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. For Christians to grasp why theology is necessary and relevant, we must learn what we mean by theology. In short, theology is knowledge of God. A study of theology seeks to understand who God is and how God relates to our world. In the famous words of Anselm of Canterbury, theology is “faith seeking understanding.”
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. – Matt. 22:37
As a Biblical Counselor, God has provided me the opportunity to meet women in the midst of adversity, helping them find their answers. By walking alongside others, counseling and mentoring provides foundational tools for coping and growing. The Scriptures can be applied to everything we face in life (2 Tim. 3:10-17). Biblical counseling is theology applied. But many times, in those meaningful conversations, I quickly discover that even women who consider themselves believers do not fully know what it is they believe. Nothing can steal your joy as quickly as uncertainty.
With such complicated lives in our ever-changing world, why do women need to study these ancient truths?
Natalie Brand, who lectures and researches at Union Theology put it this way: “Women need theology. We need it more than the clothes on our backs and the food in our fridges. Theology, or doctrine, is raw truth about God…We need to be equipped with healthy biblical God-truth to sustain our marriages, our singleness, our parenthood, our work, and our church life. If we are meaningfully to deter our own doubts, answer the questions of our inquisitive children, or encourage our troubled spouse, then our theology cannot be vague and superficial.” Theology interprets all of life. Today’s Christian women cannot survive let alone thrive, unless they seek a solid theological worldview. John Piper writes,
Wimpy theology simply does not give a woman a God that is big enough, strong enough, wise enough, and good enough to handle the realities of life in a way that magnifies the infinite worth of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, Christian theology is not reserved for formal education but is actually something every single human being should desire to study. Theology is not a subject to place under a microscope or one we simply get to know. We want to be careful and cautious as we study God. We are studying the very One who spoke all things into existence. 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 study of theology helps us to be more deliberate and careful in our thought and speech about God. It helps us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. God has revealed himself to all of us and we should approach theology with prayer, humility, excitement, and expectation.
Theology, when pursued, becomes an aspect of Christian discipleship.
The pursuit of this knowledge is an act of obedience to which every Christian is called. Though the word theology might 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.” We study the truth about God to know Him better and to mature us. Theology renews our minds as it strengthens our faith.
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
In addition, 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.” (2 Corinthians 11:4) As believers we are called to be discerning. Discernment requires a certain depth of knowledge and as Christians we are responsible for knowing, living, and speaking truth. 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. To grow in our knowledge of God is to be growing in our theology. When there is growth in our theology, we are better able to discern.
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
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.
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
Let’s look deeper at the scriptures for a moment: John knew the weightiness of words. When going to 1 John, it is imperative that we remember 1 John 1:1-4 and 1 John 5:13 as the governing purpose statement for John’s writing. He is writing here to those who’ve confessed Jesus as the very son of God to give them confidence in who they are so they would know who they are in union with Him. That union guarantees eternal life.
The history of this passage is such that false teachings had entered the church and John felt the need to clarify the teaching, the gospel itself. The church had begun to question if they had gotten it right. There was uncertainty then as there is uncertainty today.
Today, distortions of the truth seem to be staring us in the face with every turn of the head! And the fact remains (just as in the time of John’s writing) these distortions of truth can creep into the church, both corporately and individually. It is vital we remember that over time, the church can begin to embrace the redefinitions society is making.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete…I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 5:1-4, 13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
John writes to a particular congregation but speaks in turn to us, so that we may know who we are in Christ and our joy may be made complete. John is passing on truths to future generations of Christians. He wants us to be confident in our union with Christ. More than ever before, we need to reaffirm what we know regarding basic Bible doctrine.
When we do not study theology, we risk living out bad theology.
Every time we think or speak about God, His will, or His works, we are doing theology. All of Scripture is for us and it is God’s word that does the work of maintaining a foundation of truth worthy of passing on. The study of theology helps us understand Scripture and to think and speak truly about what God has revealed in His Word. If we are to leave a legacy of Christian faith, it is crucial we gain, retain, and share theological truths for the benefit of those individuals we know and love.
As women, we have God-given potential to make a profound impact on church and family. How can we pass on to future generations what we do not know and understand? Every day, all over the world, Christians are challenged by others to defend their faith. How can we disciple the nations if we do not have a foundation of truth ourselves? But, ultimately, it is for this reason I study theology and believe you should too: Theology elevates our worship as it directs our prayers and humbles our souls. I study theology for the glory of God.