Christian theology is a means of knowing the triune God: the Father in His eternal love, the Son in His saving grace, and the Holy Spirit in the sweet fellowship He gives us with God and each other (2 Cor. 13:14). The knowledge of the Lord is worth more than all human wisdom, power, and wealth (Jer. 9:23–24). God uses His Word to set us free and make us holy, as He is holy (John 8:31–32; John 17:17).
I remember a meeting I had some years ago with a couple of brothers in Christ. We needed to find a speaker for a men’s retreat. One man said, “The last thing we want is theology. We need something practical.” Too often, that’s the assumption: theology is not helpful. But when the retreat was done, the speaker proved to be quite helpful precisely because he was theological. He taught the doctrines of God’s Word with clarity, conviction, and a call to respond.
What is Helpful Theology?
Theology is serious thinking about Christian doctrine. The doctrines of the faith summarize and explain the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. The Bible commends “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), which means healthy teaching.
Systematic theology is the study of what the whole Bible teaches about a given doctrine and its connection to other doctrines. For example, how can a sinner be justified or counted righteous by God? What does justification show us about God, Christ, and ourselves?
The purpose of systematic theology, like all Christian teaching, is not to cause arguments but to strengthen faith and godliness (1 Tim. 1:4–5). As Reformed theologians have said, “Theology is the doctrine of living to God by Christ.”
But that does not mean that all theology is helpful. When I opened the first systematic theology I ever read, I thought, “This is great! The author is thinking deeply about the faith.” But in that book, the author said that it is absurd to talk about the resurrection of Christ’s physical body from the dead. The author was an unbeliever. Needless to say, I put that book down.
Systematic theology is only helpful if it is faithful to the Word of God, especially the gospel that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3–4). Therefore, we should exercise discernment. We can learn something from virtually anyone, even unbelievers. But when we study doctrine and theology, we must choose our teachers wisely.