Why Is Theology Important?

I would consider myself a theologian of sorts. That is not saying too much because the fact is, every Christian is a theologian of sorts. Whether consciously or unconsciously, every follower of Jesus Christ is either a good or bad theologian, as all disciples of Christ have some sort of belief system and do some reflection on those beliefs and their importance for the Christian life. That is what theology is. Theology is the discipline that involves reflection on faith and the articulation of those beliefs. Why is this discipline important? I could list many reasons, but here are my top ten reasons:

1. Theology provides us with the answers to life's questions regarding meaning in life: "Who am I?", "What am I doing here?", and "Where am I going?"

2. Theology tells us not just what the Bible says, but also what it means.

"What it means to sinner and saint in their journey from the city of anywhere to the city of somewhere - plagued by a thousand plights."

"The church" if it is to be true, must preach the Word. If it is to be relevant, it must speak to the times. Christian theology is thus the blending of the changeless with the changing." (Bruce Shelley, By What Authority?, p. 140).

3. Theology helps us recognize God not simply in life's boundary situations, but in the center of every situation.

4. Theology is vital to Spirituality

"Devotion to Jesus cannot long maintain itself apart from theological fidelity and integrity". (Donald Bloesch, The Crises Of Piety, p. 3)

"Theology reforms our life and our doctrine which we need, because a holy life divorced from sound doctrine becomes moralism". (Donald Bloesch, A Crises of Piety p. 4)

5. Theology makes us more or less articulate our experience of God's multifaceted grace. God does not wait until we have knowledge before giving us grace. We learn to articulate His grace in theology.

6. Theology puts wonder in worship (Hebrews 12:28-29)

7. Theology plays a strategic prophetic role in the Church. Paul the preacher/theologian constantly reflected this role.

"There are blindnesses in every age of which no one is conscious because they are so widespread that they are recognized as normal. There is unbelief that so completely captures the mind of an age that it goes on unchallenged even within the Church. There are sins that establish themselves so securely in a civilization that no one any longer considers them to be sins and they may become knit into the very texture of the church. All three of these statements could be illustrated profusely from history; in fact, the witness of history is that usually the most dangerous blindnesses, unbelief and sin in the church remain unrecognized until they bring disaster upon it.

"There is need, therefore for yet another service of God in the Church, a discipline in which the Church will mount the watchtower and scan the life and faith in all directions, in order to detect the presence of blindness, unbelief, unfaithfulness, and sin, and give warning before it is too late. (James Smart, The Teaching Ministry Of the church, pp.32, 33).

8. Theology makes all practical things really practical because its primary concern is not with theory or speculation.

"The two terms, "spiritual" and "theology," keep good company with one another. "Theology" is the attention that we give to God, the effort we give to knowing God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures and in Jesus Christ. "Spiritual" is the insistence that everything that God reveals of Himself and His works is capable of being lived by ordinary men and women in their homes and workplaces. "Spiritual" keeps "theology" from degenerating into merely thinking and talking and writing about God at a distance. "Theology" keeps "spiritual" from becoming merely thinking and talking and writing about the feelings and thoughts one has about God. The two words need each other, for we know how easy it is for us to let our study of God (theology) get separated from the way we live; we also know how easy it is to let our desires to live whole and satisfying lives (spiritual lives) get disconnected from who God actually is and the ways He works among us." (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p.4)

9. Theology makes preaching as difficult as it ought to be.

"All preachers should be theologians, and all theologians preachers." (Emil Brunner)

"The false preacher is one who has to say something; the true preacher has something to say". (Charles Spurgeon)

10. Theology makes praying as easy as it ought to be.

Berten Waggoner
National Director

Comments

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  Bert, you're well read and you use sources from a variety of traditions within the church.  I appreciate the willingness of Vineyard leaders like yourself and Rich Nathan to draw upon the wisdom of other faith traditions.  The whole professing church is our common heritage.  This openess has served the Vineyard well in the past and it will continue to do so in the future.  Tyrone Flanagan

Bret,
While the study of all of God’s handiworks are worthy of our attention, none may be so esteemed and most worthy of our attention as God himself. Among the learning disciplines, nothing is as supreme as the “study of God” (Theology) in whose image and likeness we were made; who has adopted us as His children, and who has reached down to redeem us from our death through the cost of his own blood. He fused himself through Jesus to the human race for eternity, yet we were created a little lower than the angels. We are so intertwined and dependant on God that our identity, destiny and being are defined by Him, to deem knowing him unimportant would equate to more than fatal ignorance.

Blessings,

Kornel S. Gyalokay

I have been plugged into the Vineyard since 1984- Anaheim, CA. The apostle Paul said, "Study the Logos of God to show yourself approved of God." I'm sure Paul was not refering to "devotional" readings. As disciples of Christ, we not only need to know what the Scriptures say but also what they mean. "Gain knowledge, and with knowledge gain understanding, and with understanding gain wisdom." I understand this genre of wisdom to be the pratical application where the-rubber-meets-the-road in our daily lives of this knowledge. Jesus lived out this knowledge in his daily life. Christian theology is a way of life. A lifestyle. Jesus said, "follow me". He "modeled" sonship and daughtership for us to the end that we would be motivated by Love (agape) and our experience of that Love to be set free from in order to be set free to serving others in liberating them from oppression, bondage, and captivity by proclaiming the Good News- God's Kingdom has come and is coming.

I'm thrilled that the Vineyard has formed a scholastic community of theologians. To use a term coined by Rich Nathan, "Empowered Evangelicals" is in my opinion the best of both worlds- The Rhema and the Logos.

Sincerely,

Rod Woods

Two points might be worth pondering, regarding Mr. Stout's reply.

I understand the desire to distance ourselves from a needless us-them perspective. The point is well-taken. Yet ...

1.) It might be helpful to distinguish "theological reflection" from "dogma." To be sure, dogma has proved a useful tool for institutional control and the politics of power. I'm less sure that theological reflection is as easily harnessed to ambition.

2.) "In fairness, the scientific community is sometimes guilty of the same hubris, albeit not as often or as blatantly as is the religious community."

As one who has been both pastor and scientist, the difference I see between academic and ecclesiastical hubris is mainly the size of the budget it seeks to control! In a research project I was recently involved with, the lead author swore me to silence; I wrote the computer models for a large simulation, which nicely confirmed the lead author's theory. However, certain findings could be interpreted as unfriendly to established dogma. He didn't want the paper black-balled before it passed through peer-review. "Not as blatantly"? True; it's mostly done discretely through denying academic appointments, quitely killing papers before they are published, pulling research grants, and negative tenure decisions. No messy public debates for us!

Let me add, Mr. Waggoner, that I think your most powerful reason is unnumbered. "every follower of Jesus Christ is a good or bad theologian." Well said! Theology is important because it is unavoidable and its influence is pervasive.

Bert,

Hello from Venezuela. Thanks for sharing your thoughts...

I was reminded of a phrase by the late Henri Nouwen who used to say that theological reflection should be a way to learn to think like Jesus. That makes all theologians in practice not just in academia. That is sort of what we learn by doing theology as we minister among the poor and excluded.

Blessings

FER

Thank you Berten Waggoner for being a leader who is not afraid to say that theology is important. You not only say that it is, but you show why it is.

Every monumental movement of God throughout history has a theology behind it.

This may come a little late since it seems that the post is from about a month ago. Although this may not fully answer your question my understanding of our theology or more to the point our "eschatolgy" is that it is a "missiology" and that should be the foundation of our understanding of the end times. As we have seen throughout the centuries many groups have looked for particular understandings of the what to be looking for in terms of the end times although many concepts of millenialism are relatively new historically. Within Vineyard I have always been taught that although there are many, many different views of how and what to be looking for there is only one set precedent that Jesus was clear about in terms of the end times. That is...the gospel of the kingdom will be preached to every tongue, tribe, and nation then the end will come. (Matt. 24:14) That is the one definitive thing that Jesus says will be assigned for the end times. That should be the focus of the church to preach the gospel to every tongue, tribe, and nation. Many Christian books get caught up in all the external times things such as earthquakes and floods that Jesus is particular reference says that when you see these things you'll know that the time is not yet. Things like that are just the beginning of the signs, Jesus likens them to the birth pains which are only a sign of the beginning of the end. Although we may be looking towards things such as peace in the Middle East which has happened many times throughout history where there have been hundreds of year periods were Jews and Muslims have lived in peace together, it is important to remember that the only sign that we believers can work towards is to make sure that the gospel is preached. Time and again we've seen leader after leader, writing books on their view of what the end times look like. Masses of people get caught up in the hoopla and forget about what we should be striving for, preaching the gospel of the kingdom and reaching every people group with it. I'll be honest, my view only comes from ten years at columbus vineyard and a basic VLI understanding of our doctrine and beliefs so it is not necessarily a seminary view but I think that it is the foundational understanding for those of us who hold to kingdom theology. Whether we are pre-millennial or post-millennial or a millennial or whatever millennial... we need to make sure that it doesn't take her eyes off the goal which is to preach the gospel of the kingdom. Make sure your kids know that God has a plan for them to preach the gospel of the kingdom and the love of Jesus to every person that they can. Hope this helps.

Nice, Bert. I'm working on a section to teach at VDS India about why theology is important as a part of the "Kingdom of God: Theology by Story" class. I've focused primarily on the role of theology in worship, in developing spirituality and ministry practice. Now I can have them read your thoughts as well. Love to see you writing more!

Hello Bert.

Happy New Year. Hello from Columbus, Ohio!

Thanks for this blog. We haven't yet seen this new website. It looks great.

Under point No. 7: "There are sins that establish themselves so securely in a civilization that no one any longer considers them to be sins and they may become knit into the very texture of the church."

Many of us evangelicals are readers of the fiction works of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The concept of "The Rapture" is understood to be a part of the evangelical and pop-culture vernaculars.

Of course this is a loaded question, but I wonder if (in this blog) we're prepared to discuss the effects of rapture theology--how it relates to peace and justice in the middle east? At Rich Nathan's suggestion, my family and I have been chugging our way through Stibb's "Search the Scriptures." I'd really like to be able to understand and articulate our (the Vineyard's) position on premillenial dispensationalism so that I can help my kids understand, as well.

I've been wrestling with this question and find this article helpful. Curiously, however, I have always held to the vital importance of theology until I began to seriously incorporate a powerful sense of God's presence I had as a teenager into my current life. It is thus the reality of God's presence that has made me question the place and importance of theology and not its absence. Consequently, I find reason four a little dodgy.

If I might offer one additional thought, I think theology's problem is that it often assumes a.) a defensive attitude, and b.) insists on an unattainable level of certainty. In other words it tends to say, "Believe such and such or else bad things will happen to you on judgment day if not before," and, "I KNOW such and such and if you disagree with me then you're a heretic."

The danger with such an approach is that it all too easily allows one to see the rest of the world as blind while insisting upon 20/20 vision for oneself. As a pretty fair amateur historian I can attest to the long history of this unsavory dynamic in Christianity (and in other religions as well). Much of the conflict between religion and science stems from just such an approach. "The Bible says," is all too often used as a means to stifle inquiry or even deny the obvious. (In fairness, the scientific community is sometimes guilty of the same hubris, albeit not as often or as blatantly as is the religious community.)

Perhaps a more positive, more humble approach might allow theology to do the things mentioned in this article more effectively and less divisively than is often the case. Instead of seeing proper theological reflection as a means to escape damnation (ironically enough, a salvation by works scheme if ever there was one) why not see it as a means to deepen and enrich one's own life and the lives of others? Instead of claiming absolute knowledge, why not acknowledge that "we know in part and prophesy in part"?

In short, I think it would be most helpful if our theological method was as infused with grace as our theological content is said to be.

Thank you for your well written and (for me, at least) quite timely article. May you have a most blessed new year.

Excellent piece - I look for to future post. =)

BTW - thank you for calling us back to a Kingdom of God focus.

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