I may not even know what a “theology” is, but I can’t avoid having one. That’s because “theo-logy” is a “word” (logos) about “God” (theos), and everyone, even an atheist, has something that he believes and says about God. He has a theology.
Why Theology Matters
Theology matters, therefore, in the first place, because it’s about God. Since nothing matters more than He does, it follows that theology matters infinitely.
Theology matters, secondly, because it’s about the whole Bible. That’s announced by its first words, “In the beginning God … ” Since everything after that is His story, to study anything the Bible says is to study theology, the story of God’s being, thinking, and ways. Hence multivolume works called “theologies” systematize not just what Scripture teaches about the doctrine of God proper, but about every other doctrine as well. All of it is God’s thinking and therefore “theology.”
Thirdly, theology matters because it rules over all. At the end of the day, whatever people really believe about God decides everything — their values and morals, their use of time, possessions and abilities, their relations to all other beings, circumstances and events (including their heroes and villains), where and how they work, whom they marry (and whether they stay married), for whom and what they vote, how they react to trouble or loss, and what they feel and say when dying. You name it, in the end, it all comes down to their theology. “The fear of the Lord [a theology] is the beginning of wisdom.” About what? About everything! Both in this life and the next (read Proverbs). On the other hand, “The ________ of the Lord [fill in the blank with any rival theology you wish] is the beginning” of all things. No one can escape the comprehensive consequences of the theology with which he begins and negotiates life.
All people at all times in all things are ruled by their theology. That is, people practice their theology. Theology, therefore, is practical for all of life, not merely theoretical in books and classrooms only. I’m not arguing, of course, that any of us always acts consistently with what we believe. We all recognize that that’s not the case. But that very recognition is itself one of the surest proofs that a governing theology exists in our hearts. Otherwise we wouldn’t instinctively feel that certain things are out of character for us. Our governing theology pronounces them so, thus persisting in its reign regardless of our resistance.
To summarize, theology matters because it’s about God, Scripture, and life. Since there are no more important, no more universally comprehensive studies than these three, and because it is theology which governs our every belief and action regarding these, a rigorously right theology is the ultimate good which can be acquired. To know God truthfully, to understand the Scripture comprehensively, and to live life rightly is the greatest conceivable human blessing.
On the other hand, no greater disaster for a human being can be conceived than to live and die with an untruthful theology. Not knowing God as He actually is, not understanding what the Scripture definitely teaches, not living in this world and the next as they really are is the ultimate catastrophe.
No one therefore, least of all faithful preachers, can safely dismiss theology or its attendant issues. We, more than any class of men on earth, are by virtue of our calling required to be theologians of the first rank. Our responsibility for this surpasses that of even the formal class of teachers professionally called “theologians.” They’re called to be masters in narrowly circumscribed spheres. Though this ministry is critical to the health of the Church, it is by its very nature a role specialized and therefore confined and repetitive.
But we preachers are called upon to minister not merely the next semester’s subject matter, but the whole counsel of God. Our preaching must range over the entire landscape of Scripture. It must do it for the sake of every class among the people of God. For children and for teens and adults. For men and for women. For church leaders and for new converts. For young couples grieving over their first miscarriage, for middle-aged widows caring for aged parents in the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease, for elderly couples when one partner is stone blind and the other is a helpless invalid. To all of these we minister theology in public and in private, in the pulpit and in the counselor’s chair, at the hospital bed and by the graveside.
God, Scripture, life — these are the domains of theology. All conceivable sorts of believers and unbelievers — these are the learners of theology. And preachers are its foremost teachers. No wonder the New Testament speaks so frequently and forcefully to preachers about it.
- 1 Timothy 4:6 — “a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words … of good doctrine.”
- 1 Timothy 4:13 — “give attendance to … doctrine.”
- 1 Timothy 4:16 — “take heed … unto the doctrine.”
- 1 Timothy 5:17 — “they who labour in … doctrine.”
- 2 Timothy 3:16 — “all scripture … is profitable for doctrine.”
- 2 Timothy 4:2 — “exhort with … doctrine.”
- Titus 1:9 — “able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”
- Titus 2:1 — “speak thou the things which become sound doctrine.”
- Titus 2:7 — “in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity.”
Part 1.2 tomorrow.
Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.
(Originally published in FrontLine • September / October 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)