When you see the knowledge and power a theologian has, it is easy to be attracted to the discipline. But this road leads only to destruction; indeed, it may be a destruction that is irredeemable. It seems that this desire for influence and thus power is at the root of many suits, collars, and blue-jean pastors.
Another reason a man may study Theology is for his thirst for knowledge. But this misses the mark. For how can one have his curiosity satisfied by the subject matter, whose object is infinite and above all reason? One drop of heaven’s dew can fill our oceans. Theology is an ocean of Heaven that does not fill the mind; it drowns it and resurrects it. The mind then asks for more, for Theology is the discipline that satisfies and increases our appetite for the next meal.
Intellectual curiosity may initiate one into God’s study, but it won’t keep you there. Like a boy curious about a museum exhibit, he will be giddy at first and even ask some thoughtful questions, and once his curiosity has peaked, he will lose interest until the next riddle tickles his ears.
For the Lost?
Ah, to save the lost from the flames of Hell. This, too, is a false motive. But what of giving a reason for our hope? This is part of the fruit of Theology, but we cannot make it the aim for our study. This, the saving of souls, will leave the theologian starved. The theologian will quickly find himself like the host of a party smelling all the delightful dinners and desserts, but being last in line to the feast, or worse, he may be exhausted and miss the meal altogether (this is doubly worse for those with children and a wife). No, our study of Theology cannot be for the sake of others. This can lead to a savior complex where the Christian believes that unlocking the right “way to say” something will lead to conversion. Instead, all that occurs is the assent to a proposition, not the faith to save.
Obsessing over the lost leads to a warped interpretation of scripture and Theology where the subject is no longer God, but evangelism. This creates anxiety that surpasses all understanding. Maybe if I had studied a little more, that person who died last week would have prayed a prayer. Maybe if I had read one more commentary, I would have known how to “reach them where they were at”. Maybe I am reading it wrong; maybe it’s not what I said, but how I said it. No, maybe I need to change my approach. Maybe we need to make this “narrow way” a little wider.
When we make Theology about the lost, we inevitably end up being panicked and anxious spiritual paramedics, or we become DIY spiritual pop-stars who are terrified of condemning any sin, even if it would save the lost. In this desire, the Devil pulls a bait-and-switch and exchanges the subject of Theology, which is God, for an anxious heart, a starved soul, a weary body, and an empty mind. Theology is not about others.
One may study Theology for the approval of others. In this scenario, one sees the great minds of the past, Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Athanasius, etc. or the reformers, Luther and Calvin et al., or more modern figures like C.S. Lewis, Chesterton, or Spurgeon, etc. and believes that through sheer will and determination, he too can adorn seminary walls.
Seeking approval rather than Theology’s subject, God, the theologian is not a theologian at all. He is a magician doing cheap tricks for the crowd, and believes he can pay a small fee for some seminary classes, a laying on of hands, and a following waiting to hang on his every word. This is not a desire that exchanges one’s object of study for the Tree of Life or the Tree of Knowledge. This desire exchanges the object of study, God, for social seduction rather than spiritual edification. These theologians often imitate the Devil when they ask, “Did God really mean…or maybe it’s something else.” They instill doubt in their students so that they can feed their unquenchable thirst for attention. Eventually, this man, when the storm comes and waters rise will either abandon the students or pull them into the depths of doubt with him.
To Know God
So, why study Theology, especially as a layman who may never obtain that privilege of Seminary? It is because it will transform you. When our study has the proper aim of God, our pride is shattered, our thirst for knowledge is satisfied and strengthened, and our hearts for the lost can overflow with the love of God. Instead of pulling others into the abyss, we can lift them up to Heaven’s Ocean where all being finds its end, and sinners are washed and made clean.
In essence, we study Theology, not due to some personal flaw or selfish desire, but because its object, God, will transform you as you explore its depths and climb its peaks in search of those heavenly streams whose waters sustained great men and women of the faith — those known and those known only by Heaven. A single drop of Heaven’s dew is worth every hour of study, because a single drop of heaven can quench the driest desert, the soul of man.
To use power for good is virtuous, to desire to save the lost is virtuous, to encourage people is virtuous, but perverting the ends of Theology leads to perversion of virtue. Thus, in our darkening days, we ought to seek God while he can be found. We must remember to “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” and all these things will be added. Then, when the famines come, our souls will flourish, though our bodies wither.