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Who Needs Theology?

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Intellectual Snobbery:[1]

I was recently asked the question: “Why study theology?” Some would assume that theological thought should be condensed down to intellectual snobbery which finds its footing amid the ivory towers of academia.  This kind of notion concedes theological discourse as a sort of elitism that culminates upon mere abstract concepts which neglects the authentic street-level interaction. 


I would respectfully disagree with this type of assertion, first, from the standpoint that much of church history has articulated the notion that “orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.” Or simply put, proper theology will inform proper living for the benefit of the church. “Doctrine,” according to Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “is a statement not merely of information, nor even of knowledge, but of wisdom: the wisdom of God made known in Jesus Christ. Christian doctrine yields that vital knowledge which, when applied, leads to human flourishing: abundant life.”[2] Secondly, even the epistles, found within the canon of Scripture, are marked with commands that are intrinsically linked to a proper understanding of who God is.  The Apostle Paul urges the church to live in a particular way not out of a desire to heap rules and regulations upon the community of saints—the apostle even speaks against the notion that he is lording it over the believers (2 Cor. 1:24)—but to align the bride of Christ to the character of the triune God.  Paul is emphatic that saints “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).  This conviction, for Paul, is derivative of the saving grace of Christ (Eph. 2:8-9). 


The Root Aim:


Theology, then, derives from two Greek words theos (Gk. θεος) which means “God” and logos (Gk. λογος) which can mean “word; content; or the study of.” When put together the term theology can simply be rendered as “the study of God.” 


In the church’s pursuit toward a biblical theological formulation, it is imperative to see that the study of God is central to a faithful expression of Christ.  Not only from a scholarly perspective—though it can be helpful—but from a worshipful vantage point. For our purposes, the necessity to engage in theological thought is rooted in two main points: (1) God has revealed Himself and (2) the church is to think God’s thoughts after Him. 


Self-Disclosure. Without divine intervention humanity can not intimately know the triune God of the universe.  Therefore, God has revealed Himself through the Person and work of Jesus Christ which has been kept and recorded through the apostolic witness of the New Testament canon (cf. Heb. 1:1-3).  Through the Scriptures God has announced His redemptive purposes and has displayed His divine character.


God’s self-disclosure has granted access into knowing God intimately, salvifically, and covenantally. “While the incarnate Word is an exact embodiment of the divine Creator,” according to John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, “Scripture is likewise a special and divine revelation from God to men. . . The Scriptures reveal to man the mind of God, the ways of God, the righteousness of God, and the means by which man might please God.”[3] Therefore, theology is not merely philosophical thought but rather Scriptural accuracy.  If God has provided the avenue to which we are to know Him—the incarnate Logos and the inscripturated logosit is of the upmost importance, then, that the church engage in a tireless effort to employ those means. D. A. Carson simply articulates this point by saying, "Any genuine knowledge human beings have of God depends on God's first disclosing Himself."[4] This dependence formulates a means to properly know God according to how He has revealed Himself.


To Think God’s Thoughts After Him. Through man’s depravity God has given “them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Rom. 1:28), yet through the Person and work of Jesus Christ the Lord has provided the means to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Theology is not merely abstract thoughts floating in the minds of intellectual giants. Rather the biblical narrative function as a filter to "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).  Wayne Grudem further articulates this truth by saying: 

This concept of the certainty of the knowledge that we attain from Scripture then gives us a reasonable basis for affirming the correctness of much of the other knowledge that we have. We read Scripture and find that its view of the world around us, of human nature, and of ourselves corresponds closely to the information we have gained from our own sense-experiences of the world around us. Thus we are encouraged to trust our sense-experiences of the world around us: our observations correspond with the absolute truth of Scripture; therefore, our observations are also true and, by and large, reliable. Such confidence in the general reliability of observations made with our eyes and ears is further confirmed by the fact that it is God who has made these faculties and who in Scripture frequently encourages us to use them.[5]

Reality, then, is life aligned to God's creative intent and ultimate design.  According to the Christian worldview, the idea of reality is not built upon abstract principles found within philosophical thought, but rather within the character of the triune Godhead revealed through the text of Scripture.  Theology is not merely intellectual accent, but seeing the world through the Gospel lens. Paul, then, can exhort the young minister Timothy by saying, "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything" (2 Tim. 2:7).


For the Church:


From the beginning, theology has been at the center of the church.  Creeds, councils, and confessions were and are hallmarks of a devoted commitment to the faith; what is simply called confessionalism. Justin S. Holcomb points out that "[for] the early Christians . . . creeds were meant to be used by groups—not just a summary of what everyone in the room agrees upon but a promise made and kept as a group. . . Creeds aren't dogmas that are imposed on Scripture but are themselves drawn from the Bible and provide a touchstone to the faith for Christians of all times and places."[6] From the early patristic era, the church has had to wrestle through Christological formations as well as trinitarian constructs in light of a monotheistic tradition.  Furthermore, the Reformation had to work through fallacies of the Roman Catholic Church and her doctrines of penance and indulgences. The hard work of scholarly precision was not merely an academic exercise in order to mount a stake upon intellectual elitism, but rather a service to the church in expressing a faithful witness of the Lord Jesus Christ via the revealed words of Scripture. 


Theology matters! Not for the sake of mere scholarship, but for the enjoyment of the church and her spiritual and practical well being.  Theology, then, rooted within the sacred Scriptures grants a proper lens into seeing the truine God and Him as the centerpiece of our life, which is the source of hope, joy, and love.  Anything less—though we can not exhaust God’s divine Word—would be a disservice to the body of Christ and to the glory of God. Semper reformanda (always reforming).

 

***footnotes***


[1] Adopted and edited from https://mcyoungyang.blogspot.com/2017/12/who-needs-theology.html.


[2] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture & Hermeneutics (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002), 40. 


[3] John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 74. 


[4] D. A. Carson, Collected Writings on Scripture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 21.


[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 120.


[6] Justin S. Holcomb, Know: The Creeds and Councils (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 12-13.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)


He is the husband to Debbie Yang and the father to McCayden (11), McCoy (10), McColsen (8), and DeYoung (5).  He is one of the Teaching Pastors at Covenant City Church which is a church-plant in St. Paul, MN. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO where he hopes to obtain his PhD in Systematic Theology. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens. McYoung enjoys reading/writing, sports, and playing with his children.

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