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Why Theology Matters

April 28, 2008
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In J.I. Packer’s 1973 classic Knowing God, he pointed out that “ignorance of God—ignorance both of his ways and of the practice of communion with him—lies at the root of much of the church’s weakness today.” The ignorance to which Packer refers is that of theology. Our calling is to know God and if we deny that responsibility then we deny what it means to be Christian.

I think many in the American church know God in the same way they know the President—they know some facts about him, where he lives, what he does, etc.—but they do not have a relationship with him. This could be described as a cultural theology but a biblical theology is more akin to the relationship between a child and a good parent. The child in this sense has a much more intimate knowledge that, through time and maturation, reveals the loving nature of the parent. Experience only confirms this knowledge and this produces trust, which in turn fosters obedience.

Others may take very seriously the study of the President and his office, its history, legal powers, etc. but this is only theoretical since this knowledge exists apart from any relationship with the person who is President. For many, this is their approach to theology; it is only theoretical knowledge that often serves to “puff up” and make people intellectually proud.
A proper biblical theology, that every follower of Christ should pursue, is one which seeks to know the character and nature of God as revealed in Scripture so that they may live in a way that pleases Him. There is a practicality to theology that produces relevant wisdom for living in the real world. How can one successfully live in the world without knowing about the One whose world it is and who runs it?

In John 17:3, Jesus provides the best definition of theology – he equates knowledge of God (which is theology’s ultimate goal) with Eternal Life. Here Eternal Life is not our merely our experience after death, but a life lived now qualitatively different to our old lives and the lives of those around us. A life we do not yet fully experience but one which mirrors the depth to which we know God; the greater our knowledge of God, so the more abundant is our experience of Eternal Life.

In recent weeks I have tried to offer critical analysis and a thoughtful theological response to Christendom’s collapse and the lingering influence of the Constantinian system. Many were challenged and responded with recognition that these are relevant and serious questions that must be considered if we seek to recover a biblical understanding of the Gospel and the mission of the church. Others however responded in ways that reveal a lack of reliance upon proper theology and instead rely on personal feelings or culturally induced ways of thinking, which they attempt to validate by selected proof texts.

For example, this comment which appeared on
Mr. Craven has come [sic] the conclusion that: “Christians living within a distinct community is an essential witness to the mission of God.” Oh? What is your biblical basis for this assertion? My Bible informs me that: “Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2Cor 5:17)  “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ.” (2 Cor 5:20) “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19-20) You’ll note that 2 Cor 5:20 did not say that “We are AN ambassador,” communally. It says that “WE,” individually ARE AMBASSADORS for Christ. These pleas for unity for the sake of unity alone are getting rather old!

This response demonstrates a less-than-thorough “proof-text” theology, designed to support their assertions rather than a systematic approach to theology, which considers the whole of Scripture. The fact is to “be in Christ” as conveyed in 2 Corinthians is to be participating already in the new creation, which includes “one new man” or humanity as the original Greek proclaims in Ephesians 2:15.  To deny the corporate or “communal” nature of the church (the visible Body of Christ) and Christ’s call for unity is to ignore the essential teaching of Scripture. In Paul’s epistles, it is abundantly clear that the Christian life is about being incorporated into a new humanity. As Christians, we become members of the body of Christ.

However, as C. S. Lewis points out, in individualized Western culture, we hear Paul’s teaching about our being members of Christ in precisely the wrong way. For many Westerners [and apparently the critic above] a “member” is a person who merely belongs to something like a debating club or a political party. The member in this sense is a collection of individuals who happen to have joined the organization. But Paul uses “member” in an organic sense. We are members of Christ in the same way that the eye, ear, hand, and foot are members of the body.

I use this illustration to demonstrate how our failure to develop a coherent and systematic theology affects our ability to live as faithful followers of Christ. This person, because of their inadequate theology, remains for now, resolute in their individualism and thus will not submit to the biblical admonitions to do otherwise. Because they lack theological protection (armor) from the culture, modern individualism has, for them, replaced biblical community as the medium responsible to demonstrate the attractiveness of Christianity. This means that each individual is required to be a perfect practitioner of the faith, whose performance is meant to elicit admiration and the question “Why?” from co-workers, relatives and friends. However, the individual inevitably fails at some point and thus Christianity is seen to fail. By holding hands and living as disciplined congregations, we have a much better chance of offering an attractive alternative to the prevailing culture.

This point was recently reinforced by Dr. Dudley Woodberry, professor of Islamic Studies at Fuller Seminary. Dr. Woodberry’s research, spanning nearly 16 years, sought to understand what factors were involved in Muslims coming to faith in Jesus Christ. One of the most essential factors he identified was “When Christ’s love transforms committed Christians into a loving community, many Muslims [identified] a desire to join such a fellowship.”

Does theology matter? It does when you consider that poor theology leads to a less than adequate understanding of what it means to be Christian, which in turns leads to a less than adequate witness of the Gospel.

© 2008 by S. Michael Craven

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Response from : Lois Taucher  

April 28, 2008 11:44 AM

I am always greatly blessed by your emails. I have been involved in itinerant ministry for 30 years in local churches and have been greatly disturbed by the lack of understanding and love for the local church amoung christians. We always emphasize to churches that, as a supplemental gift to the body, we do not have a ministry, rather we are a ministry to the local church. They do not exist for us, we exist for them. We have even shunned the "parachurch" idea to define us, as we are not just "running alongside the church" (as parallell defined) - never touching or meeting - rather the only appropriate gauge for our obedience is the strengthening and help we are to the local church. Many of our friends are strong "In Christ" preachers and we are strong in our declaration of the pauline revelation, which is not an "individual truth", but an uncovering of the dispensational position of the Church - the body of Christ.

