“Take these hands
Teach them what to carry
Take these hands
Don”t make a fist
Take this mouth
So quick to criticize
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss
Always pain before a child is born
Still I’m waiting for the dawn”
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!”
[Holy, Holy, Holy Reginald Heber, John B. Dykes]
Ok. More confession time. When I was studying in Regent College I had the privilege to do a number of courses under the venerable J. I. Packer. Thing is I received an A- for all my courses with him. I could never break through to get an A. I guess I should be grateful that I never slipped to a B either.
But as most of us discovered, no one in the churches ever bothers to ask what grades you received in bible college. In time you too forget much of the stuff you heard in the classroom lectures. (Hopefully a lot of it gets internalized.)
But there was a phrase that Dr Packer would mention from time to time, a personal theological mantra if you will, that few us will ever forget. Once in awhile Packer would remind us that “the purpose of theology is doxology.”
Any true study of God must lead to an encounter that drives us to our knees in wonder and worship.
Trouble is, the study of theology is not very much in vogue these days. The June 14 2005 issue of the Barna Update had this headline:
“Christians Say They Do Best At Relationships, Worst In Bible Knowledge.”
This may merely be a symptom of the age we live in, a lonely time where people hunger for authentic relationships, but also a postmodern time where religion is privatized and experiential rather than historical and truth based.
Are you disturbed by this lack of knowledge of the basic beliefs of our faith? You should.
Christianity is a faith based on revelation. It is a faith that is built on the reality that God has spoken and that what He has spoken to us is contained in the words of the Bible.
However it is critical to bear in mind what theology is for. What happens when we honestly encounter God in the truth that He has revealed to us?
I believe all healthy study of biblical truth must lead to three results. A study of theology must be relational, transformational, and missional.
All true study of theology must be relational. It must draw us closer to God. Moses had to learn about the true nature of God to be able to approach Him correctly (Exodus 3:1-6). In the end we discover that God is also the Waiting Father (Luke 15:11-32). Doxology indeed!
All true study of theology must be transformational. It must help us become more Christ like. As people of God we are to reflect His character (Matthew 5:43-48). And it is by imbibing His Word that we grow to be like Him (1 Peter 2:1-3; Romans 12:1-2).
All true study of theology must be missional. It must both inspire and equip one to serve others in the name of Christ. Paul was able to comfort the grieving Christians at Thessalonica with proper theology (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The true servant of God waits to hear a word from God so that he has something to offer to he weary (Isaiah 50:4).
Theology must be relational, transformational, and missional. This is my own mantra about the study of theology albeit a longer and less compact one than Packers”, seeing that I don’t have his packing skills.
But if the neglect of the study of theology is horrendously dangerous, the relegation of theology to some scholastic exercise that involves only the mind but does not issue forth in worship, Christ likeness and mission, is also dangerously askew.
Many laymen see the study of theology as an exercise of the mastery of certain facts and the jargon that go with it. No wonder they fear that they will be bored to death by theology.
There is the influence of the flesh in us that keeps us from the things of God. This requires repentance and a cry to God to make us hunger after Him. But there is also the need to rescue the study of theology from its academic prison.
Theologian is not a bad word. Some of us will be called to study the discipline in depth. We will need some mastery of the required languages. We will need to know the history of the development of Christian doctrine. We will need to know the requisite technical terms. We must be aware of the key thinkers in the field. Theologians are specialist thinkers and teachers in service to the church.
But ALL of us need to know God and the things of God. It is sadly ironical that while many shy away from any serious study of the truths of God, many are hungry for a deeper relationship with Him. Many desire to be more like Him. Many are overwhelmed with the needs of the world and hunger for some answers in order to be of help.
We need to let our people know that the proper study of theology, a study with heart as well as mind, will go a long way in addressing their deepest needs. This may explain why Packer”s KNOWING GOD continues to be a best seller year after year.
Theology is not some esoteric discipline for the intellectual few. It is God”s word of life for all.
I like the way the Lion Handbook of Christian Belief puts it:
“No one lives without beliefs. We all believe something, have some view of what life means. And what we believe affects us deeply; in a real sense we are what we believe. So ”doctrine” and belief are not something to be left to the theorists or the experts. Our understanding of Christianity and our response to it, will be the most crucial thing in our whole lives.”
And the true test of the study of theology is not what grades we get. The true test of theology is what kind of people we become. Do we become people who are passionately in love with God? Are we people of holiness and deep compassion? Do we serve a hurting world with His wisdom?
The people in the pews may be smarter than we think. Perhaps they already know the true test of theological study. They don”t care what grades you received in seminary. They want to see what kind of people you are.
It’s just that it would have been nice to have gotten an A from Packer just once.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan