A.W. Tozer once wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” He wasn’t far off. As Christians, our conception of God shapes the way we live, as well as how we reach out to other people. The discipline of theology is designed specifically to help us with the task of thinking about God.
The word “theology” comes from a combination of two Greek words: “theo” (meaning “God”), and “logos” (meaning “word” or speech). Thus Keith Johnson, professor of theology at Wheaton College, writes that the task of theology is therefore to help us “think and speak rightly about God.” And why is it so important that we think and speak rightly about God? Simply because it matters to Him. He cares about how we think and speak about Him.
When God confronts and accosts Job’s friends (Job 42:7), He says: “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me…”. Keep in mind that Job’s friends had spent the better part of the book talking about God’s many great and glorious attributes. And yet in doing so, they also missed some crucial aspects of God’s character and purposes. God cares about how we speak about Him.
Before we continue, it’s important to note that this does not stem from any insecurity on God’s part or any benefit that He Himself might attain. God is completely self-sufficient. Or, as Paul puts it in Acts 17:25, “…he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything.” Rather, as Paul continues to argue, God’s self-revelation is to our benefit because it connects us with the Author and Giver of life. Jesus Himself in His prayer in John 17:3 says, ” Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” The God of the Bible is a personal God. He is a God that we can know. And to truly know God, we must first know about Him, just as in any relationship. This is what we attempt to do when we take part in theology.
Maintaining Orthodoxy in a Postmodern Age
The tagline of this blog is “orthodox faith in a postmodern generation”. Orthodoxy means “right teaching” or “right doctrine”–in other words, thinking and speaking rightly about God. In my conversations with peers of my generation, I’ve come to notice a couple patterns with those that tend to struggle with maintaining orthodoxy. As such, here are two questions that we can ask ourselves to help guide our theological discourse and gauge our practice of orthodoxy:
- “Is my understanding of God anthropocentric (man-centered) or theocentric (God-centered)?” Because God is not something that you can scrutinize in a test tube, under a microscope, or with statistical data analysis (unlike other subjects), it’s easy for us to project our own idea(s) of “God” onto the blank canvas in our minds. Usually this projection or mental image ends up being a bigger, idealized version of ourselves (or others) that only affirms our preferences but never contradicts us. Unfortunately, that means that the “god” that we’re left with is not truly a person who can speak for himself, let alone one that we can have a genuine relationship with and engage with. But as Tozer (and Christianity) has always affirmed, God is a person, and a person you can know. And just like any person that you can know, He has to at least be able to contradict you. The problem is, we tend to take our experiences with finite, fallible human beings and let that shape our idea of God for better or worse. This is a man-centered understanding of God. So to use a crude example, if God is a Father, then we tend to take our experiences with human fathers and project that onto God. The only problem is that even the best human fathers are still flawed and imperfect, and they can never be a spotless reflection of what God is like in this life. To know the type of character God has, we have to start with God instead of starting with humanity. We have to let Him speak for Himself on His own terms–in His own self-disclosure and self-revelation. Which leads to my next point.
- “Do I understand Scripture as inspired and authoritative?” I’m not even talking about “inerrancy” here, simply this–“Am I willing to let Scripture tell me things that are hard for me to hear and that make me uncomfortable, if it is truly the word of God?” If the answer is “no”, then watch out. You could be falling prey to the error of imposing your image/idea of God onto Scriptural texts, or your own mind. This tendency is called “idolatry”, and it is the consistent default of the human heart to shape or mold God into our own likeness and image.
God cares about how you speak about Him. Let’s aim to think and speak about Him rightly, according to how He has disclosed and revealed Himself to us in Scripture.