What you believe matters.

I am more and more convinced that biblical literacy and theological grounding is now our critical need.

I was reminded of this a while back while working out at the gym. I was on a machine watching television but without the sound on … just reading closed captioning. The story being typed onto the screen word by word was some news piece about Pope Francis. And somewhere in the story, this phrase crossed the screen: “a message from Bob.”

From the context, I could tell they meant to type, “a message from God” but God never got the credit for whatever that message was. That strikes me as significant. How many people in the world are getting their messages from “Bob” (any popular speaker/ writer/ influencer) while God goes unnoticed?

When the movie, The Passion, first came out, a big group from our church went to see it together. Afterward, we adjourned to my living room to discuss what we’d seen. In the midst of the dialogue, someone asked some kind of technical question about the way God works and a guy who happens to have been in professional ministry had this response: “Frankly, I don’t have much use for theology. I just want to know who God is and what his heart is.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that pretty much the point of theology?

“I don’t have much use for theology.” Really? I bet that guy would have cared about my theology if we had been worshiping cows in my living room. I bet he would have cared if we were all there to discuss the message of Bob rather than the message of God. It must be fun to sound like a renegade in a group of people talking about religion, but it can also be theologically dangerous.

What you believe matters. And this is why I hold that biblical literacy and theological grounding are the critical need today. Otherwise we won’t have the compass to discern the direction of those who seek our endorsement. Those of us who trust in Christ have a poor record of talking theologically in public, with integrity (we do it, but not well). But to have a Kingdom-shaped influence in the marketplace, as Dr. Gregg Okesson says, we must learn to talk theologically in public about issues of public interest.

Theology matters. True, it has no life without the stirring of the Holy Spirit but nothing can be said about the nature of life, God or ultimate meaning without talking theologically. Indeed, nothing of any importance can be said of sports, politics, family systems, sexuality, or buying habits unless we learn to think and talk theologically. It would be like learning to play the piano without learning music theory. Without theory, it is just notes.

Nor can we discuss with respect the differences between religions or properly respect contrasting belief systems. Without theological grounding, how do we discuss the fact that the Mormon Jesus leaves significant questions about the nature of the Trinity, or that the Muslim Jesus is respected and revered but not crucified? How do we talk about Wesley’s systemic teaching on grace or Calvin’s take on God’s sovereignty?

Without deep theological reflection, how do missionaries learn to share the whole gospel without adding a layer of cultural bondage to the top? How do pastors influence culture and change systems?

When we’ve not grounded ourselves theologically, it is remarkably easy to get drunk on tweetable lines. It becomes far too tempting to redefine Christianity based on the trajectory of culture. We ask questions like, “Who are you to decide what orthodoxy/ Wesleyanism/ holiness/ Christianity means?” As if any of those are decided by vote.

On the other hand, it is tempting to blame thinking Christians for the suppression of the Holy Spirit. Experience has made us book-shy. Far too many wanna-be pastors have marched off to seminary while their friends at home warn, “Don’t let school ruin you!”

Spiritual thinking ought not rob us of our energy for the full gospel. To the contrary, to think theologically — to reason out a very distinctive set of beliefs — is to honor the depth and glory of God. Theology trumps experience every time and leads us toward the Holy Spirit, not away from Him.

As I listen to the fodder of news shows and sort through the various discussions that surface among well-meaning people within the church and online, I am more and more convinced that biblical literacy and theological grounding are our critical need in this season of the Church’s life. We’re allowing pop icons and an unanchored culture to do for us what thoughtful, Spirit-inspired study should be doing. The Kingdom won’t be ushered in on tweetable lines or emotional appeals. It will come when the good news of Jesus Christ is unapologetically learned, preached and practiced in all its power.

To hell with the message of Bob. The world is starving for something more.

 

Carolyn Moore

I follow Jesus within the communities of Mosaic Church, Asbury Seminary and the Moore household.

7 thoughts on “What you believe matters.

  1. I couldn’t agree with this more. If our theology bores people, then there is a problem with the way that we’re explaining it; what could be more exciting, interesting, and life-changing than to think about and understand God?

  2. Appreciate your thoughts on this. It was the primary reason why (35 years ago) I elected a Biblical Literature major in college as opposed to the standard religion major (my original denomination’s equivalent of the old B.D.) and did a subsequent MA in the same arena.
    While Dr. Abraham has written that we United Methodists suffer from doctrinal (and I’d say Biblical as well) amnesia, I think it’s worse than that. I think we have an intense allergy to doctrine (by the way, I find this diagnosis across the board in most denominations. The faith of the church is not something I have or ascribe to, it’s what has me. Then prayer becomes surrender to the Spirit through the Scripture (and the Church’s doctrine) as a Means of Grace. As you put it so well, theology doesn’t lead us away from but deeper into the Spirit. Without doctrine to guide us, we cannot hope to discern the Spirit.

  3. God has sent clear message to those who will listen, and it’s all there in the bible. We are to be “led by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18) and “walk by faith not by sight” (2Corinthians 5:7). Although I have great respect for John Wesley and for John Calvin, both of whom you mention in your piece, I also recognize that we cannot base our belief on either of their beliefs, as they were fallible and flawed men. Dedicated and sincere to be sure, but not “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2Peter 1:21) obviously, since they had such divergent views of what the religious practices ought to be.
    Instead, we must read the word of God for ourselves, heed the leading of the Holy Spirit and trust, not in mans traditions (which is where the Pharisee’s of Jesus’ day had gone so far wrong!) but trust the truth and principle’s found within a carefully studied and rightly divided word. (2Timothy 2:15)
    My point is not that Wesley or Calvin are right or wrong, but that they are among many others simply “Bob’s opinion” and we need to seek GOD’s truth! Following men is what has led the Body of Christ to be so splintered into “denominations” when God intended the Body to be ONE, united by the Spirit. (Ephesians 4)
    If we base our belief systems on the age of the thoughts or the years of tradition we will find ourselves right where the church is now finding itself; compromised and floundering to survive.
    I love the works of John Wesley and admire his personal walk with the Lord, but I am not called by God to follow Wesley but to follow Christ, who alone is the perfect standard. Jesus is the HEAD of the Church, and only Jesus. Never a man, any man, no matter how educated or charismatic. Accepting a man and following men is what will lead many to fall prey to the anti-christ when he/she comes!
    Just one humble opinion of Christ Follower.

  4. I have been thinking it is time to join a Bible study again and your words were an encouragement. Thank you for speaking boldly about what a follower of Jesus should be doing.

  5. I was at an ordination meeting this week and, after the meeting, I hard two people heading to be ordained as elders in the UMC say that they never read their assigned books in their seminary classes . . . . They thought I was crazy because I have tried to read all them (and have the majority of the time; if not, I have at least the majority of all the books).

    My thought was, “Where are they getting their theological/philosophical/ministerial thoughts and beliefs in their classroom discussions? – what they are drawing from? . . . their own thoughts, ideas, opinions? Opinions are like a certain part of the body; everyone has got one. Who wants to hear someone give their opinions? Sheesh!

    Yeah, to hell with the “Bob’s.”

  6. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
    ‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭4:3-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
    http://bible.com/114/2ti.4.3-5.nkjv

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