Why Theology Matters

It’s very possible.
Image from nakedpastor.com

After an hour and a half of discussing a lot of intense theological questions (framed around Hell after watching Hellbound?), somebody in my HomeChurch this week wisely asked the question “what is the point of theology?” The normal answer in evangelicalism is that we are saved through getting our heads around the right doctrines, so we better get the doctrines right. That’s the key to the legal framework. But if we are doing away with the legal framework, as we were discussing in a variety of ways, and encouraging a more holistic character development and not just intellectual assent to whatever is deemed to be the essentials, what’s the point of theology?

As a self-described theologian who does want us to make these shifts in our thinking, I understand the question. It is very fair to say that often we Christians focus excessively on getting our theology right and never actually do follow Jesus. That is what Jesus’ fundamental command was, after all: “Follow me.” We’re called to be disciples, not to get our thoughts about God right.

So where does theology fit in, then? I would say this: just because it isn’t the end goal doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable as a step within the process. The reality is that we all have a theological understanding. Yes, I’m including those who don’t believe in God at all. That’s still a worldview framework, although if you want to be more technical you can call it an atheology instead. It may have been consciously formulated or, for most, it may be embedded theology that you don’t even realize. It simply means our approach toward the idea of God (or whatever you want to call similar worldview-shaping concepts) and that isn’t restricted to academic postulating. When we encourage theological thinking, then, it is primarily to help people work out what they think.

Why not just ignore it in order to completely focus on day-to-day decisions of following Jesus? Precisely because how we understand and approach those day-to-day decisions will be radically shaped by our theologies. If we believe that God is violent and we are to follow this God, we’ll be violent. If we believe that God plays favourites, we will too. If we believe that God cares about punishment more than redemption, we will too. And those are just a few of the questions we wrestled with this week.

Let’s try looking at this another way. If we look at being a Christian in relational terms, wouldn’t you want to learn more about the person you’re in relationship with? If I didn’t want to know anything about my wife, citing that I just need to be around her so none of the details matter, that would be a recipe for disaster. What does she do for a living? Who cares! What’s her favourite food? Doesn’t matter! All that matters is living life together…. but how do you live life together without actually knowing anything about the other’s life and what that person would like to do with you?

Theology matters. It is not the point and we need to be cautious that we do not allow it to become the point. But it does help us get to the real point. So wrestle with tough theological questions; just don’t stop there. Go and do likewise.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • Andrew Mugford

    When I still had my church I had a guy who didn’t like theology and saw it as a tool of the Devil to separate us. As you mentioned, we all do theology on one level or another. How are you saved? What is baptism? If you have an answer to that question, you’ve done theology because it says something about how God is interacting with us.

    I divide theology into two basic camps. Practical and Theoretical. Anabaptists tend to focus mostly on the practical, what can have impact on my life as a disciple. Theoretical can be fun, but can be a distraction. For instance, I took a course on the Theology of Creation – some way out there concepts that might eventually land as practical, but for the most part were fodder for nerds.

    • I go back a lot to Greg Boyd’s Concentric Circles of Theology. I think what he deems “Opinions” could be mapped to your “Theoretical.” They’re interesting to discuss – although I do so less than I used to – but they have very little if any practical implications and neither Scripture nor church tradition is particularly clear on them, which indicates to me that they are not that important. Using the creation example again, a few weeks ago somebody asked Bruxy in a Q&A about evolution and the creation story; his response was “don’t know; don’t care; wouldn’t change my life one way or another.” That frustrated a few of the theologically-minded in our HomeChurch, including the Associate Pastor, but ultimately I have to agree with him that it is important to keep peripheral things peripheral.