Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Theological Objections

I'm taking a systematic theology course, and on the first day of class, we were asked to raise our hands if our study of theology had elicited objections from friends or family. I, and about half of the class raised our hands. For the first part of the lecture, we discussed some of the objections we have heard. I want to share two of them, because I think they are probably the most common objections. And they are objections I've heard from women, especially.

Objection 1: The Bible is Enough -- I don't need theology.

This objection may arise because of a misunderstanding of what theology is. Basically, theology is the study (the ending -ology means a study of) of God (theos is Greek for God). To say that the Bible and theology are not related doesn't make sense, because where do we find out who God is? From the Bible. Yes, we see God in creation, but we also learn about God's character and actions through the Bible. So, to study theology is to study the Bible. The Bible teaches Christian theology. There is no need to put a wedge between the Bible and theology.

Objection 2: Theology is impractical -- give me something practical.

When people say theology isn't practical, perhaps they are not seeing the practical implications immediately. Sometimes, when we confront a theological principle, it takes time to see its practical implications. Think about these theological concepts: the goodness of God, the reality of future judgment, God's sovereign control over the world. Aren't those concepts practical? Is it impractical to consider the reality of judgment? Does God's goodness not impact us practically? Just because we are not immediately aware of the practical implications does not mean they are not there.

I wonder if what people mean when they say that theology is not practical is that they want to be told something to do. It's work to think through the implications. Can't we just have a pastor or some other authority tells us what to do? The reality is, however, that we think theologically every day.

Parents think theologically regularly, whether it is education choices, what their kids will be allowed to watch on television, or what activities they will be allowed to participate in. Parents evaluate situations of all sorts based on what they know of the Bible. That is utilizing theology. People who go to work daily do the same thing; they make ethical decisions on the job and in the public sphere based on what they know of God and the Bible. That is thinking theologically.

I know a woman who was having a discussion about the importance of theology. She told her friend that she didn't need theology because she was more "down to earth," and wanted to be more "authentic" in her faith. That comment tells me what she thinks of theology and the people who participate in it. She has the idea that those who study theology are not "authentic." I'm not even sure what that means, but one gets the idea that she thinks theology is for the elite, and that the elite don't have a real faith. That simply isn't true. Theology should make us stand in awe of God as we learn just how unfathomable he really is. It should make us feel small.

The division between faith and theology is a false one. Yes, we can have theology without faith, but I don't see how one can have faith without theology. The very premise of our salvation, Christ's sacrifice despite our sin, is a theological principle. Not everyone is a professional theologian, but we are all ordinary theologians.

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