In our day theology seems to have fallen on hard times. It is misunderstood and misrepresented, and therefore, often devalued and unappreciated. But, I would simply like to remind us that theology matters. It matters because of who it is about and who it is for.
Theology is about God. Our word “theology” comes from 2 Greek words, “theos” (God) and “logos” (word). Therefore, it is a word about God, and since everyone says or thinks something about God, then everyone is a theologian. The question begging an answer is, “Are you a good theologian?” What we say and think about God matters.
Theology is about God, and it is for the individual christian and the corporate church. What we confess and believe about God affects the way we live, love, and worship. InThe Pastor As Public Theologian, Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “Theology serves the church to the extent that it helps disciples fulfill their vocation to put on Christ and to grow into ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13.) The real work of theology is indeed public: growing persons, cultivating a people. It is about helping individuals and communities to grow into the fullness of Christ. In sum: the real work of theology is the work of getting real–conforming people’s speech, thoughts, and actions to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, the source and standard of all truth, goodness, and beauty.”
Does the overall tenor of my “speech, thoughts, and actions” reflect the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Lord Jesus? If not, then at some point my theology or understanding of theology is faulty or deficient.
Theology should always work to make a difference and aid in devotion. To that end, I want to encourage us to be intentional in the coming new year to 1) grow in our Bible reading, and 2) read a good systematic theology book. There are many to choose from. May I suggest 4 for our consideration? (I have listed them from basic to more in-depth.) 1. Christian Beliefs: twenty basics every Christian should know by Wayne Grudem; 2. Everyone’s a Theologian by R. C. Sproul; 3. Know the Truth by Bruce Milne; and 4. Systematic Theology by Louis Berkof.
I’d like to leave you with the stirring words of the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck:
And the essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God. Dogmatics shows us how God, who is all-sufficient in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which, even when it is torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ (Ehp. 1:10). It describes for us God, always God, from beginning to end–God in his being, God in his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name. Dogmatics, therefore, is not a dull and arid science. It is a theodicy, a doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a “glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14). (H. Bavinck,Reformed Dogmatics, I, 112 (Baker Academic, 2004))
“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” — 1 John 5:20
As Christmas draws ever closer, I would like to offer a little reflection from this verse once again reminding us of the significance of this season we celebrate.
There are at least four great truths found in this verse:
1. The Incarnation–When John writes that “the Son of God has come,” he means that the eternal, divine Son of God has come to our world as a man; flesh and blood. We know this from what John has previously written in chapter 4 and verse 2, “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come in the flesh! Incarnated Majesty lying in a manger, dependent upon the very hands He had fashioned. We read of him “[increasing] in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Lk 2:52) In the gospels we walk with him along dusty Judean roads. We relate with his hunger and weariness. We see him touch and be touched. We witness his brutal beating, bloody death, burial, and bodily resurrection. All because the Son of God has come!
2. Fulfillment–When John says that “the Son of God has come,” he speaks decisively, reminding us that the Person of promise has come. As a Jew, John had been a part of a long line of those eagerly looking for the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming of God’s Messiah. John is saying that Jesus is the fulfillment of those prophecies. The way He came–virgin birth (Is 7:14); the place He was born–Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); the ministry He gave–Spirit-anointed proclamation and miracles (Is 35:5-6, 61:1-2; Matt 11:2-5; Lk 4:18-20); the death He died–substitutionary penal sacrifice on a tree (Dt 21:23; Ps 22; Is 53; Gal 3:13); the resurrection He experienced (Ps 2:7; 16:8-11; Is 55:3; Acts 13:30-37); and the ascension He enjoyed (Ps 110:1; Acts 2:32-35; Ps 68:18; Eph 4:8) are all fulfilments of God’s Word in the Old Testament. In the coming of the Son of God, the promises have been fulfilled, and the plan of redemption accomplished!
3. Revelation–John says that the Son of God “has given us understanding.” Understanding of what? or of whom? Answer: “Him who is true.” Jesus is the revelation of God. Jesus told his disciple Philip, “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9) Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…” The words of Jesus are the words of God. The acts of Jesus are the acts of God. In seeing Jesus, we see God. He is the revelation of God, the Son who “has given us understanding.”
4. Relation–All of this–incarnation, fulfilment, revelation–means something for us. It means that by faith in the Son Jesus Christ, we have been put in right and intimate relation to God. Notice John’s words, “so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.” We who were strangers and aliens know God. We who were separated have been united to Christ. “[Our] life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3) And by the Spirit, the Father and Son “come to [us] and make [their] home with [us].” (Jn 14:23) God in Christ has put us in relation to “the true God and eternal life!”
May these truths of Christmas grant us assurance, joy, and life that issues forth in wonder and worship.
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.