Why Learning Matters
Recently I was speaking on the phone to a dear brother named Ed from Texas. He is the kind of guy who just exudes Jesus. Believers always feel refreshed in his presence. I have watched non-Christians get shaken to their core with conviction just by being near him. He is a walking conduit for the Holy Ghost. In our conversation, we were discussing theology and various cults, when he cut the conversation short. He said "Eric, I think that learning all this theology and apologetics and whatnot just doesnt matter. The way I see it, if we just believe in Jesus and love each other, that is all we need."
Coming from Ed, I didnt even attempt to differ. After all, Ed is sound doctrinally and has an intense spiritual life. It certainly is true that our relationship with Jesus hinges on these most simple and basic principles. Yet, I also couldnt help feeling that somehow this was understating the role of critical thinking in a Christians life. Taking a wider inventory of other Christians I associate with, the question develops quite differently. This year alone, I have seen a former partner in ministry, citing a "foundational problem" with his faith completely walk away from Christ and his family; a couple formerly very close to us, both in full time ministry, embrace various New Age practices and philosophies (they apparently dont see the contradiction); as well as numerous individuals shaken by errors and false teaching that they could not refute. In each circumstance, disaster could have been avoided by giving critical investigation to the subject at hand. This is not to say that the answer to every problem is found by study or that a theological text book is going to solve everyones spiritual problems, but God does say in scripture that "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" ( Hosea 4:6).
The truth is that we can not neglect our mental and intellectual aspects anymore than we can neglect the physical or spiritual aspects of our being. The spiritual, mental and physical dimensions of our being are meant to be harmoniously brought into subjection to God. For the believer, there is not a dichotomy between our spirit and our soul (that is, between our "heart" and "mind"). That which is true spiritually, also finds agreement rationally for those who have the mind of Christ. This is probably the greatest shortcoming for Christians of our era, since we have swallowed the bogus concept that faith and reason are mutually exclusive, and learning (even theological learning) is generally thought to have a negative effect on faith. This is a false premise. Intensive theological study should not detract from faith in the Gospel. On the contrary, it should enhance ones faith. Here is a homemade aphorism, which I am offering free of charge:
Theology is to the Gospel what a prism is to pure white light. It can separate the otherwise invisible bands to bring out all of the most brilliant hues.
Dont shun a deeper investigation into your faith. It is true there is a lot of liberal theology that begins with the presumptions of naturalism, but those false systems can be challenged and refuted on their own terms. In many ways, the Church today has been reluctant to cross over the Jordan into the Canaan of society for fear of the giants of Science, Liberalism, Skepticism and False Teaching. We sit at Kadesh-Barnea considering the safety of the camp, albeit in the wilderness, thinking that this tolerable. Our calling, however, lies on the other side! There are "Ites" to drive out of the land. There is a culture to conquer. Our mission is to go into all the world and present the gospel with clarity and conviction, while we demolish arguments and everything that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:4-5). As Joshua and Caleb declared "We should go up and take the Land, for we can take it." (Numbers 13:30)
In closing, just to add some balance, I will clarify that I am not saying that every Christian ought to enroll in Bible school or seminary or become an apologetic know-it-all. There is diversity in the Body of Christ, and those are optional roles for some. What I am saying is that we have a non-negotiable obligation to "Add to your goodness, knowledge" (II Peter1:5) and "be ready to give answer to all who ask for the reason for the hope that is within you." (I Peter 3:15) These are general, binding principles upon all Christians. Sound learning wont make you spiritually dry up, or rock your faith. Rather, it will strengthen your foundation, and equip you for ministry. In defense of my dear brother Ed that I mentioned in the beginning, I will say that he will probably always have a deep, vibrant relationship with the Lord. He has vitality which is almost enviable. Yet a "Brother Ed spirituality" and systematic theological knowledge are not contradictory, nor mutually exclusive. Rather, they compliment each other. Objective truth (knowledge) and subjective experience (spirituality) are two sides of the same coin. As Jesus said these are the worshippers the Father desires, those who "worship in Spirit AND Truth. (John 4:23, 24) .
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