31 May 2021
The sharing from God’s servant J.I.Packer in 2001 on the above subject is rather stimulating and enlightening. I take the liberty to paraphrase excerpts of the sharing; some are my own comments but mostly they are from the thoughts of this wonderful servant of God. Also some sentences are almost word for word by him, as I find it difficult to paraphrase them as the words used by him are very apt and precise.
Theology comes from two words, theos (God) and logos (discourse, speech, line of argument), and means simply God-talk or, more fully, thoughts about God expressed in statements about God. Theology becomes good only when we let God’s revealed truth – that is, Bible teaching – penetrate our minds. So theology is an exercise of listening before it is one of talking. There is a sense in which every Christian is a theologian. Simply by speaking of God, whatever you say, you become a theologian. But strictly speaking, the term ‘theologian’ often refers to those who are trained in theology and function as ‘teachers’ or communicators of theological studies and God’s truth.
Think of the theologians as the church’s sewage specialists. Their role is to detect and eliminate intellectual pollution and to ensure, so far as man can, that God’s life-giving truath flows pure and unpoisoned into Christian hearts. Certainly, the faithful theologian should be competent in this role like a ‘watchman’ as described by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:17-19) whose role is to warn the people to turn away from that which pollute and destroy. Theologians are to test and filter out anything that confuses minds, corrupts judgements, and distorts the way that Christians view their own lives. If they see Christians astray, they must haul them back on track; if they see them dithering, they must give them certainty; if they find them confused, they must straighten them out. Theology’s proper goal is to equip the disciples of Jesus Christ for obedience. The maps theologians draw are meant, not simply to be possessed as so much intellectual wealth, but rather to be used for the believer’s route-finding in his personal pilgrimage of following his Lord.
Good theology constantly calls for deliberate, responsible decisions about how we are going to live, and it never forgets that Christian decisions are commitments to action on principle (not out of mindless conformity), undertaken in freedom (not from external pressure or bullying), and motivated primarily by love of God and of justice (not by fear). Good theology thus moulds Christian character, neither demeaning nor diminishing us but rather enhancing our God-given dignity.
Neglect theology, and sooner or later, however well-intentioned you are, you will make big practical blunders that you may never recognise as blunders. The outcome will be sad, perhaps the saddest imaginable. When we refer to Christian service, sometimes it is amazing to see various ones very involved in Christian activity, and yet not interested in Bible study or in learning to understand their faith (theology) more wholesomely. They forget that true Christian service must spring forth from lives that are immersed in the teachings and Word of God – otherwise, it would amount to just activities which are no different from those carried out by unbelievers (some of whom may even carry them out more efficiently).
Attend to theology, however, and you will find yourself lured toward the Pharisaic downfall of the arrogant know-all who tells others what to do while forgetting that he needs to do the same himself. Those who work hard theologizing, whether as professionals or from general interest, have to battle these twin temptations. The first is to see themselves as superior Christians because they know more than others, and the second is to exempt themselves from obligations that bind others, as if their expertise puts them in a class by themselves to which ordinary rules do not apply (recall the many encounters our Lord Jesus had with Pharisees and Scribes who fall into this category).
Every member of our fallen race is tempted to indulge pride in some form, for pride is of the essence of our heritage of original sin; and this is the recurring form in which would-be theologians, clergy and layfolk, academics and pastors alike, have to encounter that temptation. God’s ideal for us, however, is that we should always think and speak and live in the manner that godly theologians should; humble honesty in seeking to conform to that ideal is the only godly way for any of us to go.
There is no denying that many theological treatments of problem areas fail to measure up to these criteria.. Authoritarianism within the church, secularism from outside, and a restless Athenian cast of mind in universities and seminaries have constantly combined to contaminate theology, both past and present.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” ( Rom.12: 2). Theology, as a Christian discipline, has a lot to do with the renewal of our mind, provided those who theologise do it prayerfully, and by depending on the Holy Spirit who is the author of Scripture and also the One who teaches and gives illumination to God’s Word. We cannot afford to ignore the Bible and theology if we wish to grow wholesomely as Christians. At the same time, we need to approach the Bible and theology respectfully and in humility lest we end up as religious bigots who imagine that they have arrived.