My dear brother Philip McDuffie wrote an article last week about the dangers of seminary and more specifically the dangers of amassing theological knowledge. I would encourage you to read his article (Link). In short, what we mean by theological knowledge is “the knowledge of God”. In the Christian faith there is always a medium that has to be struck if you are to walk faithfully. With that being said, Philip asked me to respond to his article on the Danger of Theological Astuteness with the danger on the other side, “The Danger of Theological Ignorance”.
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed up the challenge of having too much theology or not having enough when he said, “I spend half my time telling Christians to study doctrine and the other half telling them doctrine is not enough.” Since Philip looked at doctrine not being enough, I want to take the time to exhort Christians to study doctrine. By doctrine, I simply mean a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a church, political party, or other group. Obviously this article is about doctrines of the Christian faith. What does the Bible say about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, man, the church, etc. These are important issues and we cannot afford to neglect studying them. If you simply look at the Bible as a book that is merely telling you how to behave you will have missed so much. Lets take a look at a couple examples.
In Philippians 4:4, Paul writes “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice”. If you look at this verse from a viewpoint that is strictly based upon application, then you are going to begin beating yourself up. What happens when you lose a loved one? What happens when you get flat tire on the way to work? I don't know about you, but I find it hard to rejoice at times. If I have no doctrine or set of beliefs about God, specifically his sovereignty over all things, then I will find it almost impossible to rejoice at any time. When trials come, it will only be the Christian’s knowledge of God that gets them through. Those who have a robust theology of God will be able to recall verses like Romans 8:28, Lamentations 3:27, Proverbs 16:33, etc that remind us God is in control at all times and over all things. For example, an electrical component goes out at one of my water plants, I can either complain about my circumstances or remember that an electrician has to come out and fix the problem and that person needs to hear the gospel. Thus even in the midst of a failed electrical component, which does not create an atmosphere of rejoicing, I can rejoice knowing that God is sovereign over all things and is possibly setting up a divine appointment for someone to flee to Christ. That is just one small example of how a robust doctrine of God helps you to applicably live out the command of “Rejoice in the Lord always”.
Secondly, lets look at the doctrine of man. The Bible says that man is born in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The bible also says that man is born in sin, evil from birth (Psalm 51:15, Romans 3:9-10,18,23). There are many ways we can error by failing to know what God says about man through His Word, but I want to look at two specifically. If we fail to realize that people are created in the image of God, then we will fail to carry out the great commission. Our prejudice and desire to only engage those who look and think like us is a sure sign that we have forgotten that all people are image bearers of God. In order for us to be obedient to the great commission we must study the doctrine of man.
In our study of the doctrine of man we will also be reminded that humans are not inherently good. Man is born hating God and lives his whole life as if he is God. Our culture tends to believe that man is inherently good and this has penetrated the church as well. You hear people say things like, “so and so got caught stealing but he's a good kid, just caught up in the wrong crowd”. The bible says the opposite.
Paul states in Ephesians 2,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Man is born dead in his trespasses and sins and unless God makes him alive then he will remain dead. If we think that people are inherently good, then we will shy away from speaking about sin and God’s judgement on those who do not believe upon Christ. Many people will die thinking they were good enough to inherit eternal life. May we not have their blood on our hands by encouraging them in such thought because we do not know what God says about man in His Word. Once again, If we do not study and build our doctrine, we will fail to be faithful witnesses as the Scripture teaches us to be.
Coming to a close, I want to leave you with some thoughts on the importance of theology from other saints.
9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
1st Timothy 4:16
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
A.W. Tozer - It would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of sound doctrine in the life of a Christian. Right thinking about all spiritual matters is imperative if we would have right
John MacArthur - No believer can apply truth he doesn't know. Those who don't know the Bible's principles for marriage, divorce, family, childrearing, discipline, money, debt, work, service to Christ, responsibilities to the poor, care of widows, response to governments, eternal rewards, and other teachings will not be able to apply them.
I know I have barely scratched the surface here, but thats the idea. I want people to contemplate these things. As the great theologian A.W. Tozer said, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." Hopefully in reading mine and Philips article you will see the importance of balancing knowledge and application. You will err if you lean one way or the other. My prayer is that by God’s grace He will keep us grounded in sound doctrine which is in turn lived out in our every days lives through application.