Driving on the Gardiner through downtown Toronto, I felt overcome as I started at the skyline. “These buildings stand!” I told my wife. “A small piece of land is strong enough to hold all of this up.”
She stared at me like I’d been in the sun too long. I don’t blame her. Sometimes we forget to marvel at everyday wonders like 72-story buildings or massive airplanes in the sky.
They’re in the process of building seven new condominiums steps away from where I live. I’m always amazed at how long they take to dig. The most important step in building a skyscraper takes place before you even see the structure. The most important step is anchoring that building to its foundation. If that building has a strong foundation and keeps its center of gravity below the ground, it will never topple.
The same applies to us. We need a foundation, an anchor, that will help us stand.
We tend to think of theology as a hobby for seminary students, or as a pastime for people who like to argue. This view leads us away from a careful study of doctrine. We want something practical, not necessarily doctrinal.
But nothing is more practical than good theology. “Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives,” writes J.I. Packer in his classic book Knowing God. “The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”
We’re all theologians, either good ones or bad. Bad theologians make guesses about the world and how it works, mostly adopting the answers that culture assumes are true. We build our lives on these guesses. Most of the time we’re not even aware that we’ve constructed a theology by grabbing pieces of cultural driftwood. To the extent that we do this, we misunderstand God and the world and damn ourselves to the tyranny of our own judgments and values.
The alternative is to dedicate ourselves to becoming good theologians, learning who God is and what he’s revealed about living in his world. We need good theologians in our seminaries and pulpits, but we also need them in the lawyer’s office, art studio, and landscaping truck.
No task is more important in living well than to anchor ourselves in good doctrine.
Theology for the Church
We all need good doctrine if we’re going to live wisely and well in God’s world. Only the truth of who God is, what he has done, and what he expects from us will sustain us in our complicated lives.
We need more practical sermons — and by practical I mean doctrinal. We need pastors who believe that the most practical thing they can offer their congregations is good doctrine, doctrine that shapes how we think but also moves us to praise and obedience. The knowledge of God is more practical than anything else we can offer.
As Christians, we must renounce our bad theology, our ways of constructing worldviews that makes sense to us, but are more about the world’s ways of seeing life. We must commit ourselves to learning and living what God says is true, not just for the sake of thinking right but of living well.