A LayMan’s Introduction to Theology

Bad Theology

Bad theology has severe consequences in our culture. The statistics tell the truth: young men and women are leaving the Church after they leave home. They have been fed a steady diet of pizza and party theology. In his 2005 book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Christian Smith writes:

The majority of teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their faith, religious beliefs and practices, and its place in their lives. The de facto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers is what they call ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’: A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth; God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions; the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself; God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem; and good people go to heaven when they die.

This description doesn’t simply lead to bad theology, but to disastrous personal and corporate consequences. The worldview described is informed by the latest trends, and not by the text. Their authority is not the voice of Yahweh (Psalm 29), but the voice of man-made reason.

In order to avoid this, parents and parishioners need not think of theology as a scary word, rather we need to embrace our role as theologians and seek to think more deeply and consistently about the world God made and our responsibilities in it.

One Agenda of Theology

Where do we begin to do the important task of theology? If you pursue a seminary education, you may be overwhelmed by the many types of theologies available to study. There are departments of Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, Pastoral Theology, Liturgical Theology, Sacramental Theology, and so on. The list continues to increase because the Bible is so vast and God’s revelation is so glorious that there will be always new areas to pursue as an academic.

But for our purposes, since most of you will not pursue the pastorate or the goal of being a seminary professor, we want to consider theology at its most basic level. And I say basic not because it is easy, but because we are dealing with the fundamentals of our faith.

There are levels of importance when it comes to discussing theology. One writer summarized it best:

In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

In other words, there are things that are of primary importance. These are issues worth fighting and even dying for in our day. They are essentials: The Trinity, the death, burial, and physical resurrection of Jesus, and other matters contained in our great creeds are essential issues. But there are also issues of secondary importance. And because they are secondary does not mean we should not discuss them and have vigorous debates over them, but it does mean that we should allow a certain amount of liberty on these topics. A classic example of this is the debated topic of eschatology. Do you subscribe to a dispensational view of the end of the world or a covenantal view? There is no doubt that these issues will have an effect on how you think about the world and the future, but these are not salvific issues. No one will be saved because of his belief in postmillennialism unless he is also trusting in Christ alone for his salvation.

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