Digging Deeper: Theology--Gotta Love It
By René Castillero
A few years ago, a high schooler asked me "Why did you study theology?" I remember being quick to answer his question. Whether I admitted it or not, boyish René could have sounded something like this: "I study theology to satisfy the intellectual craving of my mind." After some personal reflection, I am baffled over what my younger self believed about theology. If this were true of all of us, then I cannot think of a stodgier area to study. If theology was meant to be understood in this way, then theology would be just another science like biology, chemistry, physics, or even worse, just another philosophy! Theology would become no more than staticky noise for the "theological-scientist" sitting in his ivory tower to muse over all sorts of nonsense.
The study of theology is, above all else, a gift that is meant to be delivered to and enjoyed by all the saints, congregations, the Church itself--and to you. Theology--"words concerning God"--is not made up of various notions and opinions of mortals but is the divine truth--God's own teachings to us and fulfilled in the witness and work of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Theology is not mankind's at all because it's God's own doctrine which must be given to all Christians as a gift (Titus 2:10).
Some gifts can be opened time and time again, never failing to surprise you. Your Bible is that kind of gift. Take a look at Psalm 119 and see how David sets our minds straight. The psalmist repeats these words: "Teach me. . .give me understanding. . .show me. . ." and so on. That is the prayer of the Christian: "teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth." Study always begins with prayers like these. The Holy Spirit is necessary, and if you ignore Him, how can you even try to understand the Scriptures rightly? Not only does our gracious God give us His Word and Christ desiring to abide with us in His Word, but He also pours out Holy Spirit generously so that we may be guarded against the wiles of the devil. To be taught by our God begins with looking to Him for our hearts and minds to be opened to understand the scriptures. That is studying theology!
These scriptures, your Bible, are inexhaustible and when they are rightly believed, they make you a good theologian, or rather, a strong and happy Christian--one who cannot help but talk about Jesus. Theology speaks to you, personally, who were once dead in sin, but now you are called to a new life in Christ (Romans 6:4). What your pastors teach you, and you continue to study, is all about Jesus and His Gospel that saves sinners. All true theology is, and will always be, centered on Christ and giving all that He has given us to teach and preach--the entire counsel of God. Because it's all about Christ, theology must be delivered to you, His children. And if Christ is delivering theology in His Word, then it can only be a gift for you to receive.
The ultimate task of theology, then, is to point the fallen man to Jesus, to take you to the baptismal font, to point you to the Lord's Supper, and always to lead you to the Cross where Jesus hung for the atonement of your sin. Theology is all about Christ, His Law and Gospel. It is for killing the old and making alive the new. It is for you. As sheep hunger for the green pastures, you--the Christian--cannot help to desire to live within the fold of your beloved Shepherd, to hear His voice speak to you daily, to hunger for the food and drink of eternal life. Whether it looks like a pastor teaching his beloved congregation, parents with their children, an old man in his bed, or the catechumen clutching his first Bible and catechism--to really study theology is to dwell in Christ. So then, we pray with David, "Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens! My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! Your word is a lamp to my fee and light to my path" (Psalm 119:89, 25, 105).
Theology cannot and should not be understood as something abstract or impersonal. Studying theology as a Christian means something very different than it does for the occupant of an ivory tower. After all, theology touches every aspect of our earthly lives: who you are in Christ, who created and maintains the universe; how evil is kept at bay; what it means to be gentleman or lady; and even more importantly, how you are saved from your sins by Christ's death on the Cross.
Our faith needs to hear the Word of Jesus. You have ears that need to hear that Word: Law to kill the old and train the new; Gospel to raise you up out of darkness and to bask in Christ's redeeming light; and wisdom to keep your ways pure. Learning about theology begins just like your baptismal life did--with the Word of God. So, take up that Small Catechism, read a page; take up the Psalter, read a Psalm; keep that Bible open; pray without ceasing; and then joyfully return to your labors!
This article was originally published in the summer 2018 issue of Higher Things Magazine.
Rev. René Castillero is the assistant pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and a teacher at Martin Luther Grammar School and Immanuel Academy in Sheridan, Wyoming.
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