Many students whose love of God dims as they study theology are confusing knowing about God with knowing God. Students who do this can easily start to treat theology like any other academic field of study and God becomes an object to be dissected, a list to be memorized.
One of the questions I face as a professor of systematic theology at the undergraduate level is whether theology is compatible with a passionate love for God. Some young (and older) Christians are fearful that studying theology will dampen their love for God. Of course, it is fair to say that this concern is not completely unwarranted. There are many Christians who began their study of theology with a passionate love for God and replaced that love with a love for the study of theology as an end in itself. I will return to this problem below. First, I want to address the alleged discrepancy between theology and loving God.
Look first at the basic meaning of the word “theology.” Theology at its heart is knowledge of God. Let us keep that basic idea in mind as we think about this. Now, Christians agree that we are to love God. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). But what is necessary for us to truly love God? Knowledge of God. It’s difficult to love someone about whom you have absolutely no knowledge.
This is where theology comes in. Theology is knowledge of God. If knowledge of God is necessary for us to love God, and if theology is knowledge of God, then theology is necessary for us to love God. Does this mean that a person who has never formally studied theology cannot love God? No. Because if you are a believer, you know something of God. You have at least some “theology,” some knowledge of God. Your love of God flows from that knowledge of Him, from that theology.
If you truly love God, however, there should be a corresponding desire to know Him more, to grow in your knowledge of God, your “theology.” This is what happens when two people first meet and fall in love. They meet and perhaps speak briefly. Based on this initial knowledge, there is an attraction. But when one person is attracted to another, what do they want? They want to know more about the person. Thus, all the questions over coffee or dinner. Tell me about yourself? Where were you born? What was your childhood like? Where did you go to school? What are your favorite pastimes, books, movies, foods, etc.? What are your hopes for the future? And we listen intently to their story in order to know them better. As we grow in our knowledge of who they are, our love deepens and grows, and as our love grows, our desire to know them more grows.