What’s the Big Deal about Theology?

Theology is a misunderstood word in today’s culture. Many times it is used in a derogatory way or because it is misconstrued. To some people, it means a person who is filled with knowledge who loves to debate others. To others it simply means, “the study of God.”

To most, we think of certain “tribes” of people who hold to a certain doctrine. Calvinists, Armenians, premillennialists, amillennialists, and the list goes on and on. Without knowing it, we have put more emphasis into people who wrote about the Bible, than actually studying the Bible.

I’m not a Calvinist or Armenian. I’m a Christ-follower. That is enough for me.

We are all theologians. What? Seriously, Josh? I didn’t go to a specific university or seminary so how am I a theologian? All of us, each day, reveal what we believe. Our actions stem from our beliefs, and where and how those beliefs originate develop a theology.

Simply, theology is the study of God. The implications of studying who God is will have an impact on our lives. Theology dictates what and who we believe in and how we live our life. Eternity hangs in the balance, depending on our theology.

I went to Bible college during my undergrad and went online for my master’s with Liberty University. During my time in Bible college and seminary I noticed that no other word created more fiery debates than “theology.” But what I noticed was that most so-called theologians only wanted to debate secondary issues. The debates I overheard, and admittedly was a part of at times, included a lot of small issues that were blown into large issues.

But each Sunday morning and Wednesday night as I left the dorm room to go serve at a church 45 miles one way, what I noticed was that most of the “theologians” were still in their dorm rooms.

In that moment I realized that your lifestyle reveals your theology.

Anyone can debate, fight and claw to win, but those who actively serve in the mission to seek and save the lost have the right theology.

My friend, if you spend your life trying to find the exact, “perfect” theology but miss the calling to live it out and share Jesus, your theology is dead.

Studying God’s Word is crucial but not just to prepare to win the next argument. Studying God should transform us into the image of God in our humility, passion and love for people. The whole of the Bible could be summed up in two phrases, “Love God, love people.”

Next time you hear the word, “theology,” my encouragement is to stop and think about your lifestyle. Does your theology FIT your lifestyle or does your lifestyle FIT God’s character?

Stop trying to win arguments and start winning people to Jesus by the way you live.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.theyouthministryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/joshrobinson.png[/author_image] [author_info]Josh is the student pastor at Church @ The Springs in Ocala, Florida (www.thesprings.net). Josh has served in student ministry for 9+ years and has a passion to lead students to imitate Christ and influence the world! He has a personal blog at http://joshrobinson.cc[/author_info] [/author]

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16 thoughts on “What’s the Big Deal about Theology?

  1. If this is true (and I think it is), then what does this reveal about the theology of our teens? I think part of our job as youth workers is to help teens name their actual theology and point them towards a Christ-centered theology.

  2. The big deal about theology is that it *is* a big deal. The person who doesn’t know what they believe is not honoring the Lord with their mind. With their heart and hands, maybe, but God wants all of us, not just the easy parts. Absolutely, we are first Christ-followers and that’s the most important thing – but we can’t live on milk forever! At some point we (as Christ-followers who wish to truly honor him) have to do the hard thing, put in the time and study, and move on to solid food.

    If it’s true that we are all theologians, then why deemphasize the importance of studying theology, and more importantly, settling into a camp? The existence of tribes is not inherently bad. You can’t separate serious study of the Word from settling into a systematized theology – it’s a false dichotomy. The tribes, themselves, and the fact that people name them and identify with them, are not bad things. Indeed, it’s actually a good thing. It brings clarity. It solidifies beliefs. And it helps people to know exactly what they believe and why they believe it.

    The bad thing, the thing you should have a quarrel with, is when the tribes treat secondary things as gospel things, and do it uncharitably. Most of the tribes agree on the gospel, so at the end of the day, we’re all still brothers and sisters. The problem is how the tribes interact with other sometimes – when the debate is not done in love and charity, with understanding and grace.

