Just Wondering: Does Theology Matter?

I don’t really defend myself. I don’t find arguments and debates very interesting. But I do find real people’s lives being changed by a real resurrected Jesus terribly compelling.

Rob Bell (about 1:18 in)

Plenty of evangelicals have opined on the Rob Bell book Love Wins in the last month or so. I’ve even written about it on this blog, as have lots and lots of people on lots and lots of blogs. I’m not particularly interested in responding to Bell’s book or offering my opinion on its content; others can and have done a better job than I could.

I’m very interested, however, in the above comment from Bell, which is steeped in a widely-held perception concerning the particulars of theological conviction. It’s commonly thought that Christians should only care about the things that do something, inspire some kind of social action, perhaps. Sure, theology matters — obviously we want Jesus to be God and we want him to die for our sins. But before we talk theology, we think, let’s talk about why it matters. First tell me that it’s practical. I’m not interested in it otherwise.

Some issues fit well — the book of James preaches, yo. So does Proverbs. But what about Leviticus? Or the doctrine of election? Or the genealogies? Or even theology proper (theology about God the Father)?

These categories take a great deal of time and effort to explain, so we leave them to “the academics.” They are only worth discussing when they make a difference in the lives of real people. So, the only practicality of hell — that you’re going to go there if you reject Jesus — is repulsive to most people. This is only preaching to frighten, after all. And good preachers don’t do that sort of thing.*

Notice something very important about Bell’s statement. Argumentation and debate isn’t “very interesting” because it doesn’t relate to “real people’s lives being changed.” Theological precision doesn’t matter to Bell because it exists in the hypothetical and abstract. It isn’t real. It isn’t practical.

This is revealing. Why do we study theology, after all? Does it only matter if it’s practical? If it affects real people’s real lives? Or does understanding something about God himself have inherent value?

Is knowledge itself worth anything? Or is it only actualized by its applicability? Isn’t there something to be said for simply, as Paul prayed in Ephesians 1, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,” etc. etc.?

So I’m just wondering: Does theology matter?

[I’m writing like Rob Bell? Asking questions? Not making statements?**]

*By the way, the same guy who preached that quintessential hellfire-and-brimstone sermon also preached “Heaven is a World of Love.” That could totally be a book today. The first? Not so much.

**Okay, one statement. A story actually.

A couple years ago, I was talking with my pastor uncle about how Christians tend to ignore theological particulars because discussing them would “be a waste of time.” There’s so much else to do, right?

My uncle wisely said something like this: “Talking about God is probably a better use of time than most other things we might do instead.” Indeed — there are lots of problems in the world. Talking about the Bible too much is not one of them.

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3 thoughts on “Just Wondering: Does Theology Matter?

  1. That was Tim, right? Tim is wise, and what he said is probably enough. But I’ll add this anyway: theology is practical because what you do and say (Bell’s “real people’s lives” stuff) depends largely on what you know. I’m constantly stunned by the things that come out of Christians’ mouths regarding “real” issues like ethics and morality, questions about what’s okay and what’s not. For example, our former youth pastor recently posed the question on facebook of whether it was all right to sneak food into a movie theater when the theater had a policy forbidding it. A large majority said it was fine, most often citing as justification that concession stand food was too expensive. Now, there’s obviously no bible passage that specifically addresses movie theater ethics, but even a tenuous grasp on theology should make those kinds of questions no-brainers.

    I don’t know whether most people are like me or not; I struggle plenty just living up to the bit of theology I know. How on earth should Christians act if we don’t know any?

    • yes, that was Uncle Tim, and I agree with your sentiments. Theology is totally practical and the Bible is totally practical…provided you do the work to understand it. It’s not *immediately* practical however, which is usually what we want. all theology is ultimately practical, but we often bypass arduous exegesis because we want to get busy livin’. it’s helpful for me to think instead: does this affect my view of God? it always does. so i would argue it matters inherently.

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