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tjservant
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Joined: 2006/8/25
Posts: 1658
Indiana USA

  Who Needs Theology Anyway?



Who Needs Theology Anyway?


The great nineteenth-century evangelist D. L. Moody was at one time challenged by a woman who reportedly said, “I want you to know that I don’t believe in your theology.” Moody’s response: “I didn’t know I had any!”[1] [1] Which goes to show that even great men of God can be wrong. The word theology is a compound of two Greek terms: theos (God) and logos (word, statement, discourse, a line of argument). Therefore, in simple terms, a theologian is someone who knows about or speaks about God, and theology is what is thought or said about God.

When I was about five years old, my beloved pet dog died. Shortly thereafter I was talking with my friend Chuck about death and what happens afterward. As we dug in the dirt and filled our toy dump trucks, we came to the conclusion that when you died you went to heaven and lived there. Then when you died in heaven, you went to the next heaven and lived there, and so on. Even as young children, confronted with questions of life, death, and God, we were in the most basic sense practicing theologians developing a theology (a rather unusual one, but a theology nonetheless) even as we dug in the dirt and played with our trucks.


Whenever we think about God we are involved with theology. The question therefore is not whether we will be theologians—we have no choice in the matter. Rather, the question is what kind of theologians we will we be—good or bad, responsible or irresponsible.

But, you say, if we are all theologians anyway, can’t we be good and responsible theologians by just being good and sincere Christians? Most Christians over the last two millennia (including D.L. Moody!) have hardly been aware of the discipline of theology, and if they were, they saw it as something abstract, theoretical, more than a bit daunting, and unrelated to everyday life. Theirs was a practical faith. So why should we even study theology? Why isn’t it enough to just love Jesus and obey him?[2] [1]Scripture calls us to disciplined learning. Paul admonishes in 1 Corinthians 14:20, “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” Yet many of us never take the responsibility for theological maturity seriously. While we may put forth great effort into our profession, perhaps even earning a Ph.D., many of us are like the astronomer who said to the theologian, “I don’t understand why you theologians fuss so much about predestination and supralapsarianism, about the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God, imputed or infused grace, and the like. To me Christianity is simple--it’s the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” (To which, incidentally, the theologian replied, “I think I see what you mean. I get lost in all your talk about exploding novas, expanding universes, theories of entropy and astronomical perturbations. For me astronomy is simple: It’s ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star…’ ”) We can illustrate the importance of theology by means of the skeleton and the jellyfish. When we look at a skeleton we can be reasonably sure that it is dead. The life that once held these bones together is gone, and these bones are now held together with pins and wires. This is how many people view theology: lifeless, and a collection of ideas that are held together by the artificial means of complex rationalizations and arguments. Then there is the jellyfish. A jellyfish can live for a time on the beach, but cannot do anything. It lies on the sand in a pulsating blob, unable to do anything except possibly sting a passerby. The jellyfish, like the skeleton, has a problem. While the skeleton has structure without life, the jellyfish has life without structure. The lack of structure, or a skeletal system, causes it to be ineffective at doing anything on land.

While it is true that theology alone may be lifeless, spiritual life without structure is at best ineffective and is for all practical purposes useless. The answer to the dilemma is to bring together the life with a structure that will support it.

A structure such as a skeleton will allow us to accomplish the task of living life, but this does not mean that just any structure will do, that one structure is as good as another. Years ago I worked with a person who as a child had fallen from a tree and broken his arm. The physician who attended to him was drunk and set the arm improperly, so that in the healing process a deformity developed. My colleague could still use his arm but it was not fully functional, because the structure that supported his arm inhibited his movement.

Improper theological structures may give the illusion of being intellectually and spiritually harmonious and in line with Scripture, but the reality shows otherwise. In the pilot episode of the original Star Trek series, broadcast as “The Menagerie,” Captain Christopher Pike (Captain Kirk’s predecessor) is imprisoned on the planet Talos 4. The inhabitants of the planet put him and a beautiful young woman as exhibits in their zoo. The plan is for them to mate and ultimately populate the planet. Pike learns that the Talosians are experts at illusion and that this is why his escape attempts keep failing. When he is finally successful and is about to leave the planet, he tries to take the young woman as well, but she refuses to leave. He discovers that she, like everything else he has experienced, is not as she appears. She is human, but she is not young and beautiful. She is the sole survivor of a scientific expedition stranded on the planet years before. Badly injured in the crash of her spaceship, she was nursed back to health by the Talosians. But they had never seen a human before and consequently did not properly set her broken bones so that she ended up hunched over with twisted limbs. In this ugly condition, she could not face other humans. She could live a functional life, but the underlying structure of her body could not support normal existence. Her twisted structure cut her off from contact with normal humans.