    Now I’ll lay all my cards on the table – I’m a Calvinist. I’m an amillennial, complementarian, supralapsarian Calvinist. But I love and respect Arminians (it’s ArmInian, not ArmEnian, by the way). I even love and can have charitable conversation with pretrib- premillennialists. As long as we agree on the gospel! And to downplay theological identifications and discount the many Godly men who’ve died for theirs by saying, “I follow Christ and that’s enough,” is immature at best, dangerous at worst. We should live a certain way that denies self and glorifies Christ, indeed. Love God, love people, yes! At all times. But the gospel is not helping people. The gospel is not a certain type of living. My lifestyle – or anyone else’s – will never save anyone. The gospel is an announcement. It’s good news about what a man, the God-man, did 2,000 years ago. And this gospel is not found in holy living, although it certainly leads to it and produces it.

    If theology is misunderstood in today’s culture, it’s not because people have separated themselves into camps or overemphasized “theology”; there have always been theological tribes. It’s because we’ve made it okay, in vogue even, to “just follow Jesus” without understanding that He is the Word. And the Word reveals the very nature and character of God. Since the Word reveals God’s character and His redemptive plan for his people and the world, we fool ourselves if we think we can study and imitate the Word without ever having to narrow our beliefs by rejecting someone else’s.

    • Steve,
      What a GREAT response! Thanks for jumping into the conversation and not holding back! I can’t speak on behalf of Josh, hopefully we can get a word from him soon, but when I read this post I saw concern for two things:
      1. Division without love.
      2. Theology without action.

      Can we agree that both of these are harmful? I would totally agree that theology is important, and if we are to mature in our understanding of the Word, we will naturally be drawn into certain classifications or groupings. It seems, like you stated, that we have let secondary issues become primary ones. We have let conversation become attacks. (When I say we I mean differing camps…not you and I!)

      In addition, we all know people who sit in their ivory towers and never allow their theology impact their practice. While they contain Good News and GREAT doctrine, they never practice it. It seems this is where Josh was going. I believe Josh does think theology is a big deal, which is why he states, “Studying God’s Word is crucial but not just to prepare to win the next argument. Studying God should transform us into the image of God in our humility, passion and love for people.”


      • Hey David, thanks! Good to hear from you. I saw those two things as well, and I agree they’re both harmful – I just don’t want to see the baby go out with the bathwater. Just because someone somewhere has great theology but doesn’t practice it (the way we think they should!), doesn’t mean we cast aside theological systems and advocate an “I just follow Jesus” mentality.

        I would argue it’s *at least* as harmful because it’s simply the other side of the spectrum. All head with no heart or hands, is no less immature or dangerous as all heart/hands with no head. We all also know the person who is eager to do good to people and even share their faith, but can’t give a coherent answer when drilled about their theology, the Proverbs 19.2 person, who has zeal without knowledge. It’s not good, and I dare say this age’s lack of emphasizing a solid-as-a-rock theological foundation in Children’s and Student ministries is a contributor to the outrageous stats about college students walking away from their faith once they leave home and their first humanist professor embarrasses them.

        God is honored when we can rebuke false teachings and grow in sound doctrine – something the Apostle Paul was himself concerned with – but also and only when we can correct and rebuke gently and lovingly. To boot, I’d argue that no matter how biblical, logical, coherent, or strong one’s theology is, if it isn’t accompanied by a holy life and love for others, one has become like the Pharisee who thinks life is in the book, not the Person.

        I see that as the main point of Josh’s post, but I’m always discouraged and concerned to see it expressed at the expense of something as important as sound doctrine by way of theological systems that are hundreds (or more) years old. In other words, I’d agree with Josh’s concern for loveless division and theology that doesn’t produce action. But I would emphasize – not downplay – the importance of these theological camps. They’re neat. They’re well thought-out. They’re clearly expressed. Perhaps most importantly, they’re historical. They remind us we’re not coming up with anything new, but they also tie us to some of the heroes, some of the giants of our faith. That’s not to be so easily dismissed.

