On 11 July, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson ascended to the heavens in the VSS Unity. Well, kind of. Laying aside how far Branson actually shot into “space”, debate ensued as to whether he qualified as an astronaut for having gone to space at all.
This is just my (uninformed) opinion, but it seems flying to space commercially no more makes you an astronaut than cruising on a ship makes you a sailor. There is an essence to what qualifies you in the journey undertaken that allows you to behold the title.
In the same way, walking into a garage no more makes you a car than going to church makes you a Christian. Yet, when we turn to something like theology, the lines seem more blurred, and we are either too quick to either embrace theology as a label or reject it wholeheartedly.
With theology comes labels and denominations and what results is a temptation to shy from anything bearing the appearance of “theology”. Instead, we choose to hold to “simply being a Christian” or “having a relationship with Jesus”.
In doing so, we are bound to forget not only that theology is inescapable, but also its value.
Theology matters. Period. Theology is the overarching discipline which has allowed the church to develop its understanding of Scripture, to form our famous creeds, confessions, and catechisms.
Theology is simply “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.” In and of itself, the term is not denominationally, culturally, or politically connected. And it is something we engage in every, single day.
It is easy to shun the term ‘theology’. It’s loaded – the word of ivory towers in seminaries. It is tempting to think theology is solely the art of those who have intentionally chosen to undertake study in the discipline.
Yet, the dictionary defines a theologian as “a person who engages or is an expert in theology”. Laying aside the loaded term ‘expert’, every Christian, on some level, engages in some form of theology. The very core of the Christian faith, the gospel, is theology. It is the very theology that defines the church.
It is also something Scripture implores us to use. In 1 Peter, chapter 3, verses 14-15a, Peter writes, “but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (ESV).
Here we return to the root of theology, without which we would not be able to fulfil the command in Peter. The temptation at times is to think of theology solely as a matter of the head with no heart. Yet, the preceding verse gives us the motivation by which we engage in such theology.
Verse 14 reads, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” (ESV).
The motivation of theology, of giving a reason for our hope, is not about lofty arguments or intellectualism, but about glorifying Christ and providing a witness in the face of suffering. Lest we may still be uncertain about how theology ought to be communicated, Peter goes on.
Verses 15b-16 read, “yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame” (ESV).
What of denominations? Loaded with tension, a church history divided by seemingly trivial issues. It is no surprise churches and individuals choose to avoid denominational and church councils altogether.
Denominations are messy. A cursory reading of church history would begin to show the strife Christians have shown to each other over the millennia. Yet denominations can also at other times show the beauty of individuals and gatherings seeking to remain faithful to Scripture.
If only one example, consider the Reformation, an event that has shaped a significant portion of Western Christian though resulting in, yes, a plethora of denominations, but also a deeper thirst for the reading and sharing of Scripture.
Regardless, while denominations have theology, theology does not always mean denominations. The value of theology is found in Scripture, it’s how we make sense of passages and connect doctrine together.
Let us not shy from the term but seek to glorify God in the theological gems we may find within the words of Scripture.
Hailing from North Auckland, Blake Gardiner sounds American, looks Swedish, but grew up in Laos. As an introvert, Blake lives life on the edge by socialising. When he isn’t putting his life at such risk, he enjoys reading theology and debating whether Interstellar is truly the greatest movie of all time.