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If I’m not mistaken, our church has a reputation for being quite theological.  I know this is why many people have come to our church.  And I imagine it’s why some people have left, or never checked us out in the first place.  But no church should apologize for talking about and loving theology.  Now–and this is an important caveat–if we are arrogant with our theology, or if our doctrinal passion is just about intellectual gamesmanship, or we are all out of proportioned in our affections for less important doctrines, then may the Lord rebuke us. We should not be surprised theology gets a bad name in such circumstances.

But when it comes to thinking on, rejoicing in, and building a church upon sound biblical truth, we should all long for a richly theological church.

I could cite many reasons for preaching theologically and many reasons for wanting to pastor a congregation that loves theology. Let me mention six:

1. God has revealed himself to us in his word and given us his Spirit that we might understand the truth.  Obviously, you don’t need to master every theme in Scripture in order to be a Christian.  God is gracious to save lots of us with lots of gaps in our understanding.  But if we have a Bible, not to mention an embarrassment of riches when it comes to resources in English, why wouldn’t we want to understand as much of God’s self-revelation as possible?  Theology is getting more of God. Don’t you want your church to know God better?

2. The New Testament places a high value on discerning truth from error.  There is a deposit of truth that must be guarded.  False teaching must be placed out of bounds.  Good teaching must be promoted and defended.  This is not the concern of some soulless Ph.D. candidate wasting away in front of microfiche. This is the passion of the Apostles and the Lord Jesus himself who commended the church at Ephesus for being intolerant of false teachers and hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans.

3. The ethical commands of the New Testament are predicated on theological propositions.  So many of Paul’s letters have a twofold structure.  The beginning chapters lay out doctrine and the latter chapters exhort us to obedience.  Doctrine and life are always connected in the Bible.  It’s in view of God’s mercies, in view of all the massive theological realities of Romans 1-11, that we are called to lay down our lives as living sacrifices in Romans 12. Know doctrine, know life. No doctrine, no life.

4. Theological categories enable us to more fully and more deeply rejoice in God’s glory.  Simple truths are wonderful.  It is good for us to sing simple songs like “God is good. All the time!”  If you sing that in sincere faith, the Lord is very pleased.  But he is also pleased when we can sing and pray about how exactly he has been good to us in the plan of salvation and in the scope of salvation history. He is pleased when we can glory in the completed work of Christ, and rest in his all-encompassing providence, and marvel at his infinity and aseity, when we can delight in his holiness and mediate on his three-ness and one-ness and stand in awe at his omniscience and omnipotence.  These theological categories are not meant to give us bigger heads, but bigger hearts that worship deeper and higher because of what we’ve seen in God.

5. Theology helps us more fully and more deeply rejoice in the blessings that are ours in Christ.  Again, it is a sweet thing to know that Jesus saves you from your sins.  There’s no better news than that in the whole world.  But how much fuller and deeper will your delight be when you understand that salvation means election to the praise of God’s grace, expiation to cover your sins, propitiation to turn away divine wrath, redemption to purchase you for God, justification before the judgment seat of God, adoption into God’s family, on-going sanctification by the Spirit, and promised glorification at the end of the age? If God has given us so many varied and multi-layered blessings in Christ, wouldn’t it help you and honor him to understand what they are?

6. Even (or is it especially?) non-Christians need good theology. They may not thrill to hear a dry lecture on the ordo salutis. But who wants dry lectures on anything? If you can talk winsomely, passionately, and simply about the blessings of effectual calling, regeneration, and adoption, and how all these blessings are found in Christ, and how the Christian life is nothing more or less than being who we are in Christ, and how this means God really does want us to be true to ourselves, but ourselves as we were born again not as we were born in sin–if you give non-Christians all of this, and give it to them plainly, you’ll be giving them a whole lot of theology. And, if the Spirit of God is at work, they just might come back looking for more.

There is no reason for any church to be anything other than robustly theological. Churches will still come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. But “atheological,” or worse yet “anti-theological,” should not be one of them.


