An Academic Pursuit of Religious Knowledge Can Cause Much Harm
When I wrote about the dangers of pursuing a right theology, I noted that God doesn’t want us to know about him. He wants us to know him on a personal level. In our pursuit of knowledge, we seek to categorize our understanding of God. We’ve taken the mystery of who God is and turned him into an academic pursuit. We organize, and we intellectualize. In doing so we risk producing three negative outcomes.
1. Theology Labels
Theologians love to give highfalutin names to murky philosophical constructs in a vain attempt to quantify God and explain who he is. This produces labels for various theological thoughts. People who study God from an academic perspective will align themselves with viewpoints they like and distance themselves from others. Using these labels, they determine who is with them and who is against them in their spiritual comprehension of faith (see 1 Corinthians 1:12-13).
People too often try to do this with me. They ask, “Are you a (insert-theological-label)?” They grow irritated when I don’t answer. This is because I can’t. By intention I’ve not studied the nuances of the doctrine they mentioned. Instead I study God as revealed in the Bible and through the Holy Spirit.
I follow Jesus and strive to be a worthy disciple. That’s all that matters. Seriously. Don’t let theological labels detract from this singular focus that trumps all others. If we’re all on Team Jesus, everything else becomes a nonissue.
2. Theology Judges
As we put labels on certain theological perspectives, we apply these tags to those who align with them. We judge people based on which camp they reside in according to their set of beliefs. As a result, we view some people as in and others as out (see Romans 14:10 and James 2:4).
If they agree with the beliefs we hold dear, we accept them. But if they have an alternate view, we judge them as unworthy of our attention and push them aside. In most cases, the judgments we form by our nuanced theology force many people away. It’s us versus them, even though we all pursue the same God—the God of the Bible.
3. Theology Divides
First, we label. Next, we judge. Then we divide. We see this most pronounced on Sunday morning. We go to church with other people who believe just like we do. And too often we vilify those who believe differently. This is why Protestantism has divided itself over the centuries to produce 43,000 denominations today. Most of these spring forth from theological disagreement.
Jesus prayed for our unity (John 17:20-21), and we responded by allowing our theological squabbles to divide us. Denominations are the antithesis to Christian unity.
Tool or Distraction?
For some people, an academic quest to understand God is a tool that brings them to him. Yet many more pour themselves into pursuing a right theology as if it is the goal, as if nothing else matters. They risk having this intellectual path distract them from truly knowing God, from having an intimate relationship with him.
The result is labeling, judgement, and division. This trio harms the church of Jesus, distracting us from becoming all he wants us to be.
Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.