When you get into college, most people recommend that you study something concrete. Gain some skills, get yourself ready for work, they say. Math, finance, engineering — those are the fields rich with jobs. Don’t waste your time in social sciences — such things are interesting, but won’t really affect your personal life.
So why is theology important?
Everyone has their own theology; everyone is a theologian.
First, one must consider the basic nature of the question. Theology encompasses one’s thoughts about the divine being, the origin of the Universe, and the nature of humanity. In regard to those things, everyone holds to certain beliefs, either actively or passively. “Everyone is a theologian,” prominent theologians like to say.
Defining the role of theology thusly makes it an incredibly important thing. Every decision, however big or small, in some way goes back to one’s basic beliefs about the nature of things. If one believes that men and women are basically good in their essence, they will have a different thought process from one who does not. If one believes in a sovereign, omnipotent God who controls all things, their basis for decisions will be different than one who does not.
It is easy to see that theology is consequential for people who have spent hours actively considering the various options and have purposefully arrived at a conclusion. However, one might also imagine that it is consequential for those who have never even thought of the subject at all.
An Illustration from Sports
Let us consider the game of basketball, briefly. In the game of basketball, there are countless little skills that are necessary for one to master in order to eventually master the sport. These little skills are called the “fundamentals” of the sport. If we envision a game of basketball played between a highly skilled player, and one who has never played before, the outcome of any game will usually depend on which player has a better grasp of these fundamental skills, and which one uses those fundamentals to their advantage. Now, the highly skilled player has likely spent a lot of time considering these skills, making decisions about them, and putting them into practice. His beliefs about the fundamentals — which foot he should put forward, how he should hold the ball, which angle his elbow should be at when he shoots — have brought him to make certain decisions that cause him to play in a certain way.
However, does the fact the unskilled player has likely never thought about the fundamentals mean that the fundamentals are less important to his ability to play?
Obviously, the answer is no. The fundamentals still exist, and are either true or false, regardless of whether or not the players are aware of them. Fundamentals are like objective standards that exist regardless of who plays, and those who play are ultimately accountable for how they fail or succeed in bringing them to bear.
Back to reality
Now, there are some obvious caveats with basketball, which we won’t get into here. The point that I am driving toward is that theology is a fundamental issue, regardless of whether one is conscious of it.
When I wrote about this before, my conclusion was very general. Consider the “God-concept” for yourself — don’t merely be passive on the subject. Here, I want to get a bit more specific on the subject from my perspective.
In the Bible, the Apostle Paul talked about these fundamental convictions fairly deeply in his letter to the church in Corinth. He called them “milk”. He says,
I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly — mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly.1 Corinthians 3:1-3 (NIV)
Basically, he’s talking about the same basic idea — that the God-concept, the true “fundamental”, is real, and that it governs everything around us — and he says that his subjects were not yet ready for more advanced themes, because they had no grasp of the fundamentals. Why does he say this? He tells us why in the next sentence.
For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans1 Corinthians 3:4
The evidence that one has not yet grasped the one, true fundamental concept of all reality, is the fact that they participate in jealousy and quarreling.
And so Paul’s answer is not to deal primarily with the jealousy and quarreling, but to go back to the fundamental — the issue that God exists, and has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and works through his Holy Spirit. Everything else after that is secondary.
In the same way, a basketball coach might take a player who is missing shots and, instead of having them shoot more, have them practice changing the position of their feet on the floor. He might talk to them for an hour about the importance of distributing their weight equally on both feet. He might have them practice lifting their arm and making a 90-degree angle with their elbow. These are fundamentals that will allow one to eventually shoot the ball with accuracy.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul is driving after that same kind of accuracy, but in a much deeper game — the game of life. He’s telling his subjects that if they don’t understand the implications of God’s sovereign existence, then they won’t be able to understand the problems of jealousy and strife that exist between them.
Conclusion: We must worry about ourselves
In conclusion, I believe Christians must see that the existence of God, for them, governs all things. In reality, it governs all things for all people, but for us, we are aware of its governing. And if we participate in strife in our camp, we must be aware that there is something fundamentally with our reliance on God himself.
This is the beginning of the demarcation line that the New Testament authors draw out between the culture of Christians and the cultures of the world. Christians are to live in and among the cultures of the world, but they are not to be defined by them. They are not to find their personal fulfillment in them. They are to always be aware that their significance is not defined by the culture in which they were born. Rather, it is defined by God, and how he sees them in Christ.
We cannot control the existence of fighting and jealousy in the world — those things will always exist, this side of the New Earth. But we can control whether we participate in them, and whether we bring them into our community. And the degree to which we do participate in strife and division is an indicator of the degree to which we have grasped the fundamentals of the world in which we live.