How to Avoid Doing Theology All Wrong

Theology is a dangerous subject. In fact, there may be no area of interest more perilous than theology. That is true if it is not pursued in the best way and for the highest purposes. In the opening chapter of Knowing God, J.I. Packer says that if we wish to avoid the perils, we need to always consider this question when we consider the study of God and his ways: What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have got it?

Become a Patron

Any knowledge and any expertise can lead to pride, but theology is particularly dangerous this way. The reason is simple: Theology is such a great and high subject—the highest there is. Packer offers this warning: “If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject-matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate, and dismiss them as very poor specimens.”

I suspect you can identify this very tendency and perhaps this very pattern in your own life. Packer writes to you and me here, to people who are theologically-minded, and warns us that a little theology can do a lot of harm. “To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach the Bible with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception.”

But this does not mean we must avoid the study of God altogether. Far from it. We need to pursue God for the best reason: “Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are. As he is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must himself be the end of it. We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God.”

We also need to pursue God through the best methodology, and that involves meditation. “We turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.” He goes on to offer an excellent definition and description of the art of Christian meditation:

Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace.

The effect of such meditation is a gracious humbling, in which God shows us who we are and who he is by comparison. He reveals true knowledge of himself and ensures that our theology works itself out in genuine relationship with God. Theology is a dangerous study, but God redeems it for our good and his glory.

Next Week

If you are reading Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together, please read chapters 3 and 4 for next Thursday. If you are not yet doing so, why don’t you join us? We have only just begun, so you will not have a difficult time catching up.

Your Turn

The purpose of Reading Classics Together is to read these books together. This time around the bulk of the discussion is happening in a dedicated Facebook group. You can find it right here. Several hundred people are already interacting there and would be glad to have you join in.