      • Theology is very important. I was hoping that people wouldn’t miss the importance but I’m challenging the fact that so many talk/read/debate and do not allow the truth to impact their daily decisions of reaching the lost, loving others, forgiving, etc…

        My goal is to become more like Jesus.

        Plus, I don’t have it all figured out. I’m learning everyday. What I don’t want to miss is the most important aspects of following Jesus by majoring on the minors.

        I believe one of the biggest reasons the American church is hurting is because of the divisiveness, camps and disagreements on minor issues. I say focus on the things that unite us a not those that divide us.

        • Hi Josh, thanks for your responses! Good discussion.

          In the original post you (maybe unintentionally) implied that it’s okay – even preferable perhaps – to dismiss the minors, to not have to choose a side, to just ride the fence. But now you say the minors are important – you don’t want to miss the majors because you’ve focused *too much* on the minors. So how much is the appropriate amount of time to focus on the minors, and when is the appropriate time, then, to start focusing on them? Is it after you’ve won a certain number of people? After you’ve been a Christian for a certain number of years? Is it never?

          The point is, the majors are built on a foundation of minors. The minors bring clarity and at some point, in order to be able to articulate a well-reasoned faith, you need to focus on the minors! In so doing, though, you will fall into a camp. Like it or not, it’s logically, intellectually, and historically impossible to study and formulate biblical doctrine and theology, only to later find out that you’ve somehow become the first person in history to escape the labels and identifications. In other words, if you’re not a Calvinist or an Arminian, what are you? You’re either a Pelagian, a semi-Pelagian, or an Amyraldian. Everything has a name! If you can’t ever decide on one, they you’re just confused – and that doesn’t do anyone any good.

          I spent a little time on your church’s website and I notice right off the bat, that you are not a Catholic church – which means you’re in the Protestant camp. Your church prides itself on being a place for people who’ve been worn out by traditional church in the past, a new and relevant place for a certain kind of Christian – which means you’re in the low church camp (casual service, not liturgical, you probably don’t do a lot of responsive readings, etc. as opposed to an Episcopal or similar high church). Your church practices believer’s baptism and communion as a memorial – which puts you somewhere in or around the Baptist camp. See, camps aren’t so bad. You’re in a bunch of camps already and didn’t even know it! And that’s why they’re not what’s hurting the church – the move away from camps – towards vagueness – is what’s hurting the American church. Pastors who are scared to take a stand or push their people, are hurting the church.

          Again, history is on the side of the camps here. Everyone is in a camp, lots of camps in fact. They’ve always existed – not because people follow Calvin or Augustine or Arminius or Wesley or anyone else. They exist because we all follow Christ, but as we disagree on the minors (which is okay), we label ourselves so that we (and others) can identify exactly what we believe.

          Without proof-texting to show that some people are fooled into thinking themselves true believers when Jesus never knew them, I say it is very dangerous to accept (and promote!) vagueness, and an “I just follow Jesus” mentality. To be blunt, it comes off as lazy or prideful. It masquerades as spiritual maturity, but it’s only ever been tolerated in this current age where tolerance is the chief virtue.

          It’s dangerous and immature because it doesn’t tell anyone anything about what you believe, really. Rob Bell says he follows Jesus, and no one’s going to hell. Oprah says she follows Jesus (among others). Joel Osteen says he follows Jesus, and he makes him healthy and wealthy. Mormons say they follow Jesus, but he’s only one of two sons of God – the other being Satan. Westboro Baptist Church says they follow Jesus, but they hate everyone. They all have a slightly different Jesus! How are we to know what they (and you) really believe?! How are we to know their gospel is false, especially when their lifestyles may reflect (or outshine, perhaps in the case of the Mormons) the average Christian’s?

          In grace and with respect, can I encourage you to not be scared of the names of the tribes? Just because you apparently went to seminary with bunch of knuckleheads, don’t be scared to narrow your beliefs and identify yourself with a lineage of men who, perhaps hundreds or more years ago, spent innumerable hours praying, studying, and writing for your edification today!