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43 thoughts on “Why We Must Be Unapologetically Theological”

  1. Jeremy Nichols says:

    We attended University Reformed for a little over a year and greatly appreciated that it was richly theological. We would have loved to continue attending University Reformed, but we moved to Port Huron for work. We greatly miss the teaching and fellowship of URC.

  2. Adam Miller says:

    Thanks for this, Kevin. I can’t tell you how much it hurts my heart every time I hear a Christian say, “Well, I’m no theologian.” One of the greatest tragedies of our day is that the church is not teaching it’s members to be discerning. While it is important for the church to be theological, it is also important to teach the people how to work out their faith with fear and trembling. I’ve always been in theologically evangelical churches which prided themselves on their accuracy, but it was evident in the members that there was a dependency on the leadership to tell them how to think and function without actually cultivating discernment in them. I love quoting A. W. Tozer here, “In such a dark day, we’ve allowed our seeking to be done by our teachers.” Beyond just theological orthodoxy, we must integrate theology into the lives of believers. It’s a shame, but the information will not be known for cultivating discernment.

  3. I have two words for this article: “Simply amazing!”

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with Kevin’s thoughts here. I would follow it up with “Why Our Youth Ministry is Unapologetically Theological” and “Why Our Children’s Ministry is Unapologetically Theological”. Understanding theology (including applying it to our lives) is a critical need among young people. They want depth, but too often, we write off their need for or ability to understand sound doctrine.

    Thanks for this article Kevin, keep us thinking!

  5. Fred Zaspel says:

    Good article, Kevin — on target.
    Thanks.

  6. Chris says:

    I’m preparing to teach our Sunday School teachers from R.C. Sproul’s book Knowing Scripture. Dr. Sproul hits the nail on the head when he states, “No Christian can avoid theology. Every Christian is a theologian… The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians but whether we are going to be good theologians or bad ones.”

    Thanks for this post Kevin. In our age of pragmatism, it is sometimes tempting to apologize for and lessen our devotion to being theological.

  7. John Thomson says:

    Excellent. Well balanced statements.

  8. Jeff Schoch says:

    Word….

  9. David LaChance says:

    Thanks Kevin. Well said. This is a frustrating issue and I have lived on both sides of the fence. If only I had a dime for every time a brother or sister said, “Theology is not important, I simply believe in Jesus.”

    In today’s Church culture I find the conflict with Theology is often not about “Theology” autonomously but that sound, Biblical Theology challenges our Westernized traditionalistic “rightness”; so, “Theology” is used negatively as the scape goat to point away from the egg on the face of many, which God is pointing to through a Theology resurgence.

    This phenomena is especially noticeable in the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement where, I have found, it’s not about simple Biblical facts and how we reach them accurately in contrast to our neglect of these principles, but about one, older group not wanting a group of young “punks” (perceived) to be right, which to admit would mean that much of the energies and fruits of the anti-intellectual (in terms of Doctrine) Church Growth movement ministers in the last 30 years were/are in vain. That’s a big pill to swallow, especially when it’s been prescribed by some “kids”.

    Yet, on the other side, the “punks” must understand that Theological “knowledge is essential but not sufficient” (MacArthur). If we really want to validate our Theology it will not happen in the debate but in the witnessing of striving for unity. (1 Cor. 13:1-3) Christ is an antinomy; ‘the Lion and the Lamb’, ‘the beginning and the end’, and we–His people–share in that apparent contradiction by being made up of groups that are both right and wrong yet simultaneously unified in Christ. This is how the world will know us. The knowledge of God without love is “Theillogical”. :)

  10. Ann Metcalf says:

    “Theology helps us more fully and more deeply rejoice in the blessings that are ours in Christ”
    I agree. Once I really started exploring the 5 points of Calvin and understanding my depravity my view on God totally changed. My joy increased.

  11. Good word. *Where can we get the T-shiirt in the photo?!
    db

  12. Kevin,

    This is a very practical (and theological) post. I find it interesting that some of the things that you say here are synonymous with what J.I. Packer says in his Introduction to Martin Luther’s “The Bondage of the Will” (Revell, 2003) I was reading Packer’s introduction today and thought I would share a few of the things Packer says. Let it add fuel for your argument.

