"How many angels could dance on the point of a pin?"
... is after all, a very helpful question?
Perhaps you are not familiar with this question.
Maybe you are someone who asks it quite often.
Let me explain.
One would usually not come across such a question unless you were in a conversation with someone who is attempting to simply mock the idea and/or minor points of theological reflection.
It is a question someone would ask if they were making fun of or pouring contempt on theology and the speculations of theologians.
It is a similar question to, "Could God create a rock so big that he could not lift it?"
(Answer: Yes, and he would drop it on you for asking such a dumb question.)
This is what many people think of when they think of theology. Old guys locked away asking questions, absorbed in meaningless debates over the most trivial, pointless questions, such as, "how many angels could fit onto the point of a pin?"
It leaves us sometimes wondering...
Does theology really matter?
I mean, isn't believing in God enough? Isn't belief in Jesus enough?
Do we really need to know and study the Bible?
Isn't faith enough?
Doesn't the Bible even say that faith is enough?
These kind of questions run rampant in churches these days.
And I believe it is mostly due to our lack of study, or care for the intricacies of theological thought.
We don't want to turn into those people, who waste away studying things that don't matter while the world around them struggles through problems that theology is meant to provide solutions for... So we just run from it.
Humans tend to do this kind of thing with everything.
Sometimes it can be healthy to do... Most of the time though, it isn't.
Reactions to theology are mixed, but more often than not, theology is viewed with suspicion.
We think about what we know of theology and theologians and we ask... are doctrinal debates, orthodoxy, and big words like that responsible for divisions among Christians?
Don't theological arguments result in more heat than light?
Aren't they more hurtful than helpful?
What is the place of theology in a world so curious, yet so skeptical...
...of the very word...
Let alone the actual definition of said word.
Given all the negative aspects associated with theology... the tendency is to live as far away from theology as possible. I mean, because, does it really matter?
Christians are constantly faced with practical questions.
Our favorite sermons tend to be ones that tell us what to do, and how to do it, rather than simply information.
What to do has become the driving force of many church's ministries, and as a result we spend our time trying to figure out how to do it.
Application is King when it comes to sermons.
Practicality is King when it comes to discipleship.
Gone are the days of silent meditation, going to a monastery, selling all of our possessions and giving to the poor, taking vows of celibacy to serve the church, gouging out eyes (literally), or practicing Christian asceticism (not that I condone those things, or suggest we SHOULD do them, but I'm sure the majority of you have never once considered doing any of those things, because they aren't "practical" in this day and age).
Many seminars and conferences today are focused on the “how”. The most common question among many Christians nowadays is, "How do I do that?"
We want to know what following Christ actually looks like. Strategy and practicality is the name of the game and the rules for playing is resourcefulness, creativity and innovation.
So, why should we embrace theology as an essential piece of equipment in the strategy game?
Pastor Jamin Goggin offers four reasons that I think we should definitely consider:
(1) Theology offers a matrix of resources
If we receive theology as a piece of equipment in our strategic decision making what we discover is that it brings a whole host of resources along with it. If we begin our strategy with theological inquiry we are forced to begin with Scripture and with prayer, because we recognize we are not the authority. Theology brings with it the Creeds and Confessions of the Church as tools and guides for making wise decisions. Theology opens us up to the history of the Church as a vast treasure trove of case studies in what to do and how to do it.
(2) Theology points us beyond ourselves
Theology reminds us that we are not inviting God into what we are doing, but rather He is inviting us to participate in what He is doing. Theology places what we do firmly under the authority of God. Rather than looking within ourselves for the answers, we look beyond ourselves to God for the answers.
Theological reflection forces us to pause long enough to remember that even in the little decisions we are standing on “holy ground”. Theology reminds us that God is Omnipresent. That God is HERE. With us. Always. We are always in His Holy Presence.
Theology reminds us that God is all-powerful (Omnipotent) he is able to do immeasurable more than we could ever ask for or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20).
Theology reminds us that we are not God, but we were made in His image. Which teaches us to value human life and human dignity, no matter what our politics say, our economic philosophy, our class, our positions or titles, or feelings are toward certain people.
Talk about practicality. Let those truths sit in your mind for more than a minute and digest what that really means for your everyday life.
As a result of looking beyond ourselves, we quickly realize that everything we do becomes an opportunity to point to God and bear witness to His work of redemption. In this sense, we are postured as witnesses of the work of the Spirit rather than determiners of the work of the Spirit. However, we cannot point beyond ourselves to God in what we do, if we are not reaching beyond ourselves to God in deciding how to do it.
(3) Theology is reforming
Theology serves God’s reforming work. First, God reforms us as people. Every time we make theological decisions we make strategic decisions, we make practical decisions.
Whether we are aware of them or not, we all hold theological presuppositions that drive our decisions. Sorry, but it's true.
No practical decision is made apart from beliefs about God, humanity, sin, etc.
Theological reflection unearths and reforms our misguided theological presuppositions... because they are many.
Remember the reason for the very first sin?
The serpent offered Eve a different theological presupposition.
The serpent made statements about God:
The serpent questioned what God said. (Gen. 3:1)
The serpent claimed God was a liar. (Gen. 3:4)
The serpent claimed God was withholding goodness from them. He attacked the character of God. (Gen. 3:5)
Eve was convinced, because she didn't take time to ponder what all of these things would mean for her life, her future decisions, the rest of what God said, who God truly was, who this serpent really was, etc.
It also provides us with prayerful opportunities to be personally transformed in the image of Jesus Christ as we come to know God in truth.
Second, theology provides us with discernment in shaping the doctrine of our church, family, small group, etc. Our continued theological reflection provides us with discernment and wisdom in participating in God’s work of redemption in those areas. Without theological reflection we not only fail to discern God’s reforming call for our lives, but we also continue to shape our families, friends, small groups, and congregations with our unconscious misguided theological presuppositions.
These usually manifest themselves in short pithy statements that mimic bumper sticker sayings. And most of the time they are unhelpful, stupid, and untrue. (eg. "God never gives you more than you can handle", "God. Guns. Glory.", "If You Pray Hard Enough, God Will Answer", "Sacred Is the Opposite of Secular", and "It’s All Part of God’s Plan.
(4) Theology helps us make the “right decisions”
Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.
There's those big words again...
Put differently, right theology leads to right practice.
Thus, if we desire our practice (our practical decisions) to be true participation in God’s work of redemption in the world we must begin with theological consideration not merely human ability. If we pastors wish to be faithful to the the gospel, faithful evangelists, and faithful followers, we must first be faithful theologians of the gospel.
Theology guards us from making poor decisions with our lives, with how we handle our finances, how we spend our time, what we fill our mind with, and who we spend time with.
As John Chrysostom reminds us, “The way of orthodoxy is narrow and hemmed in by threatening crags on either side, and there is no little fear lest when intending to strike at one enemy we should be wounded by the other.”
Surely, the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel of Christ is not to be taken lightly... and correct theology, hermeneutics, and faith would remind us, that this isn't just the job of pastors.
It's every Christian's responsibility.
Theology is knowing God more intimately, following him more determined, and being transformed more deeply.
Christ's Kingdom is bigger than our causes.