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What is the purpose of Christian theology?
Since I was a high school student, I have enjoyed reading books about God. Not devotional books, however—much to my mother’s alarm. No, I enjoy reading theology books, and the bigger they are, the better. I enjoyed reading books about God so much, in fact, that I chose a career likely to pay me for reading them.
Over the last twenty years, however, I have noticed something about big theology books. Many of them inform us about God, but they do not inspire us to worship him. I cannot tell you how many times I have turned the last page of a theology book and said, “Well, that was interesting!” rather than, “Well, it’s time to pray!” But shouldn’t prayer be the proper end of theology? Shouldn’t we learn about God in order to worship and serve him?
Paul certainly thought so. His letter to the Romans was in many ways the church’s first theology book. It didn’t just narrate the life of Jesus and the early church, however, as did the Gospels and Acts. It interpreted their significance. It explained what God was up to through Jesus Christ. And it ended on a note of praise.
Consider Romans 16.25-27:
Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
These three verses are a doxology, a word (logos) of praise or glory (doxa) about God. “Now to him…be glory forever through Jesus Christ!” The theology of Romans centers on the grace of a God who justifies sinners by faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. If we read Romans and our only response is, “Well, that was interesting!” then we haven’t understood a word of what we’ve read. Or rather, we may have understood it, but we haven’t applied it to ourselves. Sinners who do so fall to their knees in undying gratitude. We’ve been saved from hell; we’re destined for heaven. When that realization sinks in to our brains, what can we do but give thanks?
Who is this God we praise? He is powerful, he is revealing, and he is wise. Let’s look at those in reverse order. First, he is wise. God knows the way we ought to live. He knows how far off the path we are. And he knows how to get us back on track. Second, he is revealing. Not only does he know, he communicates. He reveals “the gospel,” literally “good news.” He doesn’t keep the way secret; he tells everyone. And third, he is powerful. God doesn’t tell us how to save ourselves. He saves us. He is “able to establish” us on the path of salvation. He is our Guide. He knows the path to heaven, tells us about it, and pulls us out of the thickets when we stray.
It is a good thing to know more about God. I still read theology books, after all. But it is a better thing to praise more. And we have much to praise for.