It is not enough to write about value of theology without speaking about certain dangers that are inherent in the process because we live in a fallen world and are capable of twisting even something like the knowledge of God. So I wanted to take some time on the blog to speak about the limitations and dangers of theology.
1. We are finite and so is our knowledge: What we do not know about God will always be more than what we do know about God because he is infinite and we are finite. God has revealed things truly and we can have a certainty of them, but it must always be a humble certainty. Knowing is like digging a furrow to reach fertile soil for the seed to live on. A humble heart knows that there it is always in need of help to dig deeper and that there are treasures of God’s that it does not yet have access to, they are yet to rich for it. This doesn’t mean that we must enter the work of knowing with doubt and fear, as if maintaining ignorance was a good in and of itself, but it does mean that we ought to remove our shoes before we enter, for we are walking on holy ground. A humble heart, sure of its finiteness, practices theology with joy and love and never stops learning.
2. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies: St. Paul knew of human’s tendency to grasp at whatever bits of glory they can find and wear them around like tin crowns, and he knew enough to know that it is so easy for us to do that with our knowledge. Theology has come to take on a negative connotation because people learn the knowledge but not the gospel, which means that they really have not learned the knowledge at all. If you can pass a theology multiple choice test but do not love others, then you need to go back and learn the lesson again. Love edifies, but knowledge puffs up. If our theology makes us proud, then we can be sure we do not know what Jesus knew.
3. No knowledge comes except by grace: Sometimes it is easy to forget, as we learn and solidify opinions and especially as we teach others, how long a journey it took for us to come to the opinions we now hold. We forget how slow and rebellious we were, how much God has to condescend to lead us by the hand. It is easy to forget, when we hold’s God’s jewels in our heads and hearts, that it was not our hands that put them there.
4. Learning is a process: Building on the last point, it takes a long time for us to learn things, and the process can often be spoilt and set back by forcing things to early. Currently I am learning a world of new things about God’s work in creation. In the sense that I started connecting the dots and having new conversations about creation, the learning process started about 3 months ago. But the more time goes by the more I realize how this is a stage of growth that God has been preparing me to undertake as far back as my earliest memories. All the time I am combing through my past life with what feel like new eyes and seeing things I never saw before. The same lessons that I feel so enriched by now have been parading past my eyes for a decade and I failed to see them, yet, had they not, who knows if I would be seeing them now. Old conversations, journal entries, thoughts are all coming back now and feel as though the are speaking with new life. God guides the process of all of our growth and it is foolish to think that we can make it happen for ourselves or for other exclusively on our time table. We are not the Holy Spirit and should not step into his role in others lives. So much damage can be done when we forget to understand that everyone is riding the wave of the past. It may not be your role to be there when that wave becomes a breaker. Your role is to be where you are and love people faithfully wherever they are at.
5. Theology matters, but it also doesn’t matter: There are two opposite things that are simultaneously true. The first is that what a person believes about God is the most important thing about them. It is the baseline from which all other lines in a persons life draw their plumb. The second is there is a basic theology, a mere Christianity, and beyond that core the importance is lessened. If you hold tightly to either one of these without holding both of them you are in danger the pendulum swinging to far in one direction. The first has been spoken of a lot on this blog, so I want to say some things about the second. There will not be a quiz on predestination at the gates of heaven. If our salvation were based on perfect knowledge, then literally none of us but Christ would be saved. But God, through his Son, is enlightening us to understand and love the truths of the gospel. We won’t be asked about infralapsarianism, but we will be asked about Christ, if we knew him, and if he knew us. It is easy to make every little bit of doctrine a hill we die on, but in doing so we can win the battle and lose the war.
6. People can become not people, but the ideas they represent: Zeal for God’s truth is a wonderful thing, but it goes wrong when it leads us to relate to people not as people created in God’s image and precious to Him no matter what, but instead when we relate to them through what we think of their ideas. It is dehumanizing and it is unloving. We ought to want people to know and love the truth, but we can counteract that purpose by the way we think of them and speak to them. If the first thing you think about when you think about someone you disagree with is what you disagree about then you will only be able to act towards them through that wall. Doing so, you will create that wall, which is exactly what one who loves the truth must not do. The first thing that we think about when we think about anyone ought to be the image of God that they bear inside them and the inherent glory that they bear as a result. That creates a love that breaks down every barrier and makes us to treat one another as humans first, not as ideas. That is why Jesus was so irrestistible, he refused to speak or treat anyone with anything less than the honor and dignity which they, as image bearers of God, deserved.
7. Theology is not about canned answers: We will fail if we think that theology is abotu handing people textbook answers. Theology that is all bones and no flesh is of little use to most people. What people need is a theology that they can see. If you want to help someone, if you can, win them without saying a word. Make a bed of integrity first and then your words will possess a weight they never would have before. Sometimes people do not need answers. They need a friend, they need silence, they need a movie, they need compassion. Our theology ought to make us people who know the difference and love well enough to live it out. Dead orthodoxy can be as ugly as bare unbelief.