The Task of Theology
“I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” from C. Austin Miles, “In the Garden”
It has been established by the previous posts that each and every one of us is a theologian. So, how do we exercise our responsibility as theologians? First we must ask, what is the purpose of theology? Is the purpose of theology to give us sappy, sentimental feelings about God as expressed in the song quoted above? Is the purpose of theology to make us full of knowledge so that we may impress our friends and belittle our enemies?
At the outset, I will assert that the main purpose of true theology is salvation: to proclaim the message of reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. Correct theology brings a right knowledge of God and our means of a right relationship with God.
As has been mentioned before, the first important truths to know about God are: 1) that God is the Sovereign Creator (this is the proclamation that begins God’s self-revelation to people in the Bible); 2) God is the Holy Lawgiver (God is perfect and sets the standards for all of human conduct).
Now, I would like to briefly point our attention to the experience of Isaiah, a prophet who in c. 759 B.C. had a direct experience with God. Isaiah records:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple.
Seraphim were standing above Him; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
And one called to another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth.”
The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke.
Then I said: “Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, [and] because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth [with it] and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, and your sin is atoned for.”
(Isaiah 6:1-7 HCSB)
In this passage Isaiah suddenly encounters God. He recognizes God’s sovereignty– referring to God as “the King, the Lord of Hosts”– and hears God’s holiness proclaimed by the angels. Isaiah realizes that this great and holy sovereign has set standards that he has utterly failed to meet, and so he falls into despair. Having initiated this encounter, God now responds to Isaiah’s humility by sending a messenger to remove his wickedness and atone for his sin.
The task of theology is to bring us to a similar knowledge of God, as Martin Luther explains in his Commentary on Psalm 51, written in 1532:
The proper subject of theology is Man, guilty of sin and condemned, and God, the justifier and Savior of Man, the sinner. Whatever is asked or discussed in theology outside this subject is error and poison. All Scripture points to this: that God commends His kindness to us, and in His Son restores to righteousness and life the nature that has fallen into sin and condemnation.
So the question for YOU today is, have you begun to practice true theology? Have you come to know and worship God as the Sovereign Creator and the Holy Lawgiver? Have you recognized that you have rebelled against God’s sovereignty and have ignored or fallen short of God’s holy standard? Until you have accepted and submitted to these truths as truths that shape your understanding and decisions, you are not only doomed to practice bad theology, but you have no hope of receiving God’s mercy. As God has informed us again in the book of James:
But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:6-10 NIV)
[This was originally published on 6/16/05; some of the formatting has been changed.]