In my previous post You Are a Theologian, I explained why everyone – even if not a believer – is a theologian. We saw that according to Romans 1:25 and Romans 12:2, true theology is a turning away from idolatry to a worship of the true God, resulting in a transformation of our minds.
In this post I’ll offer some thoughts on how to do theology rightly. However, there’s good and bad news. Let’s begin with the bad news.
The Bad News
#1 The things of God are spiritually discerned
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. – 1 Cor 2:14
No matter the theological instruction a person may have, if they are not born again, they don’t know God. This goes for seminary students and Bible scholars also. This may be hard to accept considering that many who reject Christ do in fact quite a lot of theology. And yet, according to the Scripture, they don’t actually know God or the things of God.
This is no small point, it is the starting point. To do theology rightly, you must be born again. You must repent and believe in Christ for salvation and begin a true relational knowledge of the LORD.
#2 We can’t approach the heights of His wisdom
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. — Isaiah 55:8-9 (Also Ps 145:3; Rom 11:33)
Our Lord is not a man that we can observe and learn to predict, and we certainly can’t hope to get inside His head. Our Lord is holy; He is not like us.
Atheists sometimes claim something to this effect, “if there were a god, we could not know it; nor could we know anything about this god, because by definition, god is unkowable by our senses.”
In one regard, they are correct. God is Creator, which means He is outside and independent of His creation. What could creation hope know about anything that is not creation? Science especially fails us in this regard, for God cannot be observed or tested.
The problem is that we haven’t considered a God who wants to be known, and gives enough revelation so that He expects to be understood! This brings us to the good news.
The Good News: Why we can do Theology
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. – Deut 29:29
Our God wants to be known. He has chosen to reveal Himself, therefore He is knowable. God reveals Himself in His Word, and therein we see statements like this:
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” — Jer 9:23-24
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:8
So God can be known. Not only that, but he expects to be known.
- Lest we think God’s word is too hard to understand, He expects us to teach our children about Him (Deut 6:5-9) and apply our knowledge of Him to every aspect of our lives.
- When Jesus argued with the Pharisees and Sadducees about the Word, He didn’t just admit that they just had a different interpretation to Him; He said, “have you not read the Scripture?” (Matt 12:3, 5; 19:4; 22:31; Mark 12:10, 26; Luke 6:3)
- One last example. The majority of the New Testament epistles were written to churches (not only the elders of the church).
How to do theology
Bringing the bad news and good news together – seeing that God is both inscrutable and knowable, how then ought we do theology?
First, and most importantly, we need humility. Theology is not merely a subject; it is about knowing a Person who is far above us in every way. It’s not a matter of brute intellect, but of dependence on the Lord.
However, we also need determination. We don’t simply grow in knowledge of God through passivity on our part, just as I can’t know my wife better without studying her likes and dislikes, her personality, her appearance, etc. The Lord expects us to pursue Him, and He rewards those who do (Heb 11:6).
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. — 2 Tim 2:7
Here is a verse that captures both truths. Timothy is commanded to think because God will reveal the truth to him.
Notice what Paul doesn’t say:
- God is the one who reveals truth, so Timothy shouldn’t bother thinking.
- Timothy can discover God’s truth through sheer willpower of his own and without depending on God’s revelation.
Instead, this verse captures the perfect balance between the two: it is because God is the giver of understanding that we should determine to humbly seek Him.