Webster's dictionary defines "theology" as "the study of the religious faith, practice, and experience." Technically speaking theology is God (theo) talk (logy). We are doing theology when we talk about God.
But it's so much more than that. The Bible says that Christians are to love "the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deut 6:5). That includes our minds as well. When we do theology, when we think about the difficult teachings of the Bible, we are loving God. In fact, theology is an act of worship.
Unfortunately, not all Christians see it that way. A famous evangelist's daughter recently wrote a book, "Don't Give Me Theology, Just Give Me Jesus." Many Christians seem to agree. They see theology as "boring," something that seminary students and pastors do, but not particularly relevant for the church. That approach is wrong-headed and it is dangerous.
One cannot describe the ministry of Jesus without doing theology. What was the incarnation? What does atonement mean? Without theology, the Christian Jesus is no different than the Mormon Jesus (brother of Satan) or the Islamic Jesus (just a good teacher).
Without theology we cannot fully appreciate the glory of God. We cannot understand how His mercy and His wrath go hand-in-hand. Without theology our faith is anemic, our defense of the faith impoverished, and the future of our church endangered.
Jesus, the Word, knew a little bit about theology. He taught it to His disciples. He taught it to His followers. In the encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus talked about theology. "We worship what we do know …" (John 4:22). This knowledge, Jesus said, drives us to worship God. "But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth" (v. 23). God wants informed worshipers. How do we do that? Theology.
The Apostle Peter warned the church that there are "false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you" (1 Peter 2:1). These prophets and teachers, he wrote, bring into the church "destructive heresies." How will we recognize them? How can we combat them? In a word: theology.
As a church we do theology when we study the Bible. We do theology when we hear a sermon. We do theology on Sunday night. We do theology even during our prayer meeting. We do these things not because your pastor is a theologian. We do them because we love God and we want to know more about him.
You see, in the end, theology is not just for theologians. It's for the children of God. It's for worshippers.
Peter Beck (Ph.D. Southern Seminary) is assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina and a former Senior Pastor. Dr. Beck also writes at his Website, Living to God.
This article originally appeared January 7, 2009 on Christianity.com