In the study of theology, we are always tempted to introduce a gulf–an assumed canyon between God and the world, abstract and practical, knowledge and experience. Should a layperson study theology?
We want to urge men and women to know God and what his word says about him, but then we are pressed upon it, we cannot think of a good reason for them to do it. We are not sure what cash value such knowledge will yield. Why should we know God? Should everyone study theology?
We hear Augustine saying, “I desire to know God and my soul. Nothing more? No, nothing at all.”* And again, “When I seek thee, I seek a happy life.” We hear Aquinas, “The final felicity of man consists only in the contemplation of God.” And Calvin, “The final goal of this blessed life, moreover, rests in the knowledge of God.”** And Bavinck: “Indeed, the knowledge of God in Christ is life itself.”*** So we could go on. And yet, when we attempt to communicate this to practical people, upon what basis can we build? What good is it for them to know God?
Undoubtedly, this cleavage between so-called “real life” and the careful study of Scripture and contemplation of God is the work of the Tempter, who is the real and deadly antagonist of all Christians. We must keep in our minds at all times the Chief End of Man. Without that crucial axiom–that we exist to glorify God and enjoy him forever–we have no foundation upon which to build for anything–life, family, work and vocation, religion, or leisure. No practical matters can be properly understood unless we know God and seek to glorify Him. Surely, our minds must not–cannot–let go of our chief end. Once we remove it from our foundation, we ruin our souls.
And, plainly, that we must know God is more than the good opinion of theologians past. It is the constant, absolute, and glorious mandate of Scripture:
Psalm 89:15-16, “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance. In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.”
Isaiah 11:9, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”
Jeremiah 31:34, “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
John 17:3, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
Philippians 3:8, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.“
2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.”
We are made to contemplate God, and such that that contemplation yields its own sweet fruits–adoration, reverence, worship, and love.
Therefore good theology is the necessary guardian against idolatry and damnation. How much then should all men, women, and children give themselves to this task of contemplating the perfections of God and Christ? This is the great calling upon all men, as John writes:
“Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9)
Doctrine is essential, not just for guiding us through the dark shadows and blindness of our present life, but for bringing us to see to the Eternal Light of the Triune God.
*Cited in Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, 14.
**The Calvin quotation comes from Institutes 1.5.1., and the Augustine and Thomas remarks come from the footnote of that section in the Battles edition (p. 51).
***Bavinck, Doctrine of God, 14.