To extend our analogy a step further, our theology should not only have a functional structure but also a beauty and attractiveness that reflects the beauty of God, who is himself the source of beauty. Astrophysicists who are searching for a “unified field theory” that will explain and unify our knowledge of how the universe came into being and how the fundamental forces of nature are related speak of the “beauty principle.” They have discovered in their advancing knowledge significant new insights that have an “elegant simplicity” about them. It is this very elegance that is a compelling feature in the acceptance of the new theory. Likewise, our theology should have a compelling beauty about it. If it does not, we probably need to do more reflection to grasp more fully who God is and what he has done.

During our first trip to England, my wife and I visited the medieval walled city of York and the York Castle museum. Particularly fascinating was the exhibit showing the history of warfare, with displays arranged in chronological order, beginning in the Stone Age. We saw the progress in weaponry during the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age, including spears, bows and arrows, and chariots. In the medieval displays, we saw broadswords, body armor, and chain mail. Then, in a display that was dated only fifty years later than the preceding one, we saw a profound shift. The armor was nearly gone, and now cannons and muskets were used. The defensive weaponry of recent decades was ineffective against the new gunpowder-powered weapons. In order to survive under these new conditions, both the defensive and the offensive weapons had to change.

While theology is rightly seen as an intellectual activity that seeks to bring all things under the lordship of Christ and is rightly seen as an act of worship, it also involves interaction with our contemporary culture. In this sense, we might think of our theology as an armory that provides us with weapons to do battle with a world that is hostile to the lordship of Christ. If we do not retool our weapons to meet the current battlefield conditions, we face defeat. This has been a real problem for the evangelical community in that we have not recognized changing conditions and have carried muskets into battle when the opposition totes M16s and AK-47s.

Our theological understanding comes from the Bible but not from the Bible alone. Many of the questions, categories, and thought forms that are incorporated in our understanding are drawn from the dominant philosophy of the culture we inhabit. Professional theologians have recognized this fact for centuries and have acknowledged that it is unavoidable. When the culture changes, as it does continuously and is doing now at an unprecedented rate, persisting in using the thought forms and categories and explanations and defenses of the faith that have been effective in a previous generation is akin to charging into battle astride horses with sabers drawn, only to be met by machine guns, tanks, fighter jets, bombers, heat-seeking missiles, and the like. While it may be courageous, it is hardly wise.

Our theology has consequences. What we believe matters. History reveals that our belief system determines whether we live wisely or naively. One of the most tragic events of the medieval crusades was the Children’s Crusade. Since the previous crusades had ended in dismal failure, some reasoned that it was because the crusaders were sinners and God would not bless a venture undertaken by sinners. If an army of pure individuals were raised, surely God would bless and give victory. Who is purer and more innocent than children? So an army of children was put together with the objective that they would rescue the Holy Land from the infidel Turks. But when the army of children reached the Holy Land, instead of defeating the Turks, they were captured and sold as slaves.

Love of Jesus, while vital, is not enough. Theology is not just for the professional, the professor, the pastor, or even the Sunday school teacher. Each of us is responsible to become a competent theologian. Rather than viewing our theology as propositions to be learned, we ought to view it as an act of worship. God has entrusted to us his divine revelation in all its multifaceted richness and fullness, but he has not given us a theology. He has revealed himself through his works and his words in human history, in his encounters with individuals at various times and places. He has revealed himself most fully in the person and work of Jesus Christ, but that revelation is in narrative, or story, form. Our job is to organize the material and bring it into a coherent whole so that we can more fully grasp who God is and what he has done. We offer back to him the fruit of our labor in understanding him and his work. The task of theology is to bring all things under the lordship of Christ. While we may rely on the work of others who have gone before us, we have a personal responsibility before God for our understanding.

Our call is not to remain babes but to grow continuously. While there is far more to spiritual maturity than theological knowledge, this knowledge is a definite part of maturity. Jesus commanded us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37, italics added). The goal is to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask us about our faith (1 Peter 3:15). This demand puts us squarely into the midst of the discipline of theology, a discipline that is and will always be dynamic, a work in progress, because our finite human understanding cannot by definition grasp completely and once and for all infinite truth. - M. James Sawyer

[1] [1] Cf. Stanley N. Gundry, Love Them In: The Life and Theology of D.L. Moody (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976, 1999), 67.
[2] [1] By our basic definition of a theologian, one need not even be saved to be a theologian. Scripture itself testifies that every human being has some knowledge of God, a knowledge gleaned from the created order as well as from conscience (see especially Psalm 19 and Romans 1:18–20). The theology being spoken of here is not formal or technical, but it is nonetheless real theology. Thus, while it is possible to be a theologian without being saved, it is not possible to be saved without being a theologian, since salvation involves not just a mystical spiritual experience and encounter with “spiritual reality,” but is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.


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TJ

 2009/1/16 8:24Profile
tjservant
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Joined: 2006/8/25
Posts: 1658
Indiana USA

 Re: Who Needs Theology Anyway?



Quote:
Whenever we think about God we are involved with theology. The question therefore is not whether we will be theologians—we have no choice in the matter. Rather, the question is what kind of theologians we will we be—good or bad, responsible or irresponsible.


