Is theology only for nerdy intellectuals? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Theology is often seen as a difficult topic, and indeed it is. Not many people are really interested in trudging deep into the world of theology. After all, God is such a hard topic to understand and you can never really wrap your head entirely around Him and will it really help my Christian life to be able to know that God is simple or to be able to have a working definition of omnipotence? Don’t I just need to know Jesus? These can be common concerns, especially for the layman, but could it be that these concerns are really keeping people from a treasure trove of knowledge that could greatly benefit them?
Some of you might think theology is too difficult to do, but the reality is you are already doing theology. Theology is any study of God and if you have any idea of God whatsoever, then that is your theology. Even atheists have a theology. They have an idea of the deity that they don’t believe in. (And if your idea of God can be compared to a flying spaghetti monster, you are missing the point big time.) The question then is not if you are going to do theology. You are. The question is if you are going to do it well or not.
Of course, depending on your intellectual abilities, you might have some limitations to how well you can do theology, and that is understandable. God did not call you to become a Ph.D. in theology necessarily, but He does ask that you know Him. If you’re content with saying that you would prefer to just sit in a church service and feel good about the worship services, then you’re in a sense using God. It’s like a man saying that he doesn’t really want to know his wife better than he does, but he sure wants to have access to the sex. Well he could get the sex from a number of women. In the same way, you can get good feelings from a number of different sources besides worship. (Including sex itself of course) Would it not be better to have the emotions that come from worship be informed by what makes those truths you’re hearing so glorious?
It also depends on where you’re going to go to get your information about God. Many of you reading this will say “The Bible” and I certainly agree that the Bible is a great place to go to get information about God, but it is not the only place. I think if you want to use the Bible, you should also have at least a basic apologetic as to why you think Christianity is true and why you think the Bible is at least reliable. If you claim that that book is different from every other book, you need to have a reason why you think that book is different from any other book and it needs to be one that Muslims and Mormons could not give about their book or books.
A dangerous way to get your theology is going primarily on your feelings and experiences, and yet this is where we go the most today. How many times do you hear in a church service to do as you feel led, which automatically assumes that God is going to tell you what He wants you to do by your feelings. There are plenty of ministers who have affairs and scandalize the church and I can assure you one reason that they do so is that they have some really good feelings in them telling them to go forward. In no other area of life that I can think of would we tell people to live by their feelings, but here in what is supposed to be the most important area of life, we tell people to do just that.
Does that mean your feelings and experiences are useless? Not necessarily. I would try to point to feelings that have a more Biblical basis, such as joy. If you are feeling hate towards your neighbor in your heart, you need to ask why. You could also consider keeping a prayer journal. For my part, I have a Kindle Fire and use the Mobile Knee App. When you see prayer requests being answered, make a note of it. That way you can look back on past experiences you’ve had and see that God has brought you through hard times. You can also hear testimonies of other people who have walked through the valley of suffering and came out the other end just fine.
If you want to be a really heady individual, you can go to reason and see what you can get by metaphysical thinking alone. For that, you could go straight to Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, but you might be better off served by reading someone who summarizes the Summa such as Peter Kreeft. At any rate, I would definitely say you should be reading other people. Too many of us have so much pride that we think we alone are the ones who have studied the Bible and there’s no need to learn from those around us and those who have gone before us. If you really want to learn about God, you need to learn from people who have walked the road before you and are walking it around you.
Of course, I pointed to the Bible earlier but even here, there are difficulties. Are you going by what the passage means to you or really trying to figure out what it means? If you think you don’t need any help with studying the Bible, there’s no reason to even really go to church on Sunday. After all, who cares what a preacher is saying from the pulpit? He has no more skill than you do! Your preacher every Sunday is basically trying to give you a commentary on the text that is being talked about and largely focusing on the application of that text to your own life today.
Again, you have help here. There are plenty of resources available. We have a plethora of commentaries today that you can look at and you can find many great books at your local library. If you aren’t interested in an apologetics debate, try to get material from good evangelical publishers like Zondervan or IVP. If you were a woman and you received a love letter from a man you were interested in, most likely you would go over that letter with a fine-tooth comb and try to find the meaning in any little nuance that you could. Should you not treat what you call the Word of God so much more seriously?
Bart Ehrman, not a friend of Christianity, has talked about asking students who come into his class these questions.
“How many of you think the Bible is the Word of God?”
Several hands go up.
“How many of you have read the Harry Potter series?”
Several hands go up.
“How many of you have read the whole Bible?”
Few hands go up.
Ehrman’s point that he concludes from this is indeed valid. He can understand wanting to read the Harry Potter series and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that of course, but if you think a book that you have is a message from God Himself, shouldn’t you really want to read that book and understand it? If we don’t want to do that, perhaps we might want to take a look at ourselves and ask if we are taking God as seriously as we could.
The best place to go however is to look to Jesus. Jesus is said to be the one who shows us the Father. I like to describe Jesus as “God with skin on.” If you want to know what God is like, just look to Jesus. We should seek to know Jesus, but we know Jesus so we can know God. Jesus came to give not a revelation of Himself but rather to give one of the Father. It is because of Jesus that we can know God. This is something that needs to be kept in mind by those of us in apologetics who get a lot of our theology from good metaphysics but can rarely stop to ask how it is that Jesus informs our theology other than telling us about the Trinity.
I contend that if you do this, you will have a better rock when it comes to hard times. You will have something you can stand on. Your knowledge of God is only as reliable as the foundation that you build it on. If you build it on your feelings and experiences, then when those change, so will your knowledge of God. If you build it on a more reliable source, such as good metaphysics, Scripture, or Jesus, you will have much more you can go on. Also, this will inform your worship more. It will not detract from the joy you experience in worship to know more about the God you are worshiping. How could it? That would be like saying you don’t want to get married because why on Earth would you want to get to know someone and spend the rest of your life with them when you could just be having sex with them?
If you also take this route, one other idea you might be wanting to consider is getting a mentor. I suggest men get men for mentors and women get women. I myself in fact have a mentor. I have several men who are mentors to me, but one in particular who I email every night to help me on the path of spiritual development. Find someone you think would be capable of being your mentor and ask them if they are willing to guide you on that road. If they say yes, you can have a trusted friend who will share the journey with you.
Knowledge of God is not an add-on to the Christian life. It is an essential. If you don’t want to learn about the God you claim to be the greatest good in your life, maybe you should ask if He is really the greatest good in your life.