What is Sound Theology and Why Do We Need It?
By Jeanie Layne
One of my favorite hobbies is gift giving. In my quest to become a great gift-giver, I have learned an important lesson: you cannot give a great gift to someone you do not know. You can give generic gifts. You can give generous gifts. You can even give good gifts. However, to give a really great gift, you have to know what makes the recipient come alive. You have to see the twinkle in their eye and hear the wistfulness in their tone of voice. I study people—hopefully in non-creepy ways—to discover the details that are significant to them. And I love that solitary moment when the gift has been opened and the recipient comprehends, without a doubt, that he or she is known and loved by me.
I make no claims to be a truly great gift-giver, yet, my attempts to learn the art of gift-giving have convinced me of one simple truth: we cannot give our lives in worship to a God we do not know.
For those of us who are believers, we aspire to worship God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mark 12:30). We seek to glorify Him with all that we are and in all that we do. However, we often fail to put forth the effort required to truly KNOW this God who we claim to love. We worship Him with our hearts and hands but do not know in our heads the things that bring Him joy. I would even argue that we cannot faithfully serve Him without first engaging our minds in the task of knowing Him. And when we seek to serve or worship a God we do not actually know, we fail in our theology—our very study of God Himself.
J.I. Packer states in his book, Knowing God, that “ignorance of God—ignorance both of his ways and of the practice of communion with him—lies at the root of much of the church’s weakness today.” Packer notes that while we have more theology books than ever, more articles published, more thoughts and opinions expressed in more ways than ever before, our theology is weak.
This feeble theology is a problem. Our lack of study of God often leads us to believe that our theology does not affect our everyday lives. We tend to believe that theology is pie-in-the-sky intellect, reserved solely for the academy and detached from the common man. Some of us may believe that theology is a masculine pursuit, distinctly unfeminine and meant primarily for the minds of men. Some may even believe that women are incapable of, or uninterested in, knowing the deep things of God. But I say, hogwash!
Rather, theology has great and grave implications for our lives, even when we don’t see the obvious connection. Theology—the study of the character, personhood, and essential qualities of the God of the universe—is what we know and believe about our God, but it also determines who we are, how we function, and what we do.
If I do not know God, I cannot worship truthfully, walk uprightly, or live hopefully.
Sound theology, understood and embraced, informs and transforms each of these areas of life, while the lack of a sound theology is detrimental. Here are just a few of the ways that an inadequate study of God affects us:
- Without proper study of God, we cannot know what will please Him or how to best worship him. Jesus stated that “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23) (emphasis mine). How can we worship God in truth if we do not know him in truth? According to Christ, authentic worship requires activity from both the heart and the mind, yet our failure to know God with our mind often results in a failure to worship and serve him in truth.
- Without proper study of God, we cannot discern how to walk uprightly in a counter-biblical world. Titus 1:1 reminds us that the “knowledge of the truth…accords with godliness”. A lack of the knowledge of the truth of God and His ways results in a lack of holy and righteous living. Consider the admonition of Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (emphasis mine). Our knowledge of God provides us with understanding. When we lack understanding, we make foolish and sinful choices, and our failure in knowledge results in failure in holy living.
- Without proper study of God, we cannot live hope-filled lives. While our theology teaches us how to live and equips us to follow in obedience, it also encourages us. Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus that God would give the believers wisdom and revealed knowledge through Christ, “that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Eph. 1:17-19). The more we know of God, the more we trust His goodness and His power. Consequently, when our theology fails, our faith in God’s goodness and power fails with it.
Ultimately, a lack of sound theology will be harmful to us by stunting our worship, personal holiness, and hope. Yet, a robust, vibrant, and accurate theology will nourish us.
Charles Spurgeon once preached in favor of a study of the Godhead, saying:
“Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore… Go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated.”
Spurgeon, brother, we could not agree more. Nothing in existence so completely humbles and uplifts, exhorts and encourages, challenges and comforts like a study of God through his Word. We would be absolute fools to forego a knowledge of God, who is Himself our very sustenance.
For the sake of our souls, let’s give up our half-hearted effort in our study of God and practice to give our whole lives, including our heads, to a thorough study of God, so that our careful devotion might develop into a lifestyle of thoughtful worship.
Great gift-giving requires diligence and tenacity. It demands effort, and anyone who aspires to give great gifts must be willing to invest the necessary time to the task. Our pursuit of God is similar. Weak effort in the study of the Lord will bear little fruit in our knowledge of Him. Instead, consistent and resolute work in pursuit of the knowledge of God will produce great fruit in our knowledge of and love for our Savior.
Sweet sister, are you giving weak effort to your study of God? Does your relationship with theology seem like obedient drudgery? If yes, our prayer is that you would join us in our study of God. We cannot study Him for you, and we would not wish to if we could, but we do hope you will join us in seeking the Lord and a deeper knowledge of his ways. So without further ado, let’s follow Spurgeon’s instruction and plunge ourselves into the deep sea of the Godhead.
Point to Ponder: What steps could you take this week to grow in your knowledge of God and an understanding of theology?