In the last couple of days (and years…) we encountered some people (some of them Christians) who claimed that theology is of no practical value. Yet as we talk to people, we also recognize that when we converse about a specific topic a certain theology is already in place. Therefore the claim that theology is of no practical value is more associated that a systematic theology is the topic under consideration. But we contend that theology (and systematic theology for that matter) is not only not of practical value, but of utter importance.
Let us explain. Since each one of us already has a certain understanding of God, the world (and so forth) in mind, it is very crucial that these thoughts are coherent. From a Christian standpoint these thoughts should not only be coherent but biblical as well. Some might object now “Here we go. You just admitted we need the Bible, but not theology!” Not so fast my dear friend. Yes, we wholeheartedly agree that we need the Bible, but we also see that we need theology to make sense of it.
We all need theology because what we are thinking determines our action. Thought governs action; therefore we need the right thoughts in order to be able to live a godly life. As Paul writes in Phil 4:8-9:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Are these words just referring to one instance in Paul’s life? Is it referring solely to the time he preached on a Thursday night, let us say from 8-9pm? Certainly not. The clause “what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me” for sure relates to the teachings, traditions, and the life of Paul in general. Therefore, Paul wants the Christians at Philippi to take everything into account. How should they do such? Well, in a coherent system of thought and action.
Here we now come back to the issue of the need of systematic theology. Since not everything is revealed in one place in Scripture (nor in one corpus) we need to systematize all the relevant passages (biblical theology) as well as establish a coherent thought so that we are not contradicting other truths of Scripture. Another passage of Paul makes this clear as well. We find in 2 Tim 3:16-17 the following:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
Paul refers to “all Scripture”. The first part (i.e., v. 16) is fairly widely used but the second verse oftentimes neglected. There Paul states that “all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable… that (Gr.: hina) the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” The hina-clause gives the purpose as to what Scriptures in its entirety is needed for. It is needed for godly living.
We further believe that it is impossible to avoid systematic theology, especially for those in any kind of ministry. We daily encounter different questions. For example, What does Scripture say about divorce? What about homosexuality? We need a good understanding of what all of Scripture says on a certain topic and how such relates to the culture of today. This is the task of systematic theology! One more aspect on the practical side is that in order to be obedient to Christ as a Christian theology needs to be done. We need to know what Scripture says and how it wants us to act today.
To conclude, we iterate that doing theology is not only beneficial but necessary for a Christian who wants to live coherently in thought and action and who wants to obey the Lord.