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The Importance of Theological Education

In anticipation of the students who will descend on Heritage College & Seminary over the next couple of days, I’ve been reflecting of late on the importance of theological education. Without question, it’s crucial to loving God, knowing Christ, and pursuing godliness; it’s vital to handling the Scriptures, defending the truth and preaching the gospel; and it’s indispensable to training for life and ministryto equipping men and women to engage more deeply and serve more effectively.

While all that is true, I’m increasingly convinced that there’s something peculiar to our “cultural moment” (Canada 2019) that intensifies the importance of theological education. And here it is: we (as a society) have experienced a complete restructuring of the way we think and live to accommodate the irrelevance of God.

With the ascendency of secularism, our society has abandoned reason and virtue in preference for relativism. It has discarded the higher ideals of truth, justice, and goodness, in its bewildering pursuit of personal rights and freedoms. It has wandered so far as to revel in the intellectually absurd—namely, the denial of the basic biological and physiological realities of what it means to be male and female.

Because of its technological sophistication (what David Wells terms “the illusions of progress”), our society placates itself with the delusion that it’s culturally and morally advanced. In reality, it’s plunging head-long into what approximates barbarism, and it’s powerless to stop the downward spiral because (in the words of the psalmist from long ago) “the foundations are destroyed” (Ps. 11:3).

It isn’t my intention to sound like an alarmist, nor do I want to give the impression that it’s all doom and gloom. There are encouraging signs despite the seismic shift in Canadian society. More importantly, I remain fully convinced that “the LORD is in his holy temple” (Ps. 11:4). He’s in absolute control, and unperturbed by any apparent chaos on earth. “Wild confusion may reign around us, yet the hearts of the righteous rejoice because God is not—and cannot be—dethroned” (William Plumer). Amen.

That being said, our particular “cultural moment” presents a definite challenge. We’re now faced with an entire generation of young people (including many professing believers) who have (wittingly or not) imbibed secularism—its presuppositions determining their beliefs, values, and perceptions. It’s this challenge that (in my opinion) heightens the need for robust theological education (whether in the church or the college).

When it comes to our worldview (our perspective of reality), there are only two options before us: either we form our worldview with man as its central component (secularism), or we form our worldview with God as its central component (theism). The two can never be reconciled.

For starters, as Christians, we affirm that thinking is dependent, not independent. We aren’t autonomous thinkers, nor is our reason the measure of all things. The clarity of our thinking is contingent upon our acknowledgement of two unchanging realities. (1) God exists. “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists” (Heb. 11:6). (2) God creates. “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Heb. 11:3).

These two realities provide the only answer to the great philosophical questions: What is real? What is true? What is good? And these two realities alone make sense of human existence while offering hope for the human condition.

Second, we affirm that truth is absolute, not relative. There is such a thing as transcendent truth, and it is possible to distinguish between what is true and false, good and evil, right and wrong, and these differences don’t lie in societal norms or constructs, but are fixed in an unchanging God. This means that, for Christians, God’s Word (that which He has “breathed out” (2 Tim. 3:16–17)) is the ultimate authority for all of life. We aren’t the measure of all things, nor are we the ultimate norm by which values are to be determined. Reality doesn’t centre on us, but God. This means we approach learning through the lens of God’s Word. It determines what we believe in the realms of philosophy and theology. It directs our presuppositions and conclusions when it comes to the sciences and humanities. And it provides the criterion by which we judge art, sport, and music.

Third, we affirm that life is purposeful, not purposeless. God made us in His image (Gen. 1:27); thus, each of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). Yet sin has marred the image of God in us. Now, God calls us to believe in Christ for salvation. We embrace the gospel—the good news that God saves sinners from His wrath for His glory by making them one with Christ in His death, His burial, and His resurrection (Rom. 1:19–20; Col. 2:3). This gospel is positional.

Christ’s dying is ours and Christ’s rising is ours, meaning God reckons them to us as if we had performed them in our own persons. And this gospel is transformational. The indwelling Holy Spirit now empowers us to express new desires in action, as seen in the cultivation of Christ-like character. This is our identity. It shapes our dreams and our attitudes, our values and our perspectives, our vocations and our relationships. It occupies the centre, and all of life revolves around it.

While theological education serves many functions, I can’t help but think that (given our “cultural moment”) this is perhaps the most important of all—to instill a God-entranced, Word-focused, and gospel-centred view of life.