In His Service,
Lois Taucher
Shekinah Glory Ministries
P.O. Box 33108
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74153


Response from : Theresa  

April 28, 2008 3:32 PM

The problem with the church today is that they have made an idol out of community. They have forgotten that God is holy and righteous. They bring the world into the church instead of equipping the saints to go out into the world. There is no fear of God in the church today either. He is the big loving Daddy in the sky who wants us to live our best lives now instead of sacrificing our lives now and waiting for what He has for us in heaven. Thanks to people like Robert Schuller, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Rob Bell, etc., the church in America has only driven the church further away from the One and true God.

Response from : Terri  

April 28, 2008 5:08 PM

I agree that we as Christians should have unity as the body of Christ. I have spent a lot of time praying and thinking about why we don’t. We are called to be in community with one another and be in the world but not of the world.

I relocated with my husband to Oregon from California a little over one year ago. In California we attended a large nondenominational church that we had been in for many years. As we grew in Christ we basically out grew our church and realized it was very unbalanced in it’s teaching and with a new pastor in place had become a “seeker friendly” church. We prayed a lot about this but waited on the Lord rather than jumping ship like many other people did. The Lord opened a door and confirmed over and over that we were to relocate to the Oregon coast.

So as I said before we have been here a little over a year. We have really seen the opposite side of what we experienced in CA. At first this seemed like a dream come true. Real community. Helping one another. People who really want to know Jesus and serve him in an authentic way. Then as we became involved we saw the legalism, judgment, and cultural differences that divide. I believe it is a strong hold in this community. So many here believe they are serving Jesus but they are deceived. I noticed just this morning as I read Acts 2 the words “they were in one accord” Unity as the first church developed. But it was not long after that problems sprang up. The disciples were traveling to the different churches to help sort things out and ground the body in truth.

As I pondered this first church and the problems compared to our churches today one thing is for sure the unity didn’t last. But why? The only way to have unity is to have a single mind that means dying to self and listening to what God’s will is. I also realized that many at least here in Oregon seem to believe unity is coming around to their way of thinking. Of course discipleship to Christ is the only way for the believer and that is not an easy road but the only one, which brings the transformation I am speaking of the heart here. So what people seem to want is obedience not to Christ but to their uneducated opinions of biblical truth. This brings all kinds of discord. So it would seem the problem is PRIDE, SELF, LEGALSIUM, JUDGEMENT, and the like. Ugly, ugly stuff and suffocating to all signs of real life in Christ.

We will continue to pray for ourselves and this community and see what the Lord does. In the meantime I surround myself with good teaching CD’s and books on theology. From trusted teachers of the word. We continue to abide with this community of believers and ask the Lord what he is teaching us?

Response from : Eli  

April 29, 2008 12:13 PM

Are we going to... and... shall we stop going to anthropentric churches?

Christianity is not about us as well as what we ought to do. What does it mean to glorify God?

May Christians stop going to church. May Christians realize that they are the church.

I think that the current marketing strategy is, "Come to church - come to church". Wrong.

Let us go and "be the church". It seems to me that the traffic on the church parking lot is going in the wrong direction.

May Christians be "believers", while initiating the concept of being "living-leavers".

Reflect upon I Thessalonians 5, in particular verse 24.... "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."

How ought "living-leavers" worship?

Response from : Gerald  

May 1, 2008 9:55 AM

Right on the head of the nail Michael.

We, the church need to heed these admonitions. We the members of the body need to be interested in becoming one flesh and seeking to make that union with christ and a bride to her bridegroom. It is all over scripture.

Anything else is less than the gospel requires. How strong a witness would the church be if we lived in unity instead of tearing off our ear to spite our feet.

Essentially it is the Holy Spirit who convicts and Changes us, but if we are not reading the whole of scripture (Guilty here) we do the body, the bride and our Lord less than the service he deserves.

Write on...

Gerald K Carrell

Response from : Tim  

May 3, 2008 8:54 AM

Amen, thought-out-theology is needed today more than ever in the face of conflict. As A.W. Tozer said, "Because we are the handiwork of God it follows that all our problems and their solutions are theological." The problem for Christians today is correctly connecting the theological foundations to the cultural and societal issues. Thanks for reminding us theology matters.

Response from : Tom Connolly  

May 4, 2008 1:00 PM

I myself have seen this, people who profess they are Christian, but who "don't like organized religion". How sad. It leaves them to their own ideas about what Christianity is and what our Lord calls us to. That, in turn, makes all evangelism work all the more difficult. People see a professed Christian saying and doing things not supported by Scripture and wonder why they should listen to an evangelist. Remember what Ghandi said, that if it weren't for Christians, he would be one. (paraphrased)

Response from : Louise J. Mishler  

May 6, 2008 9:24 AM

May 6, 2008
To know God is to love God. I mention to my Pastor recently that we don't hear enough the value of prayer which I quoted recently,"Prayer is the yeast in our daily living that enables us to rise and be the person God has called us to be. We change by the very submission of knowing we cannot do it without Christ. John 15. We are his children and need him to give us the mercy called for in a world that cries out for comfort. Louise

Response from : Patrick Gilbert  

September 22, 2008 6:09 PM

Thanks for the article! You are right on. I see part of the problem of individualistic Christianity stemming from the gospel presentation in the last twenty to thirty years where evangelicals have done a good job at presenting the Gospel from a God, Faith, Christ perspective (while biblical such an approach is individualistic) but have failed to also present the Gospel from a Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration perspective which is communal. Both perspectives are needed to avoid individualistic and communal extremes. The result of such a combinational approach is showing how Christ is both Lord over your life and Lord over all the earth. I believe such an approach will help us remain balanced in our theology. Thanks again for your work!

Patrick Gilbert
Raleigh, NC


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