Sunday, March 23, 2008

Theology is Relevant

Relevance is a popular buzzword today in Christianity. So important is relevance, we are taught that the cardinal sin in preaching today is being irrelevant. It no longer matters if a sermon is biblically or theologically accurate. Relevancy is the sole standard for measuring the quality of a sermon.

Nothing is thought by our contemporary world to be more irrelevant than theology. This is why it was no surprise to read Charles Swindoll say that debating the meaning of grace is an alternative for “[t]hose who aren’t comfortable denying it.” Moreover, he states, “Grace was meant to be received and lived out to the fullest, not dissected and analyzed by those who would rather argue than eat…It’s time for grace to be awakened and released…to be enjoyed and freely given, not debated. ” [1]He even implies that the Protestant Reformation made this same mistake debating grace and not living it out. The bottom line it seems for Swindoll and too many others is theology engenders debate, and it keeps believers from living out their faith making theology irrelevant because it is impractical.

The problem with this idea that theology is irrelevant because it is impractical is that one’s practice must be built on a solid theological foundation, or he will go astray in his practice. For example, if one has a theologically low view of sin, he will tolerate sin in his practical life. Another example, if one is a theological universalist, he will not practice evangelism. (Why go through all the trouble if every one will be saved in the end regardless of what you do?) The examples could be multiplied endlessly, but these should suffice to prove the point that practical living must be based on solid theological thinking.

Kistler understands the practical relevance of theology. He argues, “We will not live any better than our theology; we may not live as well as our theology, but we will never live any better.” [2] If Kistler is correct, then theology is more relevant than the practical aspects of Christianity because in order to practice correctly we have to think correctly about God, which is in reality that with which theology is concerned.

Correct theology is the foundation for correct living. Consequently, one must give every effort to make certain that his theology is correct. Unfortunately, as fallible humans, we often fail to see the fallacies in our own thinking. One way to refine one’s thinking and uncover blind spots in thinking is debate. “Monologues seldom produce refined thought,” argues Geisler in his evaluation of atheism. He continues, “Without atheists, theists would lack significant opposition with which to dialogue and clarify their concepts of God.” [3] Debate or dialogue is an important tool for a theologian to sharpen his thinking. If believers rule out debate altogether, theological thinking will lack clarity and practically living out one’s faith will suffer as a result.

I am not suggesting that theological debate should be a Christian’s only concern, for truth must be lived out. I am suggesting, however, a balance. Believers should concern themselves with both theology and practical Christian living. Both are relevant, and these are not mutually exclusive concepts. Far from it, they are actually dependant on each other. Let us make every effort to pursue both correct thinking and correct living.

Pastor Jeremy Lee
Twining Baptist Church

[1] Swindoll, Charles R. The Grace Awakening Devotional A Thirty- Day Walk in the Freedom of Grace. (W Publishing Group 2003) pgs 1-2.
[3] Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. (Baker 1999) p. 58.


Anonymous said...

Pastor Jeremy, what good thoughts you express. God forbid we should have on our lips the word "Theology" What, the study of God, Theology. I thought "just give me Jesus" was enough. Actually I agree with you whole heartedly. Very good posting. Thanks KC

mrvondo said...

I like the thought on matters such as this that there are two legs, don't cut either of them off. The church needs to be relevant, I.e. meeting the needs of the day...but as you have clearly pointed out, good theology will provide motivation for doing this in a Christ honoring, biblical way. Can't you see Jonah sitting around the bar, saying, "let me tell you all about the wonderful plan God has for your life."