I was talking with a friend this week about theology; not about any aspect of theology, but about the importance of theology itself. The conversation began with me telling a story about a time in my life when my idea of theology changed from stuffy intellectuals sitting in a room of dusty books and using words that no one else knew to the very place where the rubber meets the road in everyday christian life (or anyone’s life for that matter). Without going into the details of the story, skip ahead to some of the morals I took from that time in my life:
Sometime last year I was in a class and the guy up front asked for any theologians in the room to raise their hands. Of course no one raised their hands. I didn’t think it was a fair question and started thinking about what exactly a theologian was. It seems like there are at least three ways to think of it. 1. A theologian is someone who has plumbed the depths of every mystery and whose knowledge is much more vast than yours… in fact, any day now they will probably figure out the last answer (and probably not tell you)(if they did you probably wouldn’t understand anyway). 2. Another possibility is that a theologian is anyone with any picture of God at all. 3. Or perhaps a theologian is simply someone who wrestles with trying to understand themselves, God, the universe… someone who doesn’t have it all ironed out and never will, but struggles for the answers anyway because they believe the process itself is one that is good for the soul.
These three definitions stuck with me and I mulled them over in my head and came to a some conclusions about them. The first was that if definition #1 is true then we should quit the whole business of theology, but I don’t think it is. No one has all the answers. Everyone is somewhere along the way and they will always be. Definition #2 I like better because it is true. I realized that I already am a theologian in this sense and that everyone is, even if they would never use the word theologian on themselves. Everyone has some understanding of God and it is already severely affecting their lives. I didn’t realize this for a long time, but now I think it is true. I agree with A. W. Tozer, who said “what a person thinks about God is the most important thing about them.” He is saying that a persons theology is the most important thing about them. But the definition I like the best is #3. I like it because it is humble, an association which the word theologian could use more of. If I must be one of them I want to be #3. I want to wrestle with the things of God. Yes, I know the God is not a finite being like me and thus at times understanding him will simply be beyond me, but I want to engage in the struggle anyway. Why? Because if my theology is really the most important thing about me then I want to stop at nothing to make it like Christ’s theology, that I might live a life like Christ’s too.
I remember having several conversations with people in the past couple of years when the topic would turn on to one of the more tricky, messy aspects of theology and someone in the room would jump in and say something like “Hey, can’t we all just love Jesus?” thinking that they were closing the topic and doing the group a favor. I can understand why a person would want to say that and I know there are many times when it is exactly the appropriate comment, but I have reservations about it too. It is a good thing to say because in a sense we CAN just love Jesus…. after all, there won’t be a quiz on predestination at the gates of heaven. But at the same time I can see how that might not be the most helpful thing to say. I say that because implicit in that statement is the idea that all this doesn’t really matter anyway… but I think that it matters very much. Why? There are dangers out there. Think of it like a glacier. When a glacier moves downhill giant crevasses – cracks in the ice that can be hundreds of meters deep – open up and sometimes when the glacier flows over a level surface again all of the crevasses don’t close completely. Then it snows and theses deep pits in the surafce of the glacier are covered beneath a foot or two of snow and disappear until you step on one. What does this have to do with theology? Saying “can’t we all just love Jesus” can be kind of like standing on the edge of the glacier and looking out over it and seeing only a level, unbroken field of snow and believing that because no danger readily shows itself no danger exists. All the while traps lurk beneath the surface, invisible until stepped on. That’s the thing… from the edge theology looks like you can take it or leave it, then you go out walking through the Christian life and fall into a crevasse and all of a sudden theology looks like what it always really was… a matter of life and death.
Another reservation I have with “can’t we all love Jesus” is that it really does affect your life. Theology isn’t just for seminary students and professors, it is for fathers, mothers, kids, artists, lovers, preachers, friends, etc. In any walk of life or stage in the game, as ones theology takes in more of the Truth ones life will reflect more of the Truth. A quick example: I always used to nod my head when ever anyone said anything about God being in control, but I didn’t really pause to think how in control is he really? and what does it mean either way? Then I started thinking about it and searching the Bible for its answer to that question and talking to people about it. I still nod my head when people speak of God being in control, but now I mean more by it… that truth sank further into my heart as it worked further into my head. The funny thing I noticed is that as I learned more about what God’s sovereignty really means I found that my life could not remain the same. I could no longer pray the same way or do almost anything else the same. My changing notion of God’s sovereignty changed the way I worry, the way I love, the way I speak to people, the way I deal with suffering, the way I date, the way I hope, the way I read the Bible, and probably a hundred more things I am not observant enough to see. Tozer was right. The way we think about God is the most important thing about us. I suppose if there is a moral it is that when the questions find us – like Jacob in the desert – we wrestle with them as honestly as we are able, and when an opportunity to find them first shows itself we take it.