The enemy of truth is Satan himself. His voice is subtle and his ways are cunning. Only the voice of God is absolute truth and knowing the Bible guards against false teaching. 2 Corinthians 11:4 makes clear that as believers, we are called to not simply believe every word as truth: “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.” As believers we are called to be discerning. It is vital that we protect ourselves as the Bride of Christ to not fall prey to heretical whims. Sound theology safeguards the mind and the heart.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. – 2 Peter 2:1-3
Discernment requires a certain depth of knowledge and as Christians we are responsible for knowing, living, and speaking truth. Baptist preacher and theologian Charles Spurgeon once said “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” Mistakenly, some Christians believe that discernment is merely the job of a pastor or teacher but the apostle Paul taught that discernment is to be the duty of every believer (1 Thess. 5:21). The discernment the apostle is calling for here is doctrinal discernment. Discerning truth from almost truth (what might even sound or feel right) requires that we do some work – We are to mature in Christ. By growing in increasing conformity to the image of Jesus, Christ’s church remains the primary agent of sound doctrine.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. – Ephesians 5:15-17
In its most basic sense, Christian doctrine is belief based on Scripture. Doctrine is believed, practiced, confessed, and taught. Understanding and applying doctrine rightly requires comprehension of classical Christian theology that has served as wisdom of the ages for the church today. In order for Christians to begin to understand why theology is necessary and relevant, we must understand what we mean by theology. In short, theology is knowledge of God.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. – Matt. 22:37
To grow in our knowledge of God is to be growing in our theology. In the famous words of Anselm of Canterbury, theology is “faith seeking understanding.” In our study of theology, we seek to understand who God is and how God relates to our world. Author A. W. Tozer once said, What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. Christians are those who know God and are growing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:10). The pursuit of this knowledge is an act of obedience to which every Christian is called. Theology, when pursued, becomes an aspect of Christian discipleship. Though the word theology may sound like a dreaded science, the reality need not be. In his book Think, John Piper writes: Thinking is not just entertainment on the stage of life where nothing is real. It is really useful in knowing the God who is really there. It is useful in knowing what God has revealed about himself and about this world and how we live in it.
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, – Ephes. 4:13-15
Beyond personal growth, studying theology is an opportunity to learn about the church. The church has developed a theological consensus on many beliefs that are found in early church creeds and confessions rooted in Scripture. From the time of the first church, the tradition has been to teach what we believe to new members so it might be lived out and in turn, passed on to future generations. 1 Timothy 6:3 reminds the church, If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness. Because the Bible is the written Word of God (the ultimate truth and authority for what we believe and how that is lived out) it is foundational for all good theology. Those people outside the faith are characterized by bad theology and therefore it is important we establish “guardrails” of what is Christian and what is something else altogether. Those guardrails are put into place as we study theology systematically under proper instruction.
But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 1:12-13
It’s that time of year when I’m gearing up to teach theology to the women of my church. Pray for me. That I might be ever mindful to teach prayerfully with humility, excitement, and expectation, as I encourage Christian women to engage in the study of core doctrines. Good theology is for our personal good, the good of the church, and for the glory of God.