Too Much Systematic Theology

I just had a random conversation with one of our pastors this morning when he jokingly commented that I spent too much time on systematic theology. He reasoned that the original apostles were unschooled and they didn’t have complicated theology in their ministries. Our conversation was more of a light banter but the idea got me really thinking afterwards.

If God used unschooled apostles to turn this world upside down with a simple gospel message, can’t we just imitate them and keep things as simple as they are? Why learn too much technical stuff when many people think it’s not that necessary?

I could think of at least three answers to that. First, it is not true that all the apostles were simple and unschooled. Many of them were, but not all. Paul was a scholar. He was well versed in Jewish theology, Roman politics, world religions, Greek philosophy and even pagan poetry. Much of what we know about the theological exposition of our salvation and the person and work of Christ came from the pen of the apostle Paul. If Paul wasn’t a scholar, we would only be reading parables of fig trees today, our understanding of Christ will be insufficient and Christianity wouldn’t have been able to resist its philosophical rivals down through the ages.

I don’t know if many people notice this but when Paul preached in Athens in Acts 17, he was actually shaken to realize that the philosophy of the Greeks was difficult to break through. For the first time in his career as an apostle, his message was not well received by his audience. He was literally booed out of the podium when he began talking about the resurrection.

It is curious to note that Paul’s speech in the Areopagus revealed that he was conversant with the latest philosophical trend at the time. To the mild shock of the Stoics and the Epicureans (both schools of thought descended from Socrates, Plato and Aristotle), Paul claimed that God is the unmoved mover and uncreated source of life that the philosophers have been philosophizing about for hundreds of years. In one sweeping statement, Paul attributed power to God when he stood in the highest hall of learning in Greece and pronounced, in the words of Cretan philosopher Epimenides, that “in [God] we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).” Clearly, Paul was not an unschooled apostle who came from the province of Galilee. Here we see a man who fought his way through the brick wall of Greek skepticism.

To insinuate that the church today doesn’t need much learning in its pulpits is to completely disregard the history and the importance of the Christian religion down through the ages. Part of the reason why Christianity withstood the attacks it suffered in the last 2000 years is because, after all these years, the Christian message and the Christian worldview remain solid, immovable and dependable.

My second answer is this: what else should grip the heart of a believer other than the study of God (theology)? If you are a believer and conversations about God sound boring to you, you better check your pulse. I recently heard a story from a friend who has a friend who admitted that in their circle of friends in church, they rarely talk about God. This girl admitted that even if they all came from the same church and most of them are from the same discipleship groups, it was very difficult for them to bring God into their normal conversations.

I have seen too many believers today who are literally bored with the name of Christ. They are more excited when you talk about prosperity, excellence, chasing after their dreams, living their best lives now, developing a positive outlook, discovering their inner power, unleashing their potential, and other stuff like that. Try opening your Bibles in front of them and they’ll quickly think you are very traditional, old fashioned, serious, and boring. It is sad, isn’t it?

Third, if we are chasing after excellence in our worship services and in the way we conduct our programs, why aren’t we chasing after excellence in our theology? No one can deny the fact that when it comes to the eternal valuation of these things, theology ranks higher than our church programs. If we raise the bar in our worship services and meetings, maybe it’s also a good idea to grow in our understanding of God? After all, if we aim for excellence, we should excel in the things that really matter to God.

I am not embarrassed that I spend much time reading theology. I am not embarrassed that I spend many hours learning Hebrew. I am not embarrassed that I spend the bigger chunk of my money buying theological books. What would embarrass me is when the Lord comes back and I realize I don’t actually know Him that much because I was too lazy to read. There would be no excuse when that time comes. All my education will have been for nothing.