Last week, I compiled some excerpts from Richard Lints with the central point being that theology belongs to the church. The goal that I have in developing a Blue Collar Theology is just that: a reunion of theological emphasis and education in the natural setting of the local church. However, lest we be naïve or short-sighted, theological inquiry is a dangerous endeavor. We cannot assume that simply because more people are thinking theologically, blue collar theology is being achieved.
So why is it dangerous, you might ask? Let me give you some reasons that come to my mind. The first and most obvious danger is spiritual pride. With the acquisition of knowledge, there is a residual temptation to puff oneself up. How many astute academicians have been rendered useless in the kingdom because of this deplorable and yet sometimes unrecognizable sin! Doing theology in the local church means doing theology in community where such instances are more likely to be discovered, exposed, and repented of than the typical independent study of theologians in academia.
Another danger is engaging in theological study without practical uses or application for everyday life. Scripture is explicit and emphatic that we must be doers of the Word and not hearers only (James 1:22-25). When the most haunting words of Jesus were declared, “Depart from Me I never knew you” (Matt. 7:21-23), he made it clear that those who knew the Lord were those who “do the will of the Father” who is in heaven. So again, Jesus is bringing out the intricate connection between theology and practice, belief and behavior. If theological study is relegated to the classroom and measured by red ink on paper, then theology has been severed from the fruitful expression it was intended to have. Shall we measure the depth and growth of a Christian by his grade-point average or his conformity to Christ (Ideally, I know it should be both, but for the latter far outweighs the former)? Theology proper should lead us to greater worship of God. Providence should lead us to better understanding of suffering and evil. Pneumatology (study of the Holy Spirit) should cause us to live more Spirit-filled lives. Do you get my point? But how and where does this take place? It takes place in the classroom of life, and it is in the community of believers in the local church where these uses are cultivated, provoked, and nurtured. The Puritans were some of the most profound thinkers the church has ever known and yet they spent a lengthy amount of their time in preaching explaining the “uses” to what they have taught the congregation. In the end, they were pursuing an experimental religion, not a theoretical one. They were men and women who knew God deeply but also experienced him profoundly, and this is what we should be pursuing today.
Finally, there is the subtle danger of divorcing interpretation and sanctification while compartmentalizing God’s truth. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Graeme Goldsworthy is right to assert that “we cannot avoid the question of human sin and its effects on our ability to receive and to know the truth” (Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 35). Is our posture towards Scripture one of humility and submission, with a heart to obey as the Holy Spirit leads and convicts? Are our minds being daily renewed and ours constantly transformed by the indwelling and sanctifying work of the Spirit as the Word of God is applied to our lives? Though we can exegete the most difficult texts of Scripture and articulate with precision the most profound thoughts in systematic theology, if these truths are not causing us to be more like Christ, we are no theologians at all. We may have a correct interpretation of a particular text, but we have wrongly interpreted the text of our lives. The ultimate goal of theological study should be in every way a total transformation and conformity to Jesus Christ. As we are being sanctified by the Spirit through both inward and outward means, our interpretation will change as we learn to think the thoughts of God. Unconfessed sin and a posture of rebellion against God can be covertly disguised in normal academic settings, but when theology is placed with the local church, the confessional accountability and discipline of its members provide a healthy check to those whose theological pursuits are taking them down a dead-end road.
[Note: Dr. Michael Haykin has written a nice post entitled “Advancing the Truth” this morning that I encourage you to read. The last quote notes, “Looking at this from the perspective of subjective experience, we can say that the New Testament bears eloquent witness to the fact that solid doctrine is essential to sound spirituality. In the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon: the coals of orthodoxy are ever necessary for the fire of spirituality. Where orthodox doctrine is regarded as unimportant, the fire of Christian piety will inevitably be quenched.”]