Monday, September 24, 2012

Untheological Devotion

Pastor Steve Miller of Village Church in Dyer, Indiana was the guest speaker at my church yesterday and he had an interesting quote in his message. He quoted Bishop Handley Moule as saying that it is important to "beware equally of an undevotional theology and of an untheological devotion." I thought that the quote was really good and fit well into Pastor Miller's message. I would like to share a few thoughts regarding the quote over the next couple of days.

I did a bit of digging because I wanted to properly attribute the quote and it turns out that the quote only partially belongs to Bishop Moule. He said "beware of untheological devotion" and W. H. Griffith Thomas added "We must also beware of 'undevotional theology'" when he quoted Bishop Moule. It's one of those things that can easily happen with quotes and I often found the full quote attributed to Bishop Moule. Poor W. H., he didn't even get the proper attribution from someone like John Stott. At least he had one of those cool names that makes him sound impressive. (I think I am going to start going by M. D. Ignazio Mannino.) The quote is still a very good warning to us even if it doesn't fully belong to Bishop Moule.

There are two distinct warnings in this quote and I would like to start with the first one today. Bishop Moule warns us to beware of untheological devotion. Theology is one of those words that can scare people. It's like any other "-ology" word. We can easily be transported back to our high school and college days when we hear words like biology, sociology, psychology and imgoingtofailthisclassology. For the most part the "-ology" classes were hard (there are even classes that dodn't have the "-ology" in the name but but are feared "-ology" classes like chemistry and physics) and we took them often because we needed to. Who in their right mind willingly engages in serious otorhinolaryngology in their spare time? But theology–or the study of God–is something that we all engage in whether we realize it or not. Everyone has some thoughts about what is true or is not true about God. And we as Christians should be actively engaging in theology every day. We should be reading our Bible and contemplating what it is telling us about God on a daily basis. This is theological study and we cannot fall back on the excuses that it is too hard or that we are not smart enough or that it is only for those that go to seminary.

I realize that there is going to be a difference between the depth of study for different people but this does not excuse us from trying to learn and understand as much as possible about God. I have heard people say things like "I just believe" or "you just have to have faith" in response to things that should not be taken on this type of blind faith. They really are just excuses for not wanting to do the hard work of theology. (It is important to take a moment to point out that there are times where we have to just have faith in God. We all have certain things that have happened in our lives that we do not understand why God has allowed them to happen. We do not see how God is working in these circumstances and there are times that we "just have to have faith" that God is still in control and things will work out in the end.) Having faith does not mean that we do not have reasons for what we believe. The author of Hebrews tells us in the first verse of chapter 11:

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

Faith is not a blind hope; rather faith means that we have an assurance that the things we are hoping for will come to pass. In other words we have been made promises by God and we can know that they will come true because of his character. But if we don't do theology how do we know what promises have or have not been made by God? If we don't do theology then how do we know that God is trustworthy? We have to do some studying about God if we want answers to these questions. Think about it for a moment. Would you want to be devoted to a God that you know nothing about? Could you really be devoted to a God that you know nothing about?

Being untheological in our devotion means that we are going to have a hard time separating the truth about God from the lies. When this happens it is all to easy to be deceived and to start following a different god. When we start following a different god we are following a false god and that is a problem. Paul gives us this warning in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15:

"For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds."

There are false teachings about God that are disguised as truth. The only way that we can be assured that we are not devoting ourselves to these false teachings is to engage in the hard work of theology. When we don't we are walking down the dangerous path of untheological devotion.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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