Why Theology Matters

When we speak of theology, some Christians instinctively recoil.  It doesn’t have any practical significance in day to day life. It is inherently divisive.

Those statements are false. Theology is imminently practical, in fact it effects every aspect of your life.  Christian unity isn’t an undefined embrace of all voices and all teachings. True Christian unity is unity in the truth (John 17:17). Theology matters. Below are five reasons why theology matters.

Theology is Universal
You are a theologian. You may not have known that, but it’s true. Theology is the study of God. Everyone is a theologian because everyone has thoughts about God. The question is not whether or not you are a theologian. The question is, are you a good theologian? A.W. Tozer majestically articulates this in his masterpiece, The Knowledge of the Holy [1]:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.

Theology Determines Behavior
In 1 Timothy 1:18-19, Paul links theology and behavior

This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience.
If we, as Christians, are going to wage the good warfare—if we’re going to succeed in our spiritual lives then we must have right belief and right behavior. In other words, we must have right theology because our theology will determine our behavior. In Romans 1:21-27 we see the destruction that ensues when people think wrongly about God:

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
What we believe about God will determine everything about us. It will determine how we live. If we lessen or dismiss God’s taking of sin seriously, we will not value holiness in our lives, nor will we strive to live godly. If we don’t take God’s teaching about his church seriously, then our ministry philosophy will devolve to human pragmatism. If we don’t understand that it takes the Holy Spirit’s regeneration of heart in conversion, we may be tempted to manipulate emotions. In every aspect of life, our theology will determine our behavior.

Theology Equips for Witness
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives what has been rightly called the Great Commission:

 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
As Christians, our purpose is to make disciples of others. When we preach the Gospel we are preaching theology. God has given us the law to convict us of sin (Rom. 3:9; Gal. 3:24). Every person is born with a sin nature and will sin (Rom. 3:23; 5:12). Jesus lived a perfect life, earning righteousness for his people (Matt. 5:17-20). Jesus died in the place of sinners (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). Through the death of Christ, the sin of the elect is placed upon him and his righteousness covers his people (2 Cor. 5:21). These benefits are applied to individuals as they repent from their sin and believe (Mark 1:14-15; Rom. 10:9).
All of these statements are theological statements because they are making statements about God, the nature of humanity, Christ’s work, and our salvation. Christian witness is a theological endeavor.

Theology Protects from Error
In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul says something truly remarkable. He writes,  “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” What Paul is telling Timothy in this verse is that if he wants to succeed in ministry, then he must keep a close watch on himself and the teaching. Paul tells Timothy that his well being and his congregation’s well being are determined by Timothy’s personal holiness and his theology.

False doctrine has always plagued the church. It is a constant threat (2 Tim. 4:3). Often in Paul’s letters, he is responding to false doctrine.

Christians are told to identify and separate from false doctrine and false teachers:

  • Romans 16:17-19 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. 19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:6  Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us
  •  2 John 1:10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting
Additionally, Christians are called to fight against false teaching and false teachers.

  • 2 Timothy 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
  • Titus 1:9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
  • Titus 1:13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,
  • Jude 3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Sometimes Christians are even called to rebuke other Christians for behaving in a way that confirms false teaching. In Galatians, Paul recounts his rebuking of Peter. Peter was not teaching false doctrine, but he was behaving in a way that affirmed false doctrine.

  • Galatians 2:11-16 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Identifying, separating from, and confronting false teaching and false teachers requires our knowing right teaching. If we are going to be obedient to God, then we must take theology seriously.

Theology Leads to Worship
When we speak of worship, many Christians have in mind the part of the Sunday morning service where we sing songs to God. Sunday morning singing is part of worship, but it is not all of worship. For the Christian, all of life is worship. Paul makes this clear in Romans 12:1-2

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Worship is a lifestyle. Not conforming to the world is worship. Renewing our mind through through the Bible is worship. Discerning what God deems good, acceptable, and perfect is worship.

Theology helps us in all of these areas. Theology helps us worship God. Good theology always leads to worship because it teaches us about God and his ways. Consider Paul’s doxological outbreak in Romans 11:33-36:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Paul has just finished teaching deep theology. Romans 9-11 is all about God’s incredible program of salvation. At the conclusion of this weighty teaching, Paul’s heart has been so uplifted he cannot help but worship!

If you desire for your affections to burn for God, then you must fill your mind with him. Theology is an excellent tool to help us understand who God is and what he does. Proper theology will always lead to praise.

Theology matters. Theology matters because it is universal, everyone is a theologian. Theology matters because what we believe about God will determine our behavior. Theology matters because it enables us to be effectively share the Gospel. Theology matters because it protects from error and equips us to confront false teaching. Theology matters because it leads to worship.

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperOne, 1961), 1.