Theology is one of those words that provokes various reactions from different people. For some, it brings to mind a form of abstract speculation that simply distracts believers from the real work of loving and obeying God. For others, it’s a source of intense fascination, yet it has little impact on daily life.
For a third group, though, biblically grounded theology is the fuel that drives Christian worship and service to God. I am convinced that this third perspective represents the view of the Bible itself. Deep and proper understanding of the theology of the Bible is a non-negotiable essential for healthy worship, healthy mission, and healthy church life.
Deep understanding of the theology of the Bible is essential for healthy worship, healthy mission, and healthy church life.
The Pattern of the New Testament Letters
The writers of the New Testament letters clearly thought this way. Men like Paul and Peter connected theology with practical obedience. This is especially seen in the typical pattern of the letters of Paul. Many of his letters begin with an extended discussion of deep theological issues. It is worth noting, in passing, that these letters were written to be read to new churches made up of new believers who were, for the most part, nonliterate oral learners.
The theology of Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians is apparently what the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, thought appropriate and necessary for recent converts in an oral culture. These theological explanations are followed by the word “therefore,” which introduces the practical implications of the doctrine just taught.
Paul’s perspective is clear. We live the way we live, obey the way we obey, and serve the way we serve because we believe the biblical doctrine we believe. Gospel obedience flows from gospel doctrine. To separate them in either direction is to separate what God has joined together. No one does that, right (Mark 10:9)?!
A love for biblical doctrine that does not lead to the pursuit of biblical obedience is self-deception that may indicate the absence of biblical conversion. Read that again because I believe it’s absolutely true. And it’s worth repeating. Go ahead, I’ll wait . . .
Got it? Good. On the other hand, the pursuit of biblical obedience that despises or neglects biblical doctrine is just as self-deceived. At best, it is arrogant to divide what God has united, and it produces a hollowed-out obedience that easily degenerates into legalism. You might read that again, as well.
The theology of the Bible presents reality as God sees it, which is to say, as it really is. All people everywhere have a worldview, usually subconscious and unseen, that defines the very ways in which they can think. That worldview functions in their lives the way that the human skeleton functions in our bodies. You cannot see it, but it gives shape to everything.
Our worldview defines for us what is beautiful and what is ugly, what is virtuous and what is bad, what is plausible and what is implausible. It shapes how we understand God, ourselves, the world we can see, and the supernatural world we cannot see. It defines our identity and our conception of the purpose of life.
Our worldview has been formed by upbringing and culture. For this reason, everyone’s worldview has been influenced, in varying ways and to varying degrees, by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Changing behavior, and even changing outwardly known beliefs, without changing worldview leaves the root of our problem untouched. In order for us to worship, obey, and serve God well, we need to do so from a worldview that conforms to God’s Word. Anything less leads to syncretism: the combination of Christian faith and practice with non-Christian elements that are incompatible with it.
This is where biblical doctrine, properly understood and applied, is so essential. The theology of the Bible is simply God’s description of reality from his inerrant perspective about the things he knows that we need to know. Biblical doctrine is the tool God has given us to disciple our worldview so that our practices and beliefs are built on the solid foundation of God’s understanding of the way things really are.
Theology, Worship, and Mission
God created us and recreated us in Christ Jesus to know him. We cannot really know someone if we know nothing about them. Our relational knowledge of him can never be separated from the truth he has revealed about himself in his Word, which is simply the theology of the Bible.
He created and recreated us to worship him, and the content of our worship of him must express that same theology. Anything else is idolatry. Worship involves our heads and our hearts together, and what our minds think and our lips sing must conform to the truth that God has revealed about himself in his Word.
God created and recreated us to serve him, and our service to him must be fueled by our worship of him and shaped by our theology of him. The three are inseparable. Our theology must express itself in worship and mission, or we have not understood it correctly.
Our worship must give expression to what biblical doctrine teaches us about God, and it must motivate us to serve him in the mission he has given us or it is not biblically acceptable worship to our triune God. Our service to him in the mission he has given us must be theologically grounded and saturated with worship. Anything less is unbiblical.
How much theological knowledge is necessary
for a church to be healthy?
As much as the Bible teaches.
So, then, how much theological knowledge is necessary for a church to be healthy? As much as the Bible teaches. No church needs abstract theology divorced from worship and mission. However, every church, whether hundreds of years old or a few days old, needs its worldview reshaped by the theology of the Bible.
Every church—whether in the heart of the Bible Belt or the heart of an unreached people—needs to have its worship and obedience shaped by God’s perspective on reality as given to us in the deep and glorious doctrines of the Bible. Anything less is to ignore what God has placed in his Word. Anything less harms the church. Every church needs robust doctrinal teaching and preaching to be healthy.
Zane Pratt serves as the vice president of training for the International Mission Board.