I’ve been doing research for a big project and that means that I get to read books galore!!! (If you’re into the Clifton Strengths Finder test, my second top strength is intellection. My personalized strengths insights report said, “It’s very likely that you derive much satisfaction from reading books…” So, yeah. I LOVE books.) My husband, who shares my obsession, helped me pick books for my research. He wrote down titles by authors like C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright.
And then there was one title he wrote down with a note: “Skim this. It might be helpful.” It was a book that talks about God helping us when we’re going through tough circumstances. I’m not going to name the book or author, but I’ll sum up one of his main ideas for you: Just trust Jesus; theology isn’t that important.
As the author proceeded to disparage theology, I wanted to shout, “You don’t understand what theology is!” As the great Inigo Montoya said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Theology, simply put, is the study of God.
How can we trust God if we don’t know whether or not He’s trustworthy? And how can we know He’s trustworthy if we don’t even know who He is? The people we trust most aren’t strangers or mere acquaintances; the people we trust most are the ones we know well. In shallow relationships, trust is unsustainable. If you want to be able to trust God, to be able to feel secure in Him when your world is falling apart, you need to know who He is, what His character is like, and what He is capable of doing. This, my friend, is what theology is for!
In The Great Omission, Dallas Willard wrote, “In the case of theological integrity and spiritual vitality, I think the idea is that you really can’t have the one without the other.”
Theology is not about having all the answers and knowing it all. The best theologians are brilliant, but not because they know it all. They’re brilliant because the more they study, the more they realize how much more there is to know about God, so they dig deeper and study more, and the cycle continues. We could never know everything about Him because He’s just too big and wonderful. And He’s SO wonderful that the more you study and the deeper you dig into who He is, the more you want to know more!
Theology is about knowing God—a God who is infinitely more than we can comprehend, yet who still invites us to know Him—to know Him deeply, and to continually seek Him so we can know Him deeper still. The deeper we know Him, the deeper our roots grow deep into who He is.
So how do we get to know God? Do we have to have graduate and post graduate degrees to have strong theology? No. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not against higher education. I have a master’s degree and my husband is in seminary right now. But strong theology is not reserved for only those with multiple degrees. Strong theology is cultivated by dwelling in God’s presence + digging deep into His word + being part of Christ-centered community. All three of these are things that every Christian can do!
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
One day I’m gonna write a book where I delve deeper into all of this, but for now, please allow me to give you the short version:
It’s so important for us to dwell in God’s presence—to have an intimate relationship with Him—because He’s a relational God who cannot be known from afar. You can know about Him from afar, but to know Him, you have to get up close, spend time with Him, and experience His presence first hand.
It’s also important for us to dig deep into His Word because experience alone with no knowledge or understanding is fragile (and can lead to a lot of weird or dangerous beliefs!). We need truth to be our strong anchor.
Originally when I was writing this, my formula stopped here, but my husband pointed out that we need Christ-centered community. “It’s like a three-legged stool that falls if one of the legs is missing,” he said. It’s when we’re together when we can see outside of ourselves. Together, we see bigger, farther, and deeper. We help each other see and understand God in ways we wouldn’t be able to on our own.
If we neglect any of these components, we’re in danger of having an incomplete, shallow theology. And shallow theology crumbles in the face of suffering and doubt.
You see, having strong theology doesn’t mean that we never have questions or doubts. Instead, strong theology survives in the face of our hardest questions and our most painful doubts because it’s rooted in a God who is strong enough to handle them. Strong theology gives us roots in who God is that are so deep that even when the storm rages against us, we do not fall.
Theology in Real Life
During a painfully dark season of my life when I felt barren and struggled to pray, I had coffee with a dear friend who tenderly gave me wonderful advice: When it’s hard to pray, start with simple, truth statements like, “God is good,” and pray something like, “God, You’re good. Help me know you’re good.”
Did you catch it? All three components of strong theology were there!
Dwelling in God’s presence (prayer)
+ digging deep into His word (simple truth statements)
+ being part of Christ-centered community (coffee with a friend)
This is what theology looks like in a real life! And I love how my friend’s advice is so simple and accessible, yet full of depth! I mean, yeah, “God is good” is one of those statements that can seem overly simplistic, but for those who are suffering or are feeling the sting of unanswered prayer, the statement, “God is good,” becomes far more profound, a statement to wrestle with God about. If you’re in a season of suffering or doubt and need more theological statements you can pray, here are some to get you started:
“Jesus loves me.”
“God is for me.”
“God is bigger than me and my circumstances.”
“God’s grace is sufficient for me.”
“God is not withholding good from me.”
“What’s true in the light is still true in the dark.” (This one’s a line from “Weep With Me,” by Rend Collective.)
If you’ve been intimidated by theology, let me end with a word of encouragement: You can do this! You can do theology! I know you can because God wants you to and He provided a way for you to be able to! So let your roots grow deep into who He is and get ready for an adventure of living theology in real life!