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Christian Living

How Important Is It to Have the Right Theology?

God Doesn’t Want Us to Study Him; He Wants Us to Know Him

When people first learn that I have a PhD and where I did my postgrad work, they assume I’m into theology. Imagine their disappointment to find out I don’t care about the concept or want to pursue a right theology, that I can’t engage in a meaningful discussion about the topic—at least not as they perceive it.

At its most basic level, theology is the study of God. I like that. But as nuances of finding a right theology layer on top of this basic understanding, the subject gets murky.

The result is too many long, multi-syllable words that few people can pronounce and even fewer can comprehend. Turning God into an academic pursuit of the right theology pushes him away and keeps us from truly knowing him.

Relationship Is Key

For many people, their spouse is their most important relationship.

Imagine if I went to my wife and said, “I’m going to devote the rest of my life to studying you.

“I’ll watch you and make notes. I’ll catalog who you are and categorize what you do. Next, I’ll read books to help me better understand you. I’ll also talk with others to gain their insights about who you are. Then I’ll tell others what I’ve learned.”

How would she react? Not well. My singular commitment to focus on her would not win me her appreciation. Instead it would stir up her ire. She would rightfully complain, “Why can’t we hang out instead? I just want you to spend time with me.”

So it is with God. He doesn’t want us to study him. He wants a relationship (Hosea 6:6). Theology keeps God at a distance when what he really wants is for us to know him.

Knowledge Puffs Up

As people pursue theology, they amass a great deal of information. Much of this forms a theoretical construct, turning God into an abstract spiritual entity.

In doing so they gather much knowledge but risk pushing God further away. This knowledge of who God is generates pride. It puffs up. Instead of knowledge, we should pursue love, which builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Pursuing theology isn’t necessarily bad, but it can distract us from what is most important: being in a relationship with Jesus. Click To Tweet

Education Distracts

The pursuit of higher learning is a noble task, but it’s not the goal. Chasing after a theology of God isn’t the end. It’s the means to the end: to know who God is in an intimate, personal way.

Jesus routinely criticized the Pharisees and Sadducees—who we could equate to ancient theologians. Instead he embraced a simple message when he said “follow me” (John 10:27).

Pursing a Right Theology

Though pursuing a right theology and even having a Bible study aren’t necessarily bad, they can distract us from what’s most important: to follow Jesus and be in relationship with him.

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. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Pharisees and Sadducees Represent Division

Disunity Today Hurts the Cause of Jesus

In our consideration of words that appear only in the New Testament, we come across Pharisees and Sadducees. Two related words are Zealot and Nazarene, along with Essene.

Pharisees

Appearing ninety-nine times in the New Testament, the Pharisees receive the most attention. They were a righteous group of Jews, noted for their meticulous following of the Law of Moses. But they added to the 613 laws recorded in the opening books of the Bible.

Attempting to clarify what the rules meant and didn’t mean, they added their own understanding to guide them into best practice. This resulted in more than 20,000 additional rules for them to follow, which aren’t in the Bible.

But in their scrupulous attention to detail, they missed the point behind the law. That’s why Jesus often called them hypocrites and reserved his most critical words for them.

Sadducees

Another segment of Judaism during Jesus’s life were the Sadducees. The New Testament mentions them fifteen times. But, instead of adding to the Bible, they dismissed much of it. As a result, they didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead, among other things.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were the two major groups of Judaism that Jesus talked about. However, there are three more considerations.

Zealot

The label of Zealot occurs four times in the New Testament. It always refers to Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus’s disciples. This identifier distinguishes him from Simon Peter. The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about the Zealots, but history does.

Though they existed in Jesus’s time, they escape his mention. They opposed the Romans politically and advocated its overthrow. And Jesus had one of its members as a disciple.

Essenes

Though not found in the Bible, we learn about the Essenes through history. As another sect of Judaism, though not as numerous as the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Essenes lived a communal lifestyle, noted for poverty, piety, and celibacy (of its priests).

Notably, we can thank the Essenes for the Dead Sea scrolls.

Nazarene

Though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, his parents moved to Nazareth shortly thereafter and raised in there. Three times the gospel writers refer to Jesus as a Nazarene. And once Paul’s detractors called him the ringleader of the Nazarene sect (Acts 24:5).

This implies that for a time some people viewed Jesus’s followers as a part of Judaism, though that didn’t last long.

Unity Versus Disunity

None of these five labels, especially Pharisees and Sadducees, appear in the Old Testament. This suggests the Old Testament Jews had a degree of unity not found in the New Testament and that division didn’t occur until after the Old Testament narrative wrapped up.

We have a long way to go to realize the unity Jesus prayed for and achieve the witness he wanted. Click To Tweet

Today we see the same scenario. We’ve divided the body of Christ into different streams of Christianity—and among the Protestant branch—into 43,000 denominations. That’s a lot of division and disunity.

But Jesus prayed for unity, that we would be one. And that as one, our witness would be stronger (John 17:21). We have a long way to go to realize the unity Jesus prayed for and achieve the witness he wanted.

What can we do to promote unity within Christianity?

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. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Accidental or Intentional Christianity?

A guy who ponders deep theological thoughts recently shared two concepts with me: intentional Protestantism and accidental Protestantism. Both relate to the Reformation of the Christian church, some five hundred years ago. What about accidental Christianity or intentional Christianity?

Back then, a group of people saw problems in the church and broke from it, forming something new; they became Protestant by intention.

The other group desired to foment change from within the church, but when that didn’t happen, they became Protestant by accident. (Later the Catholic Church did indeed make most of these needed changes, but it took a few more years.)

What if there was no intentional effort to break away? What if the other group had been successful at reforming the church from within? Then, today Christianity would look much different and we would be more unified, just as Jesus wanted.

Now, take this concept back two thousand years. For a time, the early followers of Jesus existed within the Jewish church of the day.

They were emerging as a sect of Judaism, potentially a third element, along with the Pharisees and Sadducees (two groups who didn’t agree on much but found a way to mostly coexist anyway).

Some of Jesus’ first followers wanted to remain within the Jewish culture but became accidental Christians, while others were intentional Christians.

What if Christianity didn’t form that way? What if Jesus’ followers found a way to coexist within Judaism? The thought intrigues me. I already feel an affinity for our Jewish forebears, and this would connect us even more.

We all do serve the same God, so would it really matter? Of course, this is all hypothetical, but I think God would be okay with it.

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. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

The Error of the Sadducees

In The Error of the Sadducees and Pharisees, it was noted that the Sadducees’s error was taking away from the Bible, dismissing or ignoring certain sections.

Paul notes that the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, angels, and spirits, even though all are addressed in the Old Testament.

In order to challenge or trick Jesus, the Sadducees smugly present him with a hypothetical situation. Jesus pointedly tells them they are in error because they do not know the Bible. He then corrects their errant thinking, amazing the crowd and silencing his critics.

Few followers of Jesus would admit to ignoring parts of the Bible or dismissing sections as irrelevant, but it is actually a common occurrence.

When we read the Bible, it is naturally all too easy to focus on the parts we like and understand, while quickly skimming or even skipping the confusing and confounding passages. As a result, our understanding of God is diminished in the process.

It is the error of the Sadducees.

[Acts 23:8, Mark 12:18-27, also in Luke 20:27-40 and Matthew 22:23-33]

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. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.