Why good theology matters

In the preface A.W. Tozer’s classic “The Pursuit of God” one finds the following:

“In this hour of all-but-universal darkness on cheering gleam appears: within the fold of conservative Christianity there are to be found increasing numbers of persons whose religious lives are marked by a growing hunger after God Himself.  They are eager for spiritual realities and will not be put off with words, nor will they be content with correct “interpretations” of truth.  They are athirst for God, and they will not be satisfied till they have drunk deep at the Fountain of Living Water.”

Tozer’s sentiment, penned over 50 years ago,  is still a popular one today.  There seems to be an massive shift towards pragmatic or experiential Christianity.  It is easy to understand.  A great many theologians find incredible richness in pursuing an ever better understanding of God, His church and salvation.  Unfortunately Christianity that is primarily the pursuit of correct belief is dry for many.  Our make up leads us to connect with God in different ways, and sometimes we personally favour one well ahead of others.  There are some incredibly dry theologians, but there are also those who have become completely unhinged from the truth of the gospel in their experiential pursuits.  The church is trouble if any one way completely dominates the others.

I understand the desire to go beyond the theological wars and petty squabbles that mark the history of the church.  It is very easy to come away from this saying “why can’t just be about Jesus.”  What happens when those who just want to be about Jesus have redefined Jesus and salvation to the point where it is barely recognizable as historic Christianity.

That is the problem I encounter more and more these days.  In the desire to move towards a more spiritual version of Christianity, we have left the safety of the yellow lines on the road and found ourselves in a ditch.  Dry overly theological Christianity is like driving a car while being obsessed with staying perfectly between the lines, so obsessed that the accelerator never gets the car above 10mph for fear of losing control.  The pendulum has swung the other way.  It is all gas, with one hand on the wheel and the other is texting away on a busy street.

Good theology is empty by itself. It is like a home that is merely framed at top a foundation.  Just wood, no carpet, no paint, no drywall, no fixtures.  Is it absolutely essential, but completely inadequate by itself.  If we try to live out our faith without a basic framework of good theology, it is likely making a home where some rooms don’t sit on top of the foundation, what foundation there is, is sagging and walls are crooked and doors are not square.  That is what has happened in evangelicalism.

Years ago I would have wholeheartedly endorsed Tozer’s sentiment.  Now that I’ve spent the last couple trying to address just one false teaching in the church, I can see how this has gone too far.

Even Tozer might have predicted this problem.  He was just sitting on the other edge of the pendulum.

“Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in The Church of the Living God.  Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term.  But exposition may be carried in such a way as to leave the hearers devoice of any true spiritual nourishment whatever.  For it is not mere words that nourish the soul but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.”

If he were alive today he might write.

Spiritual experience is an imperative must in the life of every believer in the church.  Without it no one has cultivated a life giving relationship with God.  But spiritual experience can be pursued in such a way that leads people in to strange doctrines and spurious experiences that fill our souls, not with nourishment, but additives and containments that pollute our spiritual lives.  For true nourishment comes from knowing the one true God, not the gods we fashion to pander to our insecurities or covetous desires.  For our life comes from knowing the true Christ and the true gospel.

  1. #1 by Wes on September 12, 2010 - 10:02 pm

    Some good thoughts LT. Hopefully what I have to say adds to the discussion and does not merely show my own ignorance. While I agree that there is becoming more and more of a disconnect between good theology and godly spiritual activity, I do not agree with the statement that good theology by itself is empty. Let me offer a new perspective for thought. (and possibly reinforce the last line of your re-interpreted Tozer comment)
    Good theology (and by good I mean accurate to scripture and not containing falsehood) must be practical and practicable. Why wouldn’t it be? Theology is knowledge about God. Who He is, what He has done, and how we relate to Him. Why should we find this to be empty. I would suggest that good theology will actually lead us to a deeper experience of God. However for this to be the case it must move beyond merely head knowledge and intellectual discussions into the realm of day to day life. It must be understood on a heart level, not just a head level. Applied to our spirit, not just our paper.
    For instance (and this is the tough part) consider the doctrine of salvation. We can talk (debate?) about what it means to be reconciled, justified, and having had our sins atoned for by the blood sacrifice of Christ. All of which is true. However what often brings tears to my eyes is that Christ died for me. I am his, and he is mine – no matter what big words you use. Secondary to that is the practicality of knowing that Christ died for many who have not yet heard or understood. They remain lost – a fact that ought to bring tears to our eyes (and prayers?), and motivation to our steps.

    Do we need the intellectual understanding? Yes!

    Is the hunger for experiencing God and the the things of God genuine and good? Yes!

    However shouldn’t a correct understanding of God (Theology) lead us to meaningful experiences? I suspect that it should. In fact, it is essential to our walk as Christians and not getting led astray. If we are intellectual only we become dry and cold. If we are ruled by our emotional experiences we often end up disillusioned when things don’t work out. Good Theology is practical and practicable for our daily lives.
    Hopefully my thoughts come through clearly and provided some food for thought.

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