Every human has a theology. From the clearest explanations of the infinite, to the most bizarre notions of man's imagination to dismiss His existence, one thing is true: we all think thoughts about God, whether accurate or inaccurate. It then becomes the loving duty of every disciple to see themselves as a theologian. This doesn't mean everyone needs to enter the classroom to argue abstract ideas about God. Rather, it means the need to understand God is so great, that we of all people, should be among the most thoughtful and articulate about God---his character, will, and ways. If we are unclear in our thinking and speaking about God, our disciples and mission will suffer. Therefore, we need theology. We need theology in three ways. We need theology for God, for the world, and for self.
Theology is for God
We not only need theology; we should love theology because it takes us into the heart of God. God is infinite and personal, the Triune Creator who is both just as well as the justifier. We learn in theology that God does all things according to His own will, for His own purpose, for His own pleasure, and ultimately for the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:7-12). Good theology will see first and foremost its need to think right thoughts about God so that we do not obscure His glory. Good theology must know, seek, and display the beauty and glory of God in Christ. Good theology shows us God.
Theology is for the World
In theology, we learn of God's attributes and Christ's mission. God is righteous, holy, and just, while at the same time He is merciful, loving, gracious. These attributes meet wonderfully in the cross of Christ, where righteous Jesus bears God's righteous justice to mercifully justify the unrighteous. The kind of God we serve is important. The world needs the God who is not the God they want. Theology can straighten out our wants to accord with who God is, and then bring us near to him in Christ. We need a theology that is not only God-centered but also Christ-centered.
The world has its own theology of God, but it is not in line with the truth of God. Its thoughts about God lead to chaos, wars, destruction, and hopeless despair. Good theology will seek to lovingly teach the world who it is and what Christ has come to restore. Our theology should not only be a theology that seeks God's glory, but a theology of hope for the world in which we live. Colossians 1:20 tells us that Jesus has reconciled all things through the blood of his cross. All things. In heaven and on earth. The world has been reconciled in Christ, and when he returns, we will witness the restoration of all things.
Good theology is quick to show off Christ's beauty and work, and to tell of His faithfulness to the Father's plan for this world. Without a clear theology about Christ and his saving work in the gospel, we lack reasons for faith, hope, and love in a world that so desperately needs these things. Good theology changes the world.
Theology is for the Self
Theology frees us to discover who we are before God the Father. Yes, we are fallen and broken, hopeless without Him, seeking our own glory. But, at the same time, we have intrinsic value and dignity since we are made in God's image (Gen 1:27). Good theology deals honestly with the self in terms of dignity and depravity before the face of God. We will never know who we truly are until we truly understand who God really is.
Good theology moves us on from dignity and depravity to hope, which is found only in the gospel. Good theology shows us that because of our predicament God has acted in the gospel of grace. This grace is that God in Christ rescues us from our depravity and restores our dignity (Col 3:10). Jesus dies and rises to put hope in our chests---"the hope of glory" (Col 1:27). The hope is Christ himself, our Rescuer and our Life, our forgiveness and our righteousness. Good theology changes us.
Mission Without Good Theology
What we think about God will always determine how we live our lives. Ideas have consequences; therefore, it is vitally important that we think deeply, read broadly, and pray intensely when coming to God's Word.
Our history is littered with movements, denominations, and churches that have focused on one particular aspect to the exclusion or detriment of the others. Movements begin and fail when they aren't appropriately balanced in their approach to God, self, and the world. Missionary movements have ended in failure because they started off with a commitment to the gospel of grace only to end in a commitment to experience. Denominations have begun well only to find themselves slipping into denominational pride based upon their "distinctives," or pride over their "experiences," or over their open and life affirming acts of "mercy."
Churches have begun well only to close when they find themselves focusing exclusively on the head (intellect), heart (emotions), or the hands (social justice). To be a church that truly loves this world, we must see that Jesus was full of grace AND truth. Grace without truth is not really grace, and truth without grace is not really truth. A church that is theologically healthy will see that its understanding of God can not be disconnected from loving Him and living a life that demonstrates that love. Mission without good theology is destined to fail.
Finally, it's important that we understand that theology is not a cul-de-sac, an end in itself. Rather, it's a movement with a goal. It is a way that we understand who God is, what God is doing, and who we are in His history.
This leads us to the goal of theology - mission!
Theology is for Mission
Theology shows us who God is and his mission to the world. All good theology should lead to missiology.
Theology is not ultimately for debate or self-study. Debate alone leaves out God's goal of spreading his grace to the end of the earth. Study for self aggrandizes the intellect or treats Scripture like a self-help book. The aim of the Bible is not to teach us how to raise children, become a suitable spouse, or improve our financial stewardship. Though God's Word addressees these questions, this is not the main thrust of the Bible.
What is the Bible all about?
The Bible is all about God and His glory. If it were a typical book, it's title might read "God and His Glory" with the subtitle, "Getting Glory by Saving My People." This is the drumbeat that keeps time throughout the entirety of Scripture. The Bible is about God's mission for himself, his world, and his people. Good theology includes all three. Bad theology leaves one or two out. All good theology leads to missiology and all missiology leads to doxology (worship).
In order to be faithful to the Author's plotline, we must see ourselves as living actors in this great drama of mission. We are not stage-props but significant characters that play an integral role in God's grand story. We are his story-tellers, his characters of redemption, his proof of grace to the world. He has revealed himself to us so that we can reveal his grace to others. He has given us hope so that we can share it with the hopeless. Study hard and live well in the gospel of his grace.
David Fairchild was the co-founder and preaching elder of Kaleo Church in San Diego and now serves as the Lead Pastor of Mars Hill West Seattle as well as a founding member of The GCM Collective. He currently lives in Seattle with his wife, Grace, and their two children, Michael and Madison.
For more resources on being a disciple and disciple making, check out: Jonathan Dodson’s Unbelievable Gospel.