(This is a guest post by Daniel Attaway, Th.M. student at Dallas Theological Seminary.)
“Theology is not important. Jesus commanded us to love God and love others and I don’t need to know about the hypostatic union in order to do that. I just want to love people and meet their needs.”
I attended a Christian liberal arts school in central Texas and I cannot tell you how many times I heard this statement or one like it. These comments usually started flowing freely somewhere around November or March (near the end of the semester). This was a school that was centered around training young men and women for ministry, specifically youth ministry, and statements like these were not uncommon. That is absolutely frightening! And even more, it is wicked.
There are basically two reasons why this is a wicked mindset and it is based on our manipulation of Christ’s statement, ‘Love God and Love people’ (Matt 22:38-40).
First, part of loving God is saying correct things about Him. Allow me to illustrate—I love my wife. She is absolutely beautiful inside and out. Her blonde hair, hazel eyes, and 5’10” frame are stunning. Every time she walks into the room she takes my breath away. She is incredibly talented as well. She majored in art in college and I love to watch her paint. When I see her in action my heart is stirred and I worship my God. There is only one problem… my wife is an absolutely gorgeous 5’5”, beautiful brunette with brown eyes, and she majored in accounting in college. Oh and let’s not forget, when she walks into a room she takes my breath away and when I am with her my heart is stirred and I worship my God. Now if I were to describe my wife to you using the first description and then you were to meet her, you would think I was delusional. The point is that I do not love my wife in a way that honors her if when I speak of her I speak falsely. There were some things that I said that were consistent in both descriptions but one description is true and the other is false. In the same way, it is disingenuous to say you love God if you take no interest in who He is and when you speak of Him, you do not speak rightly.
Secondly, part of loving others is telling them the truth. I went to a youth conference about a year ago where Matt Chandler was speaking to youth ministers, pleading with us to clearly and consistently preach the Gospel. He then said, “If you don’t know it, then I don’t know what you’re doing… You are a far more courageous man than I because the Lord is very clear on how He feels about those who lead His people astray.” Amen! Now there is a warning that you must heed: if you tell people the honest truth about who God is and who they are in light of Him, then you may not have the most “successful” ministry in town (as we define success). There may be those who hate you, your family may suffer persecution, and there may indeed be those who would like to see you leave town or die. The goal is not for people to speak well of us (Luke 6:26), but for us to guard the deposit that has been entrusted to us (II Tim 1:13-14). As Christians, it is not our calling to pat people on the back while they rot in their filth of sin and ignorance, but to love them enough to tell them the truth. Not telling them the truth out of fear or political correctness resembles hate, or worse, indifference more than genuine love.
So what is the goal? Is it balance between knowing your theology and being practical (i.e. loving people)? No, it’s simply both. Being a Christian has many implications but here are two: 1) Know theology and be tied to orthodoxy. Whether you want to believe it or not, there are things that are distinctively Christian and when you abandon those things, you abandon the community of faith. 2) Love others and meet their needs. You cannot do this well if you do not have a robust and thoroughly thought out theology because your theology will always inform your practice. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy can be distinguished but they cannot be separated. The goal is not to find a balance between these two, but to diligently seek both.
So, who needs theology? We all do. Theology is not only important for the theologian or minister but also for laypeople, young and old. Your bent may be to neglect theology or practice. Both are wicked. The Christian is to do both joyfully and lovingly. If I were to just focus on theology and neglect to love others, I am not acting Christianly because James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” On the other hand if I neglect theology I am incapable of truly loving God or people, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:6, “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.” Hold these concepts close together, marry them in your heart and do not neglect either theology or practice because theology is practical (See 1 Timothy—all of it).