For some, the primary connotation that arises when they hear the term ‘theology’ is something outdated, archaic, alien, and even offensive; as if God were a lab mouse. Is theology a field that has lost its relevance in the 21st century? Indeed, throughout history, there have been those who exploited various theologies to advance political agendas or even to wage devastating wars (such as the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants in Europe during the 16th-18th centuries). But it would be a logical fallacy to let the misuse of theology discourage us from studying it or, at the very least, from understanding its significance.
Naturally, every believer has a strong inner drive to know the God in whom they believe and to understand as much about Him as their reach allows. The religious thirst of humanity (in all its forms) testifies precisely to this. But is it possible to know God? Sacred scriptures affirm two seemingly contradictory facts: first, that God is beyond our understanding; second, that it is possible to know Him. Saying that He is beyond our comprehension means that the human intellect cannot fully grasp the knowledge of God. On the other hand, saying that He is knowable asserts that we can know Him. Both these facts are true, albeit not in an absolute sense. To say that God is beyond our understanding means that we cannot know everything about Him in an absolute and perfect way. To say that we can know Him does not mean that we can quantify God in a mathematical equation, but rather that we can know what He has chosen to reveal about Himself throughout history. This means that while we cannot know everything about God, there is still much we can know. Both of these truths find confirmation in the sacred scriptures: His transcendence beyond our human understanding (such as in Job 11:7 and Isaiah 40:18), and the possibility of knowing Him (such as in John 14:7; 17:3; and 1 John 5:20).
The idea of God being knowable is implied by His very nature as the Creator. Just as a loving parent wants to reveal themselves to their children and give them the opportunity to know and understand them, so too, it is logically required that God would want to allow His “children” to know and understand Him. Conversely, the human soul’s longing to know God serves as evidence, both for the need to know God, and for the fact that this need was implanted in the human soul by the Creator Himself, and it ought to be satisfied.
If our theology (our understanding of who God is and what He wants from us) is erroneous and distorted, not only might our lives be adversely affected as a result, but we could also negatively influence others’ lives and distort their theological perceptions. Hence the great importance of theology: it is not merely an abstract concept of ink on paper, but it necessarily also finds expression in reality, in human life. As mentioned, throughout history, erroneous and distorted theology has caused many problems – modern slavery, inquisitions, cults, and numerous wars. Bad theology caused some in the Church to think that God hates the Jews.
One can study theology – that is, about God and of God – just as a science enthusiast learns about nature or the stars – in a way that leaves him awestruck. Theology can be pursued just like a lover ardently investigates and learns everything possible about their beloved partner.
Imagine someone constantly professing their love for their spouse, but when asked, they can’t say what their hobbies are, which books they enjoy reading, what annoys or pleases them, or what their favorite dish is. You would rightfully suspect that their love is shallow. Doesn’t this resemble someone proclaiming their deep faith in God, yet they know nothing about God’s character and actions, His revelations, and His desires (in other words, they do not know theology)? Worse still, imagine that person declaring that their spouse’s favorite restaurant dish is beef fillet when in reality, their spouse has been a staunch vegan for years. From this, it follows that not only is their knowledge about their spouse incredibly shallow, but it’s also entirely mistaken and wrong. This is precisely the danger in misguided and distorted theology – when a person thinks they know God and His will, but in reality, their knowledge of God is not true knowledge but misguided information.
In other words, without theology, a believer may be able to cite verses or chant fashionable spiritual slogans, but they won’t have deep, practical knowledge. People need to study theology to understand and explain fundamental concepts, such as: What is sin, and why do we sin? What is sacrifice, and why won’t God just forgive and forget? Why does evil exist in the world, and who is the devil? Or, who are the demons, how do they operate, and do they have power over us? Lack of theological knowledge in these areas not only leaves one without answers, but it may also lead to acquiring erroneous theological knowledge; hence the answers they hold onto are deceitful.
Therefore, the purpose of theology is not to acquire dry, rote knowledge. Theology is important to us, not because we want a high score on a test, not to hang a diploma on the wall, not to win arguments, and not so we can memorize verses, names, or dates by heart. On the contrary, the importance and purpose of theology are practical; they impact our daily lives. What we know about God necessarily shapes how we perceive Him and the world and thus influences how we live our lives. What we understand and believe about God’s nature, character, and will for us, affects every aspect of our lives- from how we react to a coworker who offends us at work to how we raise our children at home. Sound theology must be expressed and bear fruit in the believer’s life and relationships.
However, if our motivation for studying theology amounts to acquiring theoretical knowledge that doesn’t manifest in our lives, this knowledge will miss its mark. It may lead to pride and could make us err and think we are better than others, seeing them as inferior or worthless due to their lack of knowledge.
Of the several books I have written, only two delve into theology. One serves as a counter-response to the “Hebrew Roots Movement,” while the other holds relevance for all Christians. You are welcome to check them out!