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An inextricable link: Faith in God and that ‘theology stuff’

Apr 2014    

Let us not draw any more false distinctions between “having faith in God” and “getting involved in the theology stuff”. The two belong together in a healthy Christian life. May we not put asunder what God has joined together.

Once at a dedication service for some undergraduates who were going on a mission trip, one of the students made a comment that went something like this: “I have faith in God, and that is enough for me. I don’t want to get involved in any of the theology stuff”.

The comment was probably made as one of those officiating at the service was a lecturer in Christian theology, though I must clarify it was not me!

This reflects a common way of thinking amongst Christians in Singapore today. The serious study of the Christian faith – as exemplified by the term “theology” – is viewed as unnecessary at best, and at worst, detrimental to one’s Christian life.

This view or perspective, however, is fraught with numerous problems, and in this article, I would like to highlight two.

The best definition of “theology” I have come across is actually a very simple one. Anselm of Canterbury, a church leader in the 11th century, describes it elegantly as “faith seeking understanding”. With this definition, he was making this point – that when we truly have faith in God, and love Him with all our hearts, we will quite naturally desire to have a better understanding of this God and His ways.

This is the case in all human relationships. So the first problem is that choosing not to delve in to theology goes against the way we are wired as human beings. For example, when we develop a deep interest in a person of the opposite sex, we find ourselves compelled to want to discover more about that person: e.g. where he or she lives and what he or she likes to eat. Faith and love always serve to push us to want to understand more of the person we are in love with.

The study of theology is simply a response to this imperative. Because of our faith in God and love for God, we work hard at understanding who God is and how He relates to His creation, depending always on what God has graciously revealed of Himself to us. As we understand more, we frequently find our faith and love strengthened.

Properly done, therefore, the study of theology allows us to enter a virtuous cycle whereby our faith seeks understanding, and our understanding fortifies our faith. If we do not have the desire to understand the God we claim to have faith in, the nature of that faith we profess must be called into question.

The second problem is our naïve perspective that theology is unnecessary. What the student said appears to give the impression that we have a choice – to embrace theology or not.

The truth, however, is that theology is unavoidable. Every Christian, whether we realise it or not, already has a perception of who God is and how He relates to us. Every Christian, in other words, already possesses a theology.

In fact, the student who decried the role of theology was actually making a deeply theological statement. He was saying, in effect, that he understands God to relate to us solely in the realm of one’s personal experience, and that this God does not really want us to pursue substantive knowledge about Him. This is a theological position that comes close to that promoted by Rudolf Bultmann, a significant 20th century German theologian.

My point, simply, is that Christians cannot escape from holding on to one form of theology or other.

Therefore, the real choice facing us is not whether we should get involved in theology or not. It is whether we will have a bad or good theology; whether we will be guided by unexamined assumptions or beliefs which we dare to bring out into the open to test against the ancient faith of the Church.

Let us not draw any more false distinctions between “having faith in God” and “getting involved in the theology stuff”. The two belong together in a healthy Christian life. May we not put asunder what God has joined together.

Dr Leow Theng Huat is a lecturer of Church History and Theology at Trinity Theological College. He is married to Cheng Ping, and they have three children. The family worships at Wesley Methodist Church.

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