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TJ

 2009/1/17 10:53Profile
ChrisJD
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Joined: 2006/2/11
Posts: 2895
Philadelphia PA

 Re: Who Needs Theology Anyway?

Hi everyone.

tjservant, I wondered if I could leave a few comments in regards to the subject of the article that you presented here?




I remember a qoute from Pastor Wurmbrand that has stuck with me for some time now; I hope it will be alright if I share it here now? I remember him saying in a message that



"God is the truth. The Bible is the truth about the truth. The sermons are the truth about the truth about the truth. Theology, if it is a fundamentalist one, is the truth about the truth about the truth about the truth. And because of so much scaffolding around the truth, because of the multitude of words, the truth is drowned."




It may be that there is a great volume of words and of thoughts to be known of God, yet how much of it can or is adaquately expressed in words(Mat 11:27, 1 Cor 14:2, 1Jn 2:27)?





It is amazing to me that we can make no claims to having been inspired by God and yet say and write so much.


And yet, the One Who is The Word(Logos), of God(Theos), Manifested(made known) in the flesh, said,


[b][color=660000] I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. [/color][/b]


And that His words were not His own. Or His doctrine.








[i]the qoute from Pastor Wurmbrand is taken from a message titled "Church Triumphant" on this site[/i]




[i]Edited to add the phrase 'manifested in the flesh'.[/i]


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Christopher Joel Dandrow

 2009/1/17 11:44Profile
tjservant
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Joined: 2006/8/25
Posts: 1658
Indiana USA

 Re:

Quote:
tjservant, I wondered if I could leave a few comments in regards to the subject of the article that you presented here?



I don’t mind at all.

You are free to post whatever you what, wherever you want.

:-)

**edit**

I simply thought it was an interesting article. I will not be debating or defending it. We all have differing opinions. :-)


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TJ

 2009/1/17 13:49Profile
sojourner7
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Joined: 2007/6/27
Posts: 1573
Omaha, NE

 Re:

Our theology must first of all be practical.
If it cannot be put into practice; it is of
little avail to us. Jesus taught the secrets
of the kingdom of heaven using things that
were plain and simple. Everything He taught
was practical, liveable, workable.

C. S. LEWIS


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Martin G. Smith

 2009/1/17 16:18Profile









 Re:

chrisjd said,

"It is amazing to me that we can make no claims to having been inspired by God and yet say and write so much."

I agree.

 2009/1/17 19:19
theopenlife
Member



Joined: 2007/1/30
Posts: 926


 Re:

For some people, it is their ministry to explain texts.

I've known pastors who slept 9 hours, watched hours of TV each week, and found time for lots of personal entertainment. Others salvaged those moments for the purpose of writing. One page a day is not much time, but after thirty years one has collected 10,950 pages! The Puritan pastors such as Baxter, Owen, Sibbes, and Manton, were very disciplined and self-denying with their time.

They didn't waste time on writing - they made time for it.

 2009/1/17 19:53Profile
crsschk
Member



Joined: 2003/6/11
Posts: 9192
Santa Clara, CA

 Re: Who Needs Theology Anyway?

Hi TJ,

Very good perspectives here, some good food for thought. I know far too much gets misconstrued and is misunderstood in these parts. To speak with an emphasis on a particular and to branch off into a generality ... Something I seem to be quite adept at and likely cause a great deal of confusion thereby ...

"Both"

That word is so applicable to so many matters. In addition to the Wurmbrandt quote there is swirling around another that I cannot pin down at the moment - It is along these same lines though, of having a structure as well as a [i]heart[/i]- Philologos for a long time had as his signature that [i] Theology is meant to be sung[/i].

Quote:
The great nineteenth-century evangelist D. L. Moody was at one time challenged by a woman who reportedly said, “I want you to know that I don’t believe in your theology.” Moody’s response: “I didn’t know I had any!”[1] [1] Which goes to show that even great men of God can be wrong.



That's a bit awkward and seems to be stretching things, key words there; "one time" - One incident, one out-take, surely Moody had a theology and wrote, preached out of it ...

Though he is tackling one line more or less here, and that very well, the 'trouble' is when all this battle array is used within the fold, at each other, against each other ... It likely goes without saying, or at least I would like to think so. It is not one at the expense of the other, just not the one or the other expensed [i][b]at[/b][/i] each other.

Good article brother.


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Mike Balog

 2009/1/18 11:12Profile
ChrisJD
Member



Joined: 2006/2/11
Posts: 2895
Philadelphia PA

 Re: thousands and thousands of pages

Hi again everyone,


I think it would be equally amazing to write tens of thousands of pages claiming to explain the words of God, without being inspired of God to do so.


The Lord Jesus said,




[b][color=660000]My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or [i]whether[/i] I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.[/color][/b]


- from John 7:16-18(KJV)


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Christopher Joel Dandrow

 2009/1/18 23:42Profile





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