Why waste your time studying theology when you could be out feeding the poor, taking care of orphans and making a real difference in people’s lives?
Theses are the conclusions of some in the church today but there’s a problem.
Today, more than ever our churches need to return to the priority of theology. I want to give you three reasons why we can not ignore the call to study and understand Biblical theology.
Studying Theology Hinders the Doing of Good Deeds
The main premise is that the study of theology takes precious time that could be spent ministering to people in need and helping them in a very real way.
There is a good intention here, no one can argue against the idea of helping others, especially of feeding the poor and taking care of widows and orphans and the such.
Or can they?
Yes, they can and they have!
All Practice Comes from Theology
Even statements like “It’s good to feed the poor.” come from our theology! Some may say that basic truths like these are just common sense and don’t require the work of theologians.
True, these ideas are common sense in some societies but not in all societies. The reason ideas like feeding the poor and helping orphans are generally thought of as common sense in many societies is because those societies have at least partly been informed by Biblical theology.
The point here is the argument that we should feed the poor instead of study theology is like a man taking his family on vacation who insists that they not waste time looking at the map and instead just drive! The man assumes that he will get to his destination sooner by not wasting time to look at the map.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve been that man before and I’ve driving around in circles for hours because I didn’t take the necessary time needed to consult the map! In order to look at the map you must stop your car and direct your attention on the map for a while. However, the time taken to consult the map will result in more accurate driving and make sure that you get to your destination in a timely manner.
What Is a Good Deed?
To those that say the study of theology keeps the church from doing good deeds, we need to only ask a few simple questions.
“How do you know the church should do good deeds?”
“To whom should those good deeds be done?”
“What should those good deeds look like?”
“How often should we do them?”
The fact is that a good deed is not as simple and straight forward as we might assume. C.S. Lewis describes this reality well in his essay “Why I’m Not a Pacifist.”
“You cannot do simply good to simply Man; you must do this or that good to this or that man. And if you do this good, you can’t at the same time do that; and if you do it to these men, you can’t also do it to those.”
What Lewis is getting at is that while everyone might agree that we should be good to our fellow-man, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty there are choices we need to make. We are limited by our resources and abilities, we can’t simply “do good” we must choose a concrete plan of action that will logically exclude other actions and other people.
In order to do good we must ask a lot of questions and the answer to all those questions can only be found in careful theological pursuit of truth in the pages of God’s Word!
What I’m saying is that exactly how you and I understand what defines a good deed can not be understood apart from our theology. If Biblical theology does not inform us about the details of what is a good deed and how and when it should be done and to whom it should be done then something else will inform us.
Good Deed or Evil Deed?
One of two things can then happen. First what we think is a good deed might not be a good deed but actually a very evil deed, this happens far more often then you or I should care to think about!
How many infidels have lost their heads recently or been blown to bits by Islamists who were confident that they were doing a good deed, maybe even the best deed, based upon their errant theology?
Second, what we think is a good deed may not be the best deed and we may be wasting our time on something that will not benefit others in the long run.
This may seem like a lesser danger but it is a real danger for the church today. We need to carefully evaluate our ministries to make sure they are flowing out of a healthy theology and that they are accomplishing Biblical goals.
Theology or Good Deeds?
So which do we choose, theology or good deeds?
Thankfully we don’t have to choose, we are called to give ourselves to both of these things. Paul sums it up well in his letter to Timothy when he says,
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Paul emphasizes to Timothy both the importance of practice and conduct also the importance of teaching and exhortation which is simply theology.