A big issue in the modern church is a lack of knowledge of the Bible, of church history, and theology. Many old heresies arise repackaged and are relabeled as new. Unfortunately, many find theology irrelevant or consider it for people with seminary education and not for them. This is usually a sign, not of a lack of theology, but of poor theology, which often results in dangerous error or even idolatry. A previous guest post addresses the need for theology very well here.
However, an error that is possible to fall into is studying theology for the wrong reasons. This is something the Lord has exposed in myself in the past and I have had to work through my pride in order to accept and adjust where I am wrong.
When studying theology, it’s important to know why we are studying in the first place. Many might say things such as “To know God more” or “To distinguish truth from error,” or will cite passages such as 2 Timothy 2:15 or Hebrews 5:12-14. These, I would argue, are correct responses. We are to move from milk to meat, to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord (2 Peter 3:18).
Except, what happens when we study theology for other reasons? Here are a few questions I’ve had to ask myself more than once in the past:
Am I Studying To Be Seen as “Smart”?
This question is very uncomfortable to me personally. There were times when I would deny that one of the reasons I wanted to study theology and doctrine was to be seen as intelligent by my peers. This is not necessarily a universal experience, however it is something to consider. This is seeking approval from the wrong source.
Does this mean that there is something wrong with displaying your knowledge or learning? Not inherently. Especially not when it benefits fellow believers. It becomes an issue when being seen and acknowledged by peers is a primary purpose for studying God’s Word.
Am I Studying To Win Arguments?
Studying for the purpose of winning arguments is very closely tied with seeking to be seen as intelligent. It differs, though, in the sense that it’s often not the other person’s approval that we seek, but our own satisfaction at being right. In many cases, the other person is not even regarded, they are simply the means by which one boosts themselves in their own mind.
This is not a warning against testing your theological studies in a friendly debate, which can actually be beneficial. But take care not to search the scriptures mining for something that supports your opinion in order to win an argument with someone.
Am I Studying To Know God Intimately?
Do I want to know God more? Do I genuinely desire to hide His word in my heart so that I might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11)? Studying theology and doctrine also involves doing it for the right reasons. Not only avoiding what was previously mentioned, but actually seeking greater understanding of who God is and what He has revealed to us in the Bible. It’s more than just cold orthodoxy, the more we study to know God, the greater our love for God should be.
Why Am I Studying Theology?
This is the final question we should ask ourselves. For some the desire to study to know God comes easily and for this I say “Amen.” For people like me we find that this desire is sometimes clouded by sin and the desire to be approved by others. This is a problem that requires attention.
Before God showed me my heart regarding theology, if I lost a debate or if I said something that sounded uninformed or uneducated it would upset me. And I would vow to study more so that next time the debate came my way, I would be prepared to argue my point. There is nothing wrong with desiring to prove a point well, but the reason I wanted to argue the point was not because I knew it was the truth about God, but that I wanted to prove to myself I could. My reasons were self-centred, not focused on knowing God intimately as He has revealed himself.
If you are among those who have never struggled with studying theology for the wrong reasons then God has blessed you! I am glad for you. If you are among those like me who need reminders, the struggle is real. Hopefully, this has been a helpful reminder that you are cultivating a relationship with God through your study, not just winning theological debates.