By Catherine A. Deddo
So, just what is “Theology” and why should I care about it?
My guess is that when you hear the word “Theology” you immediately think of some scholarly discussion that is dry, incomprehensible, and totally irrelevant to everyday life. Theological teachings and discussions belong on dusty, hard-to-reach shelves. Or you may think that “theology” refers to a list of doctrines that Christians believe or assent to. While these doctrines are important, again we see very little connection between them and how we live day to day.
But the truth is that theology has everything to do with our everyday lives. Why? Because, believe it or not, we are all already theologians and our theology is the framework by which we live. Sometimes the theology we live by is not really congruent with the doctrines we hold to be true. Other times, our doctrines don’t really reflect the truth and need to be re-examined.
Theology is, quite simply, the pursuit to understand the character and purposes of the triune God that are revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Paul, speaking of Jesus in his letter to the Colossians, says “He is the image of the invisible” and that God was pleased “to have all his fullness dwell in him” (Col. 1:15, 19). The author of Hebrews declares that Jesus bears the very stamp of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3b). How in the world can we know God? We can only know Him if He reveals Himself to us, and this is precisely what He has done in coming to us in Jesus.
What I find with most people I talk to is that their working theology, the one that they are living by daily, is in many ways not congruent with the true character and purposes of God that we can see in Jesus. But often they are not quite aware of this, thinking they are not really interested in theology. How can we learn what our working theology is? A few key questions can help. Look at how you are motivated each day, consider how anxious you are. How do you deal with crises, both large and small ones, in your life? Often we allow fear to fill in the gap between us and God which colors our understanding and relationship with God. The result is that we act or react to our situation on the basis of that fear-distorted view of His true character. And this misapprehension of God, this deep misunderstanding of His nature, affects literally everything we do and think.
When you are struggling, what are you thinking or assuming about God? Does He care? Is He here? Can He do anything? What is He up to? Is He not happy with me? What should I be doing to get Him to do what I want? What do I think God is primarily up to in my life? What does He want from me? But notice that these are theological questions! They all involve who we think (or fear) God is. You can see that if theology deals with the very nature of God, if it answers the question Who God really is, then it lies at the very center of the Christian life.
This is why we need to care about theology. Only a secure grasp of the true character of God gained through an intimate knowledge of the character of Jesus can cut through our fears and anxieties to provide a more secure foundation for our lives. Good theology about Who God is feeds our faith and can correct our working theology when it is out of sync with the truth and reality of his revelation in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
And if it is not our fears and anxieties that get in the way of seeing who God really is, I’ve found that too often we Christians are busy answering the “what” and the “how” questions of the Christian life: what should I be doing in the church? What is the most effective way to pray? How should I prioritize my day? How can I make my relationships better? Good questions, but before we can answer these questions, we need to ask the most fundamental one: who is God? When we don’t, when we only ask what and how, we can come to believe that God is only interested in the “what” and “how” as well. In other words, dealing only with these so called “practical” questions will lead us to hold certain ideas about who God is—they affect our working theology! We can start to believe that we serve a God who is mostly interested in our performance, who is not satisfied with us, who wants slaves and not children. And doesn’t that affect our deepest thoughts and feelings about ourselves and our lives? A professor I had in seminary once said that “burnout is a theological problem.” It seems to me that, if we looked carefully at our anxieties and struggles, we would see that underneath it all, are our assumptions or our fears about the character and purposes of God.
What I would like to do in this journal is to explore theology — take a careful look at the good and wonderful nature of our triune God. My hope is that we can have our minds renewed, as Paul encourages us, and live more in the peace and joy of Christ as we do.