Those who know me have likely heard me say something along these lines: Everyone has a theology, and everyone is doing theology all the time. That is, everyone has ideas of who God is or isn’t, and these ideas are continually being shaped by, while also themselves shaping, various aspects of our lives.
The real question is not whether you have a theology, but whether your theology is aligned with God’s revelation of himself in Scripture.
Aligning our views of God to Scripture is not a one-time event, just like a married couple don’t fully know each other the day they get married, but continue discovering new things about each their whole lives. Likewise, we could spend our whole lives growing in the knowledge of God, and still not arrive.
I bring this up because my understanding of God has been challenged and convicted in the past year in a way that hasn’t happened in a decade, at least. In several related ways, God has used his word (and the insights of others on his word) to bring my theology further in line with his revealed truth.
Now, I don’t mean that I knowingly believed any lies about God. And nothing has changed in my affirmation of key biblical doctrines, like those on our church’s statement of faith. But God has exposed some of the subconscious ways I think and/or feel wrongly about him. I’ll give you a couple of the more significant examples.
Though I hadn’t ever thought of it consciously, I have held to unbiblical distinctions between the love of God the Father and the love of Jesus, the Son. I have tended to think that Jesus is more loving and kind than God the Father. That the love of God the Father is dependent on Jesus’ death. That God does not love us “naturally,” but only in and because of Jesus.
But the biblical truth is God’s love for us existed before Jesus came to earth, and is in fact the very reason Jesus came to earth! “For God so loved the world that he gave…” “God is love,” says John (1 John 4:8), and his love is what caused him to devise and commit to a plan to forgive, purify and rejoice over a sinful people.
A second example is this: I have failed to see the extent of delight that God has in extending mercy to sinners. I have tended to think that God’s disposition towards extending mercy is on par with his disposition towards extending judgment, given that God is both merciful and just (which he is). In other words, that God’s heart responds equally in extending judgment or extending mercy. I would have ever communicated it like this, but in hindsight, this seems to be something like what I functionally believed.
But Scripture consistently paints a different picture: Lamentations tells us: “…he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lam. 3:33). In his repeated invitations to repentance, we see that God’s preference would be for his people to turn to him, so that he could shower them with mercy and kindness. We are told that God is “rich in mercy.” He is not described as similarly rich in justice, or any other attribute for that matter.
Now, my intention in making these confessions is not to cause you to question or doubt my ability, as your pastor, to communicate God’s word and character truthfully. The biblical picture of a pastor/elder is, on the one hand, of one who is yet a sinner and yet growing in the knowledge of God, and on the other, of one who has been recognized as being “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2) and “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (1 Tim. 6:9). This requires believers to both submit to their spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:17) and test and hold them accountable to God’s word.
Rather, my intention in saying this is that you would be reminded of the nature of the Christian life for all believers: we are in constant need of the penetrating power of God’s Spirit working through God’s word, often applied through God’s people. We need the unchanging truth and encouragement of God’s word. We need the conviction of the Spirit. And we need the presence and insights of other believers.
And sometimes the insights of others come through good books. For me this past year, God has used two books in particular to point me to his word, open my eyes to things I had missed, and bring my theology more in line with Scripture.
While we can’t control when or how God will bring a personal (or church-wide) revival, we can give ourselves faithfully to these “ordinary means of grace,” as they are often called: his word, prayer, and the church community.
I hope and pray that we do this as a church, and that God would bring a renewal of delighting in his grace and goodness.
(The two books that God has used to bring about a revival for me are The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson–a more intellectually rigorous book–and Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortland–a very accessible read that I highly recommend for everyone, and of which we now have copies available at the church.)