After a rather intense discussion in our Sunday School class last week, I began pondering the importance and necessity of sound doctrine when it comes to our Christian walk. The discussion itself did not start out on the topic of theology, but it did come up and there were some differing views, one of which was a little alarming to me. This point of view was that theology doesn't matter and we shouldn't waste our time with it.
After class I found myself asking the following questions:
-What is theology and why is it important?
-Why is having a biblical theology important?
-Is my theology biblical, and if not, am I in a community of believers who will challenge me to continue to grow in my knowledge of who God is?
So, let's dive in, shall we?
Theology, of course, is simply the study of God. "Theo" means God and "ology" means study. Whether or not we are on a pursuit of knowing more about God, everyone has a theology. Everyone has some thought or belief about God. From atheists to Buddhists to Christians, people structure the way they think and how they live on their theology.
As Christians, our theology will determine to a large extent how we follow God and His commands. The point that the Sunday School visitor made, "God cares about what I do" hit home as I thought about this. Do we know who God truly is? Or do we only know who we think He is? Are we getting to know more of who God is by studying His Word and allowing for our own ideas to be "put through the ringer" so as to test and prove what is truly scriptural and what is hindering our walk with the Lord?
As I considered this idea that theology doesn't matter, only our actions count, I thought of the Parable of the Talents (also called the Parable of the Minas). The account from Matthew 25:14-30 reads like this:
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’We read here that there is a master who, before embarking on a trip, entrusts certain sums of money to three of his servants. When he returns he wants to know what they've done with all that he gave them. The first two servants are rewarded after they show the master that they have doubled what he put in their keeping. But the third servant is a different story. Knowing his master, he becomes afraid and hides the money only to give back the one bag of gold that the master left in his care. The master does not respond nicely, either. He not only takes away the money but he sends the "wicked and lazy servant" (v.26) out "into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (v.30).
Usually I have heard this passage taught as a lesson in how to wisely use the gifts that God has given us. But the teaching that I see coming to light here is something more than what each of the servants did with the money. Why did they do what they did? It is clear that the wicked servant hid the money because he was afraid. Why was he afraid? Well, the motivation for his fear came from what he knew of his master, that he was "a hard man, harvesting where [he did not sow] and gathering where [he did not scatter seed]" (v.24).
This statement, found in v.24 states the wicked servant's theology. And his theology dictated his perspective on life - he was afraid (v.25). It drove his actions - he hid the money (v.25). And finally, his theology determined how he responded to his master - out of fear and a limited understanding of his plans and purposes the servant did not do with the money what his master wished (v.24).
The consequences of the wicked servant's theology were life altering. Upon hearing what his servant thought of him, the master chastised the wicked servant and said, "So, take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (v.28-30). I don't know about you, but that seems pretty severe to me. His theology directed his life - a life that would now be spent apart from his master.
Looking at the Parable of the Talents we can draw some conclusions about how our own theology matters in our lives. The master in this story represents God. The servants represent people who are in His service. And just like the wicked servant, our theology - what we know of God - will dictate how we perceive the world around us. The perception will in turn drive our actions, our choices, and our overall conduct. And the two things combined - what we think and how we act - will determine how we respond to God.
How would this flesh out from the point of view expressed in class? It was emphasized several times how our actions are what God cares about. I would agree that God does care. In James 1:22 we are told, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (Emphasis mine). Action is certainly necessary. But from where do our actions come? The visitor argued that our actions come first and then our thinking is changed. I disagree.
Our actions flow from what we think. Those actions may precede our feelings, but that is not the point that was brought up. Does right action produce right thinking? No. Right thinking may produce right action. Wrong thinking may produce wrong action. But, to run the point into the ground, our thinking is what drives our actions. So, naturally what we think of God - our theology - will drive our actions and ultimately our obedience to His Word.
Looking briefly at Proverbs 3:5-6, let's see how our theology may determine how we obey God's word. It reads,
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.”
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.”
Is the God I know trustworthy? If not, how could I trust Him? Does the God that I know have my best interest in mind? If not, it is unlikely that I would submit to Him in all my ways. Does the God that I know hold true to His promises? If I don't think that He will, I will be reluctant to set aside what I understand to be best in order to follow Him. Does the God that I know understand things better than I do, or do I have the upper hand? If I know better, how could I fully submit to Him?
However, if my theology is that God is trustworthy, knowing all things, sovereign over all things, having a greater understanding than I do, a keeper of His promises, and a God who wants what is truly best for me, not what I think is best for myself, then I will find trusting Him with all my heart an easier task than if I am riddled with doubts and fears.
See, our theology does matter. One view presented in our Sunday School class was that theology is not at all important - a vein, cerebral pursuit. It was even stated that God doesn't care about theology, He cares only about what we do. But if what we do stems from what we think, then shouldn't we, as Christians, be seeking to fine tune our thinking of who God is so that we can know and follow Him more fully every day? Shouldn't theology - biblically sound theology - be our main goal in life? To know God. To understand Him as much as is humanly possible. These things will not only enable me to do what is right, but the more I know of who God truly is, the more I will be wooed to worship of and full surrender to Him.
Theology is not a means of salvation. Salvation comes from belief in Jesus Christ. Knowing what scripture says about God is simply a tool to lead us into deeper relationship and greater commitment to God. Theology is not only for the cerebral elite. Even the least cerebral among us has a theology. For some, their theology is easily put into plain language and for others it takes a look at how they live out their lives to see what they believe to be true of God. But either way, we can't avoid the fact that from those who believe there is no God to those who believe God took on human form to die a death He didn't deserve in order to pay the penalty for the sins of all mankind and open up a way to salvation, theology matters. It will dictate how we view the world around us. It will drive our actions. And it will determine how we respond to God - will we ignore Him or run from Him or turn toward Him for grace and forgiveness?