We theological types tend to research, analyze, and apply spiritual truths as if they were lectures in a seminary classroom where the audience is agreeable and as pious as we think we are. I’ve earned multiple advanced degrees in theology and Biblical studies, and I’ve delivered my fair share of those lectures.
Now I’m a recovering theologian.
God is worth studying his word well. He has called us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. However, he also called us to love our neighbor. If we possess spiritual gifts in spades and have all the theological knowledge our fallen, fragile minds could handle but have not love, we are nothing.
As one trained in theology, biblical interpretation, and ministry, I can tell you that there is a real pull toward the academic. There is a temptation to flex the muscle of your theological mind, but the flock of God needs green pastures and shepherds, not lecture halls and professors. Ministry is much more than organized bible studies, supplemental bible seminars, and book discussions with our favorite theologian’s take on relevant topics. Those aspects of the Christian life can be edifying, but they are not sufficient. Only Christ is.
It is quite possible to speak past the work of Christ in his name. Luther, in his theology of the cross, went for the jugular of the works-oriented, self-focused version of Christianity that was prevalent in his day. A theology of the cross is an all-encompassing paradigm of Christ’s sufficient atoning work outside ourselves that permeates every facet of our understanding of the faith. In contrast, a theology of glory emphasizes practicality, logical consistency, and highlights our own struggles and striving. We all gravitate toward a theology of glory and are desperately in need of a theology of the cross to continuously reorient our hearts and minds.
Left unchecked, we will view the cross of Christ as a means to our end instead of the end of our means. Our default operating system is to make ourselves the center of the theological universe and to let the cross be another way to achieve our hearts’ true desire: results. The very nature of the cross as an external atoning work flies in the face of that mindset, and the nature of grace as totally unmerited nullifies the notion that we contribute anything or ultimately achieve results ourselves.
Grace is more than a concept to believe in. It is the reality that God is for us because of Christ regardless of our failures or successes, and it seeps down into our brokenness. The Gospel perpetually explodes the paradigms of our tidy, works-oriented hearts. This good news refocuses our hearts and minds toward Christ and away from the false security of our damnable good works or the condemnation of our transgressions.
Followers of Christ should absolutely study theology. However, they should also always remember that theology exists to study only because of Christ’s redeeming work that bears our deserved judgment and redeems our fallen minds. Because we always toggle back to a works-righteousness mindset, we must keep the cross in the foreground of our theological endeavors.
I hold theology in high regard, scripture in higher regard, and Jesus Christ in the highest regard. The best theologians understand the distinction and take the word of God more seriously than themselves or their study of it. I’m still a theologian, as all Christians ultimately are, but now I understand that theology isn’t ultimate or sufficient. It points to Christ, who is solely ultimate and sufficient.