CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Putting God Back Into Theology

Dec 2, 2013

The word theology of course means the study of God. So all Christians should be theologians, since we all should study God and seek to know as much about him as we possibly can. But of course it is not just a matter of knowing about God, but actually knowing God.

Both go together, and both must be stressed. In this regard, as I was reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Romans 14 last night, I came upon this neat little snippet: “The devil always tempts us to become academic or theoretical. This is one of the greatest dangers confronting any Christian, but particularly those who are more intelligent.

“It applies to all areas of our lives, including our study of theology. We can be interested in a doctrine in a purely theoretical manner and almost forget that we are dealing with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these great doctrines of salvation. We can be handling them as if we were studying science or any other secular subject – and that is a terrible thing. We must never forget the spirit.”

That got me thinking (of course most things get me thinking). At least some of the great theologians of the past were well aware of the tendency to simply make theology a mere intellectual exercise, without a real love of the actual subject being studied.

We have plenty of theologians who have a filled head but an empty heart. We have too many students of theology who have great intellects but anaemic spiritual lives. Not a few of the great theologians sought to speak to this. Let me highlight just two of them.

The great American theologian B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) delivered a lecture on October 4, 1911 at Princeton Theological Seminary entitled, “The Religious Life of Theological Students”. (OK, personal interest story here: I knew this was a thin volume, and as part of my 6,000 volume library, would not be easy to find. It took me forever to locate it: not only was it thinner than I remembered, but it was buried between some books on Marxism!)

So I dug that volume off the shelves and re-read it. Although very brief, it contains a number of gems. Let me share just a few with you:

A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly.

Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “What!” is the appropriate response, “than ten hours over your books, on your knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?

There is certainly something wrong with the religious life of a theological student who does not study. But it does not quite follow that therefore everything is right with his religious life if he does study. It is possible to study—even to study theology—in an entirely secular spirit.

In all its branches alike, theology has as its unique end to make God known: the student of theology is brought by his daily task into the presence of God, and is kept there. Can a religious man stand in the presence of God, and not worship?

It is surely not all right with the spiritual condition of that man who can busy himself daily with divine things, with a cold and impassive heart.

Pour your heart into your studies; do not merely occupy your mind with them, but put your heart into them. They bring you daily and hourly into the very presence of God; his ways, his dealing with men, the infinite majesty of his Being form their very subject matter. Put the shoes from off your feet in this holy presence!

Keep always before your mind the greatness of your calling, that is to say, these two things: the immensity of the task before you, the infinitude of the resources at your disposal.

And then there is the much lengthier bit of advice given by C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892). He frequently spoke to this, and we have his words of advice found in the various versions of his Lectures To My Students. Originally published in four volumes, these were talks given to his students in The Pastor’s College which he set up six years after his conversion.

Although directed more at would-be preachers than would-be theologians, he had the same concerns: that the head might be prepared without the heart and soul also being properly readied. Good theology should lead us closer to God and to godliness. The same with those who desire to be preachers.

So he regularly stressed the importance of heart devotion to God as the main preparation for pulpit work. Again, I offer just a few brief quotes here:

The solemn work with which the Christian ministry concerns itself demands a man’s all, and that at its best. To engage in it half-heartedly is an insult to God and man.

Recollect, as ministers, that your whole life, your whole pastoral life especially, will be affected by the vigour of your piety. If your zeal grows dull, you will not pray well in the pulpit; you will pray worse in the family, and worst in the study alone. When your soul becomes lean, your hearers, without knowing how or why, will find that your prayers in public have little savour for them; they will feel your barrenness, perhaps, before you perceive it yourself. Your discourses will next betray your declension. You may utter as well-chosen words, and as fitly-ordered sentences, as aforetime; but there will be other times, even as Samson did, but you will find that your great strength has departed.

Once more. We must cultivate the highest degree of godliness because our work imperatively requires it. The labour of the Christian ministry is well performed in exact proportion to the vigour of our renewed nature. Our work is only well done when it is well with ourselves. As is the workman, such will the work be. To face the enemies of truth, to defend the bulwarks of the faith, to rule well in the house of God, to comfort all that mourn, to edify the saints, to guide the perplexed, to bear with the froward, to win and nurse souls — all these and a thousand other works beside are not for a Feeble-mind or a Ready-to-halt, but are reserved for Great-heart whom the Lord has made strong for himself. Seek then strength from the Strong One, wisdom from the Wise One, in fact, all from the God of all.

The truth is, we all should love theology because it is about the one we claim to love the most. But if all of our theology and study is not driving us closer to God and causing us to love him more, then something is certainly amiss. If this is the case, we need to rectify it as soon as possible.

It has been said that the distance between heaven and hell is a mere 15 inches – the distance between our head and our heart. We need our minds on fire for God, but our hearts and souls must be as well. So always make sure all aspects are alight with passion for God.

[1286 words]

7 Responses to Putting God Back Into Theology

  • I notice that when I become complacent in my prayer life, things start to falter.
    Time spent with God in prayer is worth more than anything else in this world .
    Thanks for this site Bill. You are in my prayers.

    Dameon McManus

  • It all too easy for us to let our minds go beyond where our hearts stubbornly, fearfully refuse to go in the life which Christ calls us to: “Follow” is easy to our mind’s eye, but to put one foot after another in the footsteps of the Master is something other than a casual walk in the park on a sunny day [1 Peter 2:20-24].
    John Wigg

  • To look, look to Jesus, just look. You don’t need a lot of brains to look, I was one such as he.
    Daniel Kempton

  • I was given a copy by a friend of ‘Prophetic Voices: Needed But Unheeded’ by Bill Muehlenberg. I looked it up on the website and thought was so good that I felt strongly I had to send out around the world to many people through my New Earth Community e-mail broadcast. See the website post at: http://www.newearthcommunity.org/?page_id=2165 It has gone out to many hundreds of people. I too am really concerned at the culture change coming into our western world as well and felt that Bill addressed the issue so simply, I just had to use it.
    Ken Aitken

  • Thanks Bill. B. B. Warfield is not one I’m familiar with. A search quickly led me to this very address (http://bbwarfield.com/works/sermons-and-addresses/the-religious-life-of-theological-students/) at this website (http://bbwarfield.com/works/sermons-and-addresses/). I now have some new reading material 🙂
    Peter Sharp

  • Excellent, so true indeed.

    Joseph Stephen

  • I know there have been many times in my life where I have struggled to turn head knowledge into hear knowledge.

    Kylie Anderson

Leave a Reply