Say the word “theology” in any non-academic setting, and people might be left scratching their heads and running for the door. Thankfully, the word “theology” has a simple meaning. You can divide it into two parts: “theo” and “ology.”
- “Theus” is Greek for “God.”
-“Logos” is “the study of.”
-“Theology” is “The study of God.”
Despite the simple meaning of the word “theology,” the question still exists: why study God?
This essay (and the two following) will address three biblical reasons to study God:
1) To know God is to love God
2) To know God is to worship God
3) To know God is to grow in grace.
This essay’s focus will be the first point: to know God is to love God.
To Know God is to Love God
In an article titled God Seeks People to Worship Him in Spirit and in Truth, John Piper states, “Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full of unspiritual fighters. Emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates flaky people who reject the discipline of rigorous thought. True worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine.”
A Christian’s knowledge of God drives his or her heart towards praise and adoration.
A good amount of Jesus’s conversations with the Pharisees revolved around the greatest commandment. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
As the Son of God, Jesus was the only person in all of history to obey this command. If he failed to love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength for one second, he could not have been a sinless sacrifice for sin. Yet, as evidenced by the resurrection, he obeyed this command perfectly.
What does this mean for us? More specifically, I want to ask: what does it mean to love God with all our minds?
R.C. Sproul claims that “we live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of western civilization.”(1) Since Sproul said this back in the ‘80s, we can accurately imagine the case as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.
To know God is to love God. The modern church – from the outside looking in and even from the inside – seems fueled by emotionalism. This emotionalism leads to poor theology. This poor theology leads to a watered-down understanding of who God is and how he works in the world and our lives.
On the opposite end of the spectrum (and possibly as a reaction to emotionalism) are those who fear their emotions will become involved in their walk of faith. Their walk with God is purely intellectual, and they avoid emotions.
I have been on both ends of the spectrum. I have gotten so fueled by emotions that if I did not “feel” God, I assumed he was not there. On the other hand, I have been so intellectually driven in my approach to God and his Word that I (ironically) felt ashamed to “feel” any emotion pertaining to God and his work for me in Christ. These dynamics are not emotionally or intellectually healthy in our approach to studying God. Both mind and heart are needed.
In light of this, there are times in Scripture where emotions must bow in submission to the knowledge of God. Psalm 13 is an excellent example. David states that God has abandoned him – not because this was accurate– but because David felt as if God had abandoned him. At the end of the Psalm, David reminds his heart that God has dealt bountifully with him. Psalm 42 and 43 are other examples of emotions lining up with truth. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God! For I shall again praise him, my salvation, and my God” (Psalm 42:5, 11, 43:5).
In 1 Peter, Peter describes God’s foreknowledge, the Spirit’s work in believers’ hearts, and believers being made into a holy people (sprinkling with the blood of Christ). Peter’s reaction is to exclaim, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! (1:3). His meditation upon the work of God is to break out into an exclamation of blessing God for this great gift of salvation. Peter continues to describe the doctrines of predestination and our inheritance as believers. Our meditation on the gospel and the doctrines that are found within Scripture should cause our hearts to be joyful in Christ’s work.
With the two examples from Psalm 13 and 1 Peter 1, God welcomes positive and negative emotions within their proper context – going to God to express our negative emotions and expressing joy at God’s work in our lives. As David says in Psalm 62, “Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8). Our expressions of emotion should always seek to find its root in the knowledge of God.
The church needs deep, sound doctrine and theology. The church also needs emotion fueled by biblical theology. The stoic Christian is not seen in Scripture. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary describes “stoic” as “one who is seemingly indifferent to or unaffected by joy, grief, pleasure, or pain.”
In conclusion, to know God is to love God. God is glorified in a Christian’s knowledge that leads to heartfelt praise and worship. In other words, as Christians, our understanding of God drives our hearts toward praise and adoration.
God has seen fit to reveal himself to us through our intellect as well as our emotions. We should humble ourselves before our King since he has humbled himself to our level. Granted, we will never know all there is to know about God. What we do know is sufficient for the salvation of our world.
“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
1) To which are you most prone: intellectualism or emotionalism? Why do you think this is the case?
2) What are some ways that can you become more balanced in this area in your spiritual life?
3) How can you encourage your church to seek balance in this area?
(1) R. C. Sproul, “Burning Hearts Are Not Nourished by Empty Heads,” Christianity Today, Sept 3, 1982.
Brittany Proffitt lives in southern Ohio, holds a BA in Religion, and is a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is passionate about Scripture and how God’s Word impacts individuals’ hearts and lives.