    Packer (and O. R. Johnston) explain that the reason why Luther and Erasmus approached free-will (and the gospel) so differently was found in the way they approached doctrine in general. They write, “Why did Erasmus and Luther approach the discussion of ‘free-will’ in such contrasting attitudes of mind? The answer is not far to seek. Their divergent attitudes sprang up from two divergent conceptions of Christianity. Erasmus held that matters of doctrine were all comparatively unimportant, and that the issue as to whether a man’s will was or was not free was more unimportant than most. Luther, on the other hand, held that doctrines were essential to, and constitutive of, the Christian religion, and that the doctrine of the bondage of the will in particular was the corner-stone of the gospel and the very foundation of the faith. Here we are confronted with the deepest difference that there was, or could have been, between the two men; and we must say a little more about it” (42-43).

    They continue by explaining that Erasmus’s view of Christianity was “essentially morality, with a minimum of doctrinal statement loosely appended” (43). This “barren moralism” derives from the fact, according to Packer and Johnston, that Erasmus’s “attitude was that what one believes about the mysteries of the faith does not much matter; what the Church lays down may safely be accepted, whether right or wrong; for the details of a churchman’s doctrine will not affect his living as a Christian in this world, nor his eventual destiny in the world to come” (43).

    Obviously, this was the very thing that Luther contested. In contrast to Erasmus, they describe Luther as a zealot for theology. They write, “Luther’s attitude was very different. To him, Christianity was a matter of doctrine first and foremost, because true religions was first and foremost a matter of faith; and faith is correlative to truth. Faith is trust in God through Jesus Christ as He stand revealed in the gospel. Accordingly, ‘assertions’—doctrinal statemens embodying the contents of the gospel—are fundamental to the Christian religion. Christianity was to Luther a dogmatic religion, or it was nothing. ‘Take away assertions, and you take away Christianity,’ [Luther] writes. Going still further they cite P.S. Watson who quotes Luther as saying, “I am not concerned with the life, but with doctrines” (44).

    Certainly in this last statement and in their whole treatment, Luther and Packer and Johnston, respectively, are not denying the importance of piety, practice, or Christian living. They are simply getting at, what I believe, your post stresses: Christianity that is filled with grace and holiness is of necessity theological. Eliminate or minimize theology and you sever the lifeline to Jesus. This was evident in the battle between Erasmus and Luther, and it still remains a reality today.

    Hope these quotes serve to remind us that what you are saying is right on and reinforced by the history of the church.

    Thanks again for pointing us to the gospel!

    dss

  13. Kim says:

    I just want to know where I can get a t-shirt – or even better, a hoodie – with that saying on it.

  14. Marcy says:

    Pastor DeYoung, you are just such a blessing to me! I love your writings–and your humour!! I am so encouraged by this post on theology. Please keep up the good work. I praise and thank God for you.

  15. Johnothon Sauer says:

    If your thirst is for a “richly theological church” that is unshakably founded upon Scripture, please look into and learn about Orthodox Christianity.

  16. Kyle says:

    Knowing the truth is part B of God’s explicit desire in 1 Timothy 2:4- all men to be saved and come to the full knowledge of the truth. The truth is not the private possession of a few leading the church. I’ve realized a big test is not just how much we can personally learn the truth but how much we can perfect those around us to arrive at the full-knowledge of the Son of God (Ephesians 4:13).

    More Christians need to read this post!

  17. post*tenebras*lux says:

    Thank you Kevin. The southern baptist church I went to as a child used to preach, what we need is more kneeology, not theology!

  18. Jared Mosher says:

    Lots of comments on here already, but I think that understanding theology does need to be much more front and centre in the training and discipleship of Christians. If you don’t know why you are a Christian; then why do you call yourself one? Piper had a good point about that in a sermon of his called “Why I Trust the Scriptures.”

    Thanks. Oh, and I’d love to get a t-shirt or hoodie with that saying on it too!

    Thanks!
    Jared
    http://www.epicthought.com

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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