal beings, let us strive to make ourselves acquainted with the doctrine on which our everlasting happiness depends. And let us be careful that we do not merely receive it coldly into our understandings, but that its renewing power is ever operative in our hearts. (18)
Love to God will render it a pleasing task to examine the proofs of his existence, and to study those glorious attributes which render him the worthy object of supreme affection. Let us enter on this study, prompted by holy love, and a strong desire that our love may be increased. (49)
So we must guard against knowing the Bible for the sake of knowing the Bible.
The flip side of this is that we must resist the strain of faith that says, “My spirituality is just based on knowing God, so I don’t need theology.”
Really? Theology is literally “the study of God.” What kind of relationship is it in which you are satisfied with what you know of the other person and have no interest in have a greater understanding of the person?
Imagine a young man going on a date. He knows the basics of the other person. She shares her name, occupation, and a bit more about her family. She’s lovely, he thinks. But on the next date, as she starts to tell him more about herself — her likes and dislikes, childhood memories, favorite songs, desires and plans for the future — the young man gingerly puts his finger to her lips. “Shhh,” he whispers, “I don’t need to know anything else about you. I know enough to know that I like you. Let’s just enjoy our relationship.”
That’s silly. If he likes the girl and has an interest in the relationship, he will want to know everything about her!
Knowing Jesus begins with the gospel: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for sinners. But if you really love Jesus, don’t you want to know him more? Don’t you want to plumb the depths of the incarnation? Don’t you desire to mediate on the glories of the atonement? Is there no urge to climb up to the heights of heaven and gaze upon him as he is seated next to the Father? Isn’t there a hunger to find his presence on every page of the Scriptures? To see him promised in the prophets? To see him praise by the Apostle Paul?
That’s what theology is (or should be) about. So, if you haven’t spent a lot of time doing theology, I recommend you pick a theological textbook. Work through it in your personal times of study. Go slow. Take your time. And at the end of each chapter, reflect on what you've learned about Jesus.