I enjoy spending time with older men. They have gray hair and wrinkles which often point to the fact that they have gained some wisdom through the years. Time spent on the road of life doesn’t always equate to wisdom, but in many cases it does.
One thing we need to be reminded of is that Satan is a created being and he’s much older and wiser than you. He is crafty and strategic in how he attacks. It never ceases to amaze me how the devil often uses theological debate to rob God of worship. Since the devil cannot drag a Christian to hell, he will seek to prevent children of God from worshipping and glorifying God. The great deceiver and dragon of sin is pleased to use pornography or the classic Calvinism v. Arminianism debate to accomplish his goal of discouragement and defeat in the life of a Christian. Beware of falling into the trap of Satan (1 Peter 5:8).
The Purpose of Big Theology
The ultimate purpose of theology is to bring glory to God. The results of this glorious purpose include the doxology of God’s people. We worship God in order to ascribe to God glory, honor, and praise.
How many times have you ran across a website that was seeking to use Romans 9 or Ephesians 1 as a theological stick to beat people over the head and win a theological debate? In many circles, Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 exist for the sole purpose of argument and theological friction. But, when I was preaching through Romans 9 some years back, I pointed out to our church that Romans 9 was breathed out by God for the purpose of the church at Rome to see the glorious salvation plan of God which was intended to lift them to the heights of worship.
The grand purpose of big theology is to reveal the bigness, or better stated the sovereignty of our God. Such a breathtaking revelation should lift our affections Godward with a song on our tongues and praise from our lips to the only wise God who is to be glorified forever (Rom. 16:27).
Hard doctrines are not for seminary classrooms—they’re for the church of Jesus Christ. Paul did not write Romans to a seminary. He wrote it to a local church. Hard truths break through hard hearts and bring us to a sweet place of worship. When the preacher is preaching the Bible, are you consistently looking down at your Bible seeking to read the commentary below the biblical text to see if your pastor agrees with your preferred system of theology? When you read the Bible over coffee in the morning are you putting every biblical text into a systematic theology debate to see if the biblical text agrees with your preferred system? That approach to Bible study and worship will lead you to a miserable and fruitless condition.
The Danger of Systematic Struggles
When I was in seminary, I would walk in the door and start explaining to my wife how I intended to win the debate with our friends who were coming over to our home that evening for supper. I was preparing my tight logical argument regarding the doctrine of soteriology in order to engage in theological debate with my fellow seminary friends. My wife looked at me with a blank gaze and said, “If all our marriage consists of is arguments regarding the doctrine of salvation, we will have a pretty miserable marriage.”
I will never forget that moment. She was not belittling the importance of God’s redemptive plan, but what she was communicating to me in that moment was the reality that it’s quite possible to miss the opportunities for a joyful marriage if I’m stuck in the rut of theological debate at every given turn of our marital life.
The same thing is true in regard to our worship and service that we offer up to God. Paul did not write to the church at Ephesus and point out the spectacular truth of predestination in order for them to organize an officially moderated theological debate on the subject. I’m not against systematic theology, in fact I find good theologians who organize gospel truths in systematic categories quite helpful. In many ways, the organization of theological positions serve as a stake in the ground to say, “Here is where I stand.” This is true of creeds and confessions of the faith as well. I’m not opposed to engaging in theological debate in the world of apologetics either, but what I am opposed to is relegating God’s truth to the arena of debate rather than the context of the local church and the worship of God.
Why did Paul write to the church in Ephesus or the church in Rome? Was it for the sake of controversy and to fight over systems of theology or was it for the purpose of worship and the health of the local church?
The next time that you find your heart cold toward God as you read the Bible or sit under the preaching of God’s Word—it might not be because Satan has lured you into the dark world of pornography on your iPhone. It’s likely due to the fact that you’ve missed opportunities to praise God and serve God with joy because you’re filtering every sermon and every Bible verse through a systematic theology grid to see what system it falls into. In such cases, you’re not worshipping God.
When the church gathered together on the Lord’s Day and heard Ephesians read to them publicly for the very first time, how would they have received it? Would they have heard the grand truths about salvation and stirred to systematic theological debate or would they have been moved to praise God? Be careful that you don’t allow the ordinary and normative reading of the Bible that leads to worship to be replaced by a rigid systematic reading that creates conflict and tension in your heart. Are you more interested in pleasing a theological camp than you are to receive the simple and plain reading of the text of Scripture?
Be wise and prudent in how you navigate the pathway of life. The ancient dragon of sin is ready to use whatever weapon necessary to rob God of worship. If he can use pornography, he will do it. If he can use systematic theology, he will be pleased to use it as well (2 Cor 11:14).
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. — Habakkuk 3:17–18