How to Think Theologically
Theology gets a bad rap sometimes. It is a discipline that can sometimes be deemed too difficult or daunting, so it is not engaged by the average Christian. In some evangelical circles it is seen as somehow suppressing the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in an individuals’ life (as if learning more about God will hinder His presence), so in depth theological study is avoided. Others believe that it is only a discipline for the “professionals.” You know, the pastors and professors because, well, it’s their job. So, they can spend all their time studying thick theological tomes, and then they can just tell us what they learned on Sunday morning. We don’t need to become theologians because there are already theologians who have devoted their lives to studying the Bible and the history surrounding it. But even though theological study can be difficult, and the average Christian doesn’t need to be able to understand and explain deep theological concepts to others the same way that pastors and professors do, it is a discipline that all faithful Christians should strive to continually grow in. And it is not that we study theology so that we can grow to become theologians. All of us are already theologians.
Theology Leads to Worship
Every one of us live in the universe that God has created, and we all have certain beliefs about God and His relationship with His creation that inform our lives. In fact, every time we talk about God we are engaging in theology. Theology comes from the two Greek words theos (God) and logos (words). So, the word “theology” just means to speak words about God, and we have all done that. Whether we have the deep theological understanding of St. Augustine or express our doubts and fears about faith, or even wonder if God exists, we are doing theology. No matter how sophisticated or unsophisticated our beliefs about God are, we all have them, and they inform our lives and worship.
All of us are called to worship God rightly for who He is and what He has done in Christ, and that requires that we know Him because we can’t worship what we don’t know. Worship isn’t just singing songs on Sunday, but it is how we think about God, speak about God, and respond to God in all aspects of life. Therefore, we must strive to grow in our knowledge of God so that we can live obediently as God’s adopted children in the world He created for the purpose of rightly worshipping Him.
This means that theology is an applied discipline. It is not just an intellectual exercise so we can increase in knowledge, but it is so that we can respond well to God’s truth in our daily lives. It is so that we can love God with our minds (Luke 10:27) by acquiring more knowledge about Him and using our minds to think well for His glory. It is so that our increase in knowledge will overflow in faith, obedience, and worship to Christ. It is so that our minds are so saturated by God’s truth and shaped by God’s truth that we are able to think and make decisions in life in accordance with the word of God. Nobody wants to live for a lie, so we must earnestly seek to know God’s truth and then live as faithful disciples in light of God’s truth. We must seek to grow in our theological knowledge, which, of course, means studying and meditating on the Bible. But it also means reading other good books, articles, and blogs by faithful men and women who are striving to do the same thing.
Being Shaped by Scripture
It is always worthwhile to pursue knowledge of God’s truth because in this we are rightly using the rational minds that God has given to us. And our increase in theological understanding will help us in making decisions and living lives that honor and worship God. But not every aspect of life is addressed in Scripture. We face many theological issues and dilemmas every day that the Bible never mentions. Therefore, we must have our minds shaped by God’s truth so that we can think and live faithfully as citizens of God’s Kingdom. And we should think and make decisions primarily as Kingdom citizens before we do so based on any other role or responsibility we possess on this earth. We are Kingdom citizens before we are republicans, democrats, business professionals, lawyers, students, parents, spouses, or mechanics. Our theology must inform how we make decisions in any one of these roles, and in all aspects of life, because Christ is Lord over all of our lives, not just the parts that we are comfortable giving to Him.
Steps to Take
But how can we bring the Lordship of Christ to bear on every aspect of our daily lives? How can we think theologically and live faithfully as we face life under the sun, as well as face decisions and dilemmas that the Bible never talks about? This comes through having our minds transformed and continually renewed (Romans 12:2) by the truth of God’s word. This requires intentional and regular study of the Bible. Do this daily on your own and weekly with other disciples in smaller groups and through hearing God’s word taught on Sunday morning. As our minds are transformed to think more like Jesus we will be more capable of applying God’s truth to specific topics and situations.
It also helps to understand your calling. By “calling” I don’t mean a personal desire or draw toward a particular job or career, but the calling that applies to all disciples of Jesus. If you are in Christ then you have been called by God, to God, and for God’s glory and global purposes. You are also called to think, speak, live, and act at all times in light of this calling. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). You are called to fight sin and pursue holiness. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). You are called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), and to be a minister of reconciliation as Christ’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Understanding these theological truths helps you as you think about life and make decisions.
As you uphold these important truths and continue to have your mind renewed by Christ, you should ask yourself intentional theological questions when thinking about topics, ideas, positions to take, or decisions to make: “Will this help me to know and worship Jesus more? Will this lead me into temptation or sin? Will this reflect God’s character, glory, and righteousness? Will this contribute to advancing God’s mission on the earth? Is this in accordance with the truth of God’s word? Is this in accordance with Biblical morals and values? Will this inhibit my being a part of, and serving in, a gospel-centered local church? What are the underlying presuppositions about God, reality, truth, and the gospel that are informing this decision, and are they accurate representations of God’s truth?” Think about the theological and moral issues surrounding the topic or situation and try to determine if there are any Biblical passages that shed light on it.
Think theologically in community. Bring up needs, situations, and decisions to your brothers and sisters in Christ and have them speak into them. Let them offer up their own thoughts and advice, and receive it as coming from someone who both loves Jesus and you. Don’t live life, think through things, or make decisions in isolation. The Bible encourages seeking counsel from others (Proverbs 11:4, 15:22) and it is wise to surround yourself with men and women who care about you enough to speak the truth in love.
As you think theologically and strive to honor God in every aspect of your daily life, trust the witness of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of truth who guides us into all truth (John 16:13). He points us back to all that Jesus taught and illuminates God’s word for us. His ministry is not to reveal new things to us outside of the Bible, but to help us correctly interpret, receive, and apply God’s truth. Look to Him and trust that He is at work in your life.
Growing in our understanding of theology and cultivating a mind that thinks theologically takes time and intentionality, but it is worth the effort because it helps us to correctly understand and apply God’s word. It helps us to better live a life that is worthy of our God and Savior. It increases our knowledge of God, which helps us to rightly respond in worship. And as we live lives of worship we desire to know our Lord even more, which is a beautiful cycle.
-By Kevin Tapscott