          With grace, bro

    • Steve A,

      Sorry I’m late to respond!

      You brought up great insights. First, I wanted to write a thought-provoking blog about the need for theology to not only be known/studies but more so applied and lived out.

      I would disagree though that saying, ““I follow Christ and that’s enough” is dangerous. If I remember right Jesus completely fulfilled the law and exemplified theology. I am not downplaying theology as I simply wrote a short blog post to help challenge leaders to not only talk theology but live it. I agree that we must stay focused upon studying and knowing what we believe and why we believe it.

      I want to generate discussion and encourage us all to devote ourselves to an action packed faith while applying the Word of God.

      Trust me, I have multiple degrees and spend a lot of time studying the Word. But knowledge without application puffs up and I just always want to strive for living it out and being “Jesus focused.”

      I think that always making it all about Jesus leads to a correct theology. I don’t follow Calvin, Arminian, Augustine….I follow Jesus. Those guys wrote great and helpful things about Jesus but that is about it for me.

  3. So, I see the point. I really do (both points, in fact, that David mentioned in the comments). But this post is mostly not helpful.

    The trouble is, this description of theology/theologians feels more arrogant than most of those theology-types I’ve known (“I was out serving in a church while they were in their dorm rooms”) and therefore seems to commit the exact error you decry, but in the opposite direction.

    Plus it’s a straw man: I went through Bible school and seminary too, and maybe it’s just different in California (I went to Biola and Talbot), but your description of a theologian doesn’t fit anyone I’ve known. Most guys and girls I have known have been doing theology because they love the Church and want to serve her with their minds as well as their hearts. Almost none are as one-sided as you make it sound.

    The other thing is that this is a youth ministry blog. Do you really think that we have too many ultra-theological, unpractical youth pastors? It seems to me that youth pastors are far more notorious for being the types who don’t seem to want to grow up and don’t dig deep into God’s Word (even when that’s not fair, that’s often the reputation).

    Theology is not fundamentally about settling debates. It’s about loving God with your mind, taking His Word seriously, and recognizing that those things often take hard work and serious thinking, even when it’s not obvious what the practical payoff is in the immediate term.

    I say, more theological youth pastors, please!

    With no disrespect and appreciation for your heart to edify and serve,

    Andrew Faris
    God-Centered Youth Ministry

    • Andrew, Great thoughts! Welcome to the conversation. It drives me crazy that youth pastors get tagged as sub-par in their theology and pursuit of sound doctrine. We will only change this perspective by being youth pastors that push students to worship with their minds and bodies, with belief and practice.

      • Hey David,

        Thanks for the response, and I hope I didn’t come across as rude or anything like that. I’ve appreciated Josh’s posts in large part, just as I also I appreciated the interview you did with him (his comment about how he thinks of events was particularly helpful to me).

        And I agree with your response completely!

        Andrew Faris
        God-Centered Youth Ministry

        • Andrew,

          Thanks for your insightful comments! I love it.

          I really enjoy hearing/learning and wanting to get better as a leader/person.

          I am encouraged by you and others on the blog that are passionate about the truth and study of God! Keep up the great work and I pray God blesses your life/family/ministry.


    • Thanks for the comment! Sorry I’m late.

      I think this blog is helpful because we are all talking about theology!

      I understand that your experience might have been different than mine in Bible college. It wasn’t always that way, but it stuck in my mind.

      Your explanation of youth pastors who aren’t as theological is different in my experience. I find more in the SE know their theology. My challenge is to keep the focus upon living out faith and not simply having knowledge.

      I agree we need more theological youth pastors. This is why I wrote the blog post. Thanks for the comments

  4. Lastly, I want to mention the idea of belonging to “camps” or specific people who are theologians.

    1 Corinthians 3:4-5: “For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.”

    1 Corinthians 3:11: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

    I don’t follow a specific camp and I’m great with it. I follow Jesus.