The Goal of All Theology

Why theology? Josh Blount of Sovereign Grace ministries gives a great answer.

Some of us are born theology nerds. There’s probably a gene for it. Here’s an easy test to figure out whether you are one or not. Can you answer yes to any of the following questions?

  1. Did you consider naming your child Herman, Geerhardus, or Ulrich?
  2. Do the titles to your bathroom reading material contain the words “Systematic,” “Dogmatics,” or “Institutes”?
  3. Have you ever been surprised to hear it’s almost March Madness (or Super Bowl Sunday, the World Series, New Year’s Eve, a presidential election, etc.)…but you have never yet missed a Reformation Sunday?

A single yes to the above test is sufficient to label you as a chronic theology nerd. Three yes’s may mean you should be accompanied through your daily routine by a translator fluent in both Nerd-Speak and Normal People Language. If, however, you think anyone answering yes to the above questions needs therapy, you’re safe.

All right, I admit I’m indulging in a bit of fun at the expense of my fellow theology nerds. And make no mistake: the purpose of this post is not to denigrate serious theological work. It is vital for the health of the church, because by it the pure teaching of Scripture is protected from error and taught with depth and clarity to each successive generation. But since some people are hard-wired by God with a bent for theological reading and others aren’t, theology nerds and non-nerds alike face a danger. For theology nerds, the danger is that we fail to love theology for the reasons God loves theology. For non-theologians, the danger is assuming that a love for theology is nothing more than a personality trait, equivalent to liking Asian food or ‘80’s hair band music.

So that leads us to a question. Why does God give us theology and theologians? Allow me to introduce you to my friend Herman (look, I already admitted I’m a nerd):

God himself…is the principle of existence of religion and theology. Objective revelation in Christ, recorded in Scripture, is its external source of knowledge. And the Holy Spirit, who has been poured out in the church, regenerates and leads it into the truth, is the internal source of knowledge. By this witness of the Holy Spirit, revelation is realized in humanity and reaches its goal. For it is God’s good pleasure to re-create humankind in his likeness and after his image.(Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, p. 506, emphasis added)

Did you catch that? Theology is about being recreated in God’s image and likeness—in other words, communion and transformation. Producing lengthy tomes on obscure topics, delving into archaic historical details and nuances, studying ancient languages—these are surface details, means to an end. The end is to know God, and in knowing him, to love, trust, and obey him in a way that transforms all relationships—indeed, all of life.

So what does this mean for us nerds? We should remember the goal of our theologizing. Someone doesn’t have to love Calvin or Edwards to love God and other people deeply. Yes, they must know God deeply, and that requires spiritual food drawn from the Word and good teaching and preaching. But in reality, there will be Christian brothers and sisters who will never crack open the Institutes, and that in no ways hinders them from being faithful, mature believers. For us who have a love for deep, careful thought, we are called by God to digest the riches of Scripture and church history and present the fruit of that labor to other believers for their edification. Pastors, let us especially get this point right. A sermon that contains nothing but historical details, polemical theology, or Scriptural cross references is like giving someone a plate piled high with recipe cards and measuring cups. Those were things you were supposed to use to produce nourishing food—not something you were to present unaltered on the plate. 

What about for those who don’t naturally like theology? Two thoughts: one, be willing to step outside your comfort zone. No theologian, living or dead, is necessary for your spiritual maturity—the only thing necessary to grow up into salvation is the pure spiritual milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2). But, having said that, dipping into the life and thought of another faithful lover of the Word will help you grow in your communion with God. So challenge yourself. Pick up a book you wouldn’t normally read. You’re not after information, but transformation, and God is behind that pursuit.

Secondly, be grateful for the work of theology that goes into your preaching and teaching. People have labored and thought deeply and carefully to protect the church from the error of false doctrine or imbalanced teaching, and to present concise, faithful statements of the message of Scripture. That work, in the providence of God, is to serve the purpose of enriching your communion with the Lord. They are laboring to preserve and transmit the pure spiritual milk so that all may grow up to salvation.

So nerds, don’t forget the point of your reading, writing, teaching, and preaching. Commune with God over the doctrines and truths you study. And for those who won’t crack open a thick theological work, don’t let that prevent you from longing for deep, thoughtful, and clear teaching that leads you to commune with your God. For that is the end goal not only of theology, but also of all of life.

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