Why Should Christians Study Theology?
Jesus is our Model
We, who call ourselves Christians, try to live our lives by following Jesus and modelling our lives, as much as we can, on His teaching about the Kingdom of God and on the way He lived His life here on Earth.
At Christmas time we celebrate His birth in Bethlehem. When Mary was pregnant, Jesus' parents had been required to go there for the census, and He was born there. When some wise men visited Herod saying they wanted to see the baby King, he was shocked that his power might be usurped and ordered all male babies to be killed. Jesus' parents had to flee as refugees into Egypt to protect Him until Herod died. Then it was safe to return to Nazareth.
Very little is recorded about Jesus' boyhood until, in accordance with Jewish practice, He became 'a man' at the age of twelve. At that time it was the celebration of the Passover, so, with His parents and probably His brothers and sisters, He travelled by foot to the Temple in Jerusalem.
When the celebrations were over Jesus remained behind in the Temple, listening and questioning the famous men and teachers of the day, and
"all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers" (Luke 2.47).
On the way home, His parents could not find Him in the crowd. Distraught, they turned back and, when they finally located Him, His mother asked why He had not followed them. He replied with a counter-question:
"Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" (Luke 2.49)
With this apparently simple question, Jesus, by His example, even at that tender age, directs us to the great importance of our studying and questioning to gain a deeper understanding of the Father whom we, too, profess to love and follow.
An Act of Obedience
Theological study is an act of obedience to the Christian's high calling, to
"love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" (Matt.22.37).
The boy Jesus was obedient to His calling and we, as Christians, should follow this pattern He has set us, and through the discipline of studying theology come to a closer fellowship with God, learning to love Him in every way we can, including with our mind.
Theology has been described as a kind of science that is an orderly study of the way that God reveals himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It covers themes that include humankind, the world He created, our salvation and the doctrines of the final things, such as death, the judgment and the future.
Old Testament theology shows us that history progressively unfolds as it reveals that we are being directed towards a goal, and that goal is the Kingdom of God. This reaches its climax in the New Testament with the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world.
So the study of theology is an act of obedience to the Christian's high calling. In undertaking personal participation in what is a linear process our own lives develop as a progressive unfolding of God's purposes in history - and in our present day.
To this end, the Christian devotes himself to love God, not only with all his heart, soul and strength, but also with his mind. As Christians, we should not aim to be mindless, unthinking Christians, but to consecrate ourselves and to concentrate on learning to understand our Heavenly Father and to follow His ways. He calls us to love Him with our mind, to deepen our intellect through the study of the different branches of Biblical theology. If we are to be active and efficient in both apologetic (defending in speech and/or writing) and polemic (our response to controversial argument), we need to train our minds to be orderly and vigilant.
An Enriching Experience
Theological study should be an enriching experience but Christians may find they are faced with an almost bewildering array of opportunities to draw upon the insights of many other people in the Bible and in our present day.
The Bible must always remain the Bible student's most important reference. The Old Testament records the way God revealed himself to Israel; in a progression of ways He prepares His people to cope with these revelations and gradually leads them to understand their spiritual side and to learn the importance of raising their goals and moral standards.
As Christians, we can learn much from enquiry into the Old Testament prophetic theology of history, for example, such as the eighth century B.C. Hebrew prophets, Amos and Isaiah.
Our lives may be immeasurably enriched by the insights we gain from learning about the patriarchs of the Old Testament and the saints of the New Testament. To these may be added the host of saints, theologians and philosophers who have arisen through the centuries since the times recorded in the Bible. Careful consideration of these insights will lead to a deepening and enhancing of personal experience and a greater understanding of the character of God and of His purposes for humankind, the Church, and Christians who are members of that body, known as the Body of Christ.
Our advances in our knowledge of God come down to us through the ages from relatively more recent outstanding individuals who have led the way by telling of their experiences and encouraging further recording of experiences in their followers; we are enriched by the encounters with God of our fellow Christians.
Through meditation and deliberation the theological student will find for himself the opportunity of many enriching experiences if he heeds the cry, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Luke 8.8). The student's consecrated intellect will lead him to draw upon the insights of a host of other people. An example in the Old Testament is the ceremony of the consecration of the priests in Leviticus, where "Moses put the blood on the tip of their right ear" (Leviticus 8.24). The priests were anointed to remind them to be ready to listen to the voice of God.
Likewise, we Christians can, in theological study, open our ears to hear the voice of God speaking to us through the saints down through the ages. Confrontation demands attention and results in personal enrichment experiences.
Foundation for Leadership
By diligently studying the attributes and character of God we learn more about His relationship with humankind. We who share our faith, lead or preach, will attain deeper personal understanding of the essential message of the gospel and so be enabled to speak with conviction and authority on the things of God.
Through personal experience and application we can share with others. What we have learned provides a foundation for leadership. In areas of personal evangelism, pastoral work and preaching we can show the relevance of the Word to the needs and problems of life in the world today. In fact, we may find that pastoral theology covers all theology.
Criticisms are frequently levelled at theologians and students of theology, especially by people within the church who claim that theology is a purely academic pursuit. But, if we think further about it, we find that the study of theology is not a waste of time, as some might suggest, nor is it it divorced from the real life of the people of the Church.
Studying theology helps to fill our minds with the things of God, but we do need to consider how to use the knowledge so gained. By studying God we come closer to Him. Enthusiasm without knowledge is blatantly insufficient; we Christians must know deeply and personally what we are sharing and living. In times of stress, particularly, we must have studied adequately, so that the Word has taken deep roots in our lives.
Through our personal experience, we will be enabled to speak and preach with conviction and authority the message we have studied; such application makes it relevant to our own and others' needs. That is the true foundation for leadership.
Sharing God's Love
God reveals Himself to us with the aim of our union with Him; this will help to fulfil His purpose for all humankind. He loves us, we are to love Him and to share that love with our neighbour.
Through the study of theology we can learn to discipline our lives in obedience to God's will for us, we can learn more about the nature and attributes of God, and in so doing be led to love Him more deeply and effectively with heart, soul, strength and mind. By meditating upon God's personal revelation to us through His Word, and through the interpretation and understanding of the Word afforded through the insights of others down the ages, we can offer a more effective response to Christ's command to go out and share that love with neighbour and with nation.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Bronwen Scott-Branagan