Everything we do has a reason behind it. What we do comes from what we believe is true. The motives for our actions come from our worldview- what we believe about life, God, humanity, etc. If your convictions align with God’s truth, you will be conformed to do God’s will.
That is why theological education is important. It is the foundation for proper praxis, missional living. Theological education seems to be less important to Americans, who want more “practical” teaching instead. The assumption is that theology isn’t practical. Let’s look at why theology isn’t just practical; it’s essential.
When people say they want practical, what they often want is to know what to do. Who should I marry? What job should I take? Should I take out another loan? There is a subtle danger in seeking the “practical” if we are actually asking for more religion. Sometimes people seek regulations to make life more simple, manageable and understandable, because it gives us our own clarity and justification. But that puts us in the driver seat, taking comfort in our control, instead of trusting God to work despite our limitations in decision-making. We need to make wise decisions, of course, but the Bible says we are set free from human regulations. Understanding this freedom in Christ, as opposed to self-imposed guidelines, is essential for growth.
That said, theology does help us make decisions, though it’s not a “how to” manual for life. The Word of God has a beautiful way of leading without taking away essential freedom. If we understand theology properly, we see the Bible gives us filters for decision-making. It gives us spiritual lenses to see God, life, the world and us. When we understand those filters properly (and use all of them), it properly guides our every day life.
Theology, at it’s core, answers the question, “Who is God?” This may seem abstract and unpractical, but that’s far from the truth. Since God is the creator and sustainer of all things, knowing who He is illuminates everything- the universe, history, and the story God is telling. In this we find our place, where we fit, our gifts, identity and role in light of who God is. This alone will answer many of our questions. For example, knowing that we are in God’s image gives us inherent worth and dignity. This guides Christians on decisions about equality and rights for the oppressed. Our understanding of God’s love provides a framework for how we should love our neighbor and who our neighbor is. The more theological filters we glean from the Bible, the more we understand who we are to be (if our goal is to be like Him).
Bible-centered theology also answers the question, “What has God said and done?” The Ten Commandments and Jesus’ teaching are obvious examples of this, but they are not the only ones. God speaks to give life; His words are life. God values people so He commands us not to murder and on the other end He commands us to care for the sick, take in the needy and look for the lost. If we want practical beyond this, we first need to stop and obey the obvious.
We can never dive too deep into theology. The more we learn about God, His words and actions, the more we can live His way. Knowing and understanding this is especially important for those in leadership. That is why Paul says church leaders are, “to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13 NIV). Works of service are linked to growth in faith and knowledge. Right theology leads people not just to works, but the right works, to build up and unify the Church. This unity happens when we gain God’s knowledge (understanding) and faith (beliefs and conviction) through theology based in His Word. Sounds pretty practical, right?