The Bible is the deep well from which all knowledge of God is drawn. It is a treasure-trove; do not let it lay neglected. If you can read, you must make reading the Bible your daily duty. If you do not have a firm grasp on the Bible, you cannot overturn error in yourself or others.
The Puritan William Ames said that theology is the doctrine of living unto God. Wilhelmus à Brakel added to this that theology was the Christian’s reasonable service. These men simply reiterated the age-old truth that believers need to live lives of worship unto God, and humans require theology to worship rightly. For God cannot be worshipped if He is not known.
However, we live in a day of “Mere Christianity,” when believers want to know the bare minimum required to believe in order to be saved. Easy believism is all most professing Christians seek. They think of Christianity as nothing more than a punched ticket to be shown at the gate. However, Christianity is anything but that. Rather, the Christian life is a life of conflict—with sin, the world, and our frail minds and bodies as we submit them to a true knowledge of God. And this is at the heart of what Thomas Watson meant when he wrote, “Taking Heaven by Storm.”
The mentality of the Puritans is a far cry from that of modern evangelicalism. A common mantra of evangelicalism is “no creed but the Bible.” This approach has all but tolled the death knell for Systematic Theology. The long-term, deteriorating impact of this cannot be overstated. Thus, it is helpful for us to remember what a theologian even is.
What is a Theologian?
When I say theologian, what comes to mind?
It likely brings to mind images of elite educators and the hallowed halls of academia. It’s a name often attributed to learned men of letters—those who spend their years in libraries, publishing tomes on niche, doctrinal points. Within the church, there is a tendency to see theologians as separate and elevated, as the privileged of the body of Christ. The theologians are the upper-class who publish articles, write books, teach in seminaries, and give lectures.
But while many of these activities are common to those who travel in theological circles, none of these define a theologian.
Instead, the distinguishing characteristic of a theologian is that he knows God. He is one who is never content with how much he has seen of Christ, and thus steadily pursues a deeper knowledge of Him and His Word. Despite how the term theologian is often used, it is not a profession, but a way of life—one that should be common to every individual who claims to believe in Christ.
In John’s Gospel, the Lord Himself said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Knowing God is not an optional endeavor. It is a mandate for the church. If Christ has called you to repentance and faith, He has called you to be a theologian.
This is not a calling you fulfill by sitting in a pew each week. True theologians are not content to be spoon fed their doctrine; they earnestly seek out the rich sustenance of God’s Word. They understand the practical value of their theology, and they see how it trickles into each aspect of their daily lives.
Every believer needs a “big picture” grasp of the doctrinal teaching of Scripture. Sadly, many Christians assume that Systematic Theology is inherently at odds with the Bible, while in fact, it is the most biblical discipline in theology. Systematic Theology is the harmony and synthesis of what the entire Bible says about any individual issue. Steeped in exegetical and historical theology, Systematic Theology requires a comprehensive grasp of the full-scope of the Bible in order to be done faithfully and completely. And yet, the current landscape of Christianity sees little of this discipline.
The Need for a Resurgence in Systematic Theology
We live in a unique time. Our resources are abundant, yet Christian theological education has never been lower. A recent study done by Ligonier Ministries found that 78% of those polled believed that Jesus was the highest created being. As this study illustrates well, many are self-deceived into believing themselves to be Christians when they do not understand what Christianity teaches, even about Jesus Himself.
At the root of this problem is an indifference toward theological education. There was a time when the church father Athanasius, defending the deity of Jesus Christ, stood contra mundum—against the world. He would rather have been alone than to have misrepresented or misunderstood his God.
Today those who concern themselves with precision in Christian doctrine have found themselves yet again as outliers. They are the oddity of the church. Those who care for proper biblical interpretation stand, once again, contra mundum; but this time, not as a result of controversy, but apathy. Apathy is strangling the church. Most no longer care about the precision of doctrine. And that apathy starts at the top—with the pastors, elders, and deacons, many of whom have decided that it is not eternally necessary to grasp the full counsel of God. Here is my charge: biblical training is not a discipline resigned for full-time vocational ministers, but a task for which each man, before God, will be held accountable.