Recently I heard a question I’ve heard asked many times. The form of the question varies but the words are always to the effect of “Why should I care about theology? Why should I learn all this doctrine? I know what I believe. Why should I complicate my faith and my life with all that stuff? I worship and receive communion regularly. Isn’t that enough?” I’ve said as much, or at least felt this way, and I suspect that, at one time or another, most Christians have.
So, why should we care about theology? In a talk entitled “Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” (published in a collection of his addresses entitled The Weight of Glory) C.S. Lewis writes that in a theoretical perfect world, where all are Christians and all believe the same things, theology may not be necessary. But, in this world, where the enemy seeks to discredit and distort our faith, it is essential that we understand our faith. “The enemy” here refers specifically to Satan acting through determined unbelievers of all stripes: pagans, pantheists, atheists, and all those who would distort or misuse the word of God. The enemy has learned, articulate men to wage his battle. It follows that we need learned, articulate men to defend our side – to rebut these attacks and restore the confidence of the faithful.
I agree with Lewis’ line of thought but two more immediate reasons occur to me. First, we may not know as much about what we believe, our faith, as we like to think we do. Second, as a part of “the priesthood of all believers,” we may be called on to share our faith with our neighbor.
The creeds offer concise summaries of our faith. The Apostle’s Creed states that we believe “ . . . in the Communion of Saints.” Do we? Have we a clear understanding of the communion of saints? How about the resurrection of the body, or the dual nature of Christ – both perfect God and perfect man? I don’t. And yet I come to church most every Sunday. I listen and usually learn. But is one twenty minute sermon a week enough?
And how can we be even passive evangelists if we don’t know or understand enough about what we believe to feel secure talking about our faith with our friends? What happens if someone, simply inquiring, challenges a part of our faith that we haven’t examined? How can we answer even the commonest questions about a faith which we haven’t bothered to understand? Do we believe that Jesus literally was born of a virgin, or that He rose from the dead? If we are challenged, how do we explain these basic tenets of our faith?
This all came to a head for me while I was watching “Monday Night Football” and drinking wine with a friend. In the third quarter of the game, he turned to me and said “My fiancé says I’m going to hell. You’re religious, do you think I’m going to hell?”
I didn’t know what to say. My then thirty-plus-years of regular church attendance had not prepared me for this encounter. My close friend – a cradle Episcopalian confirmed as a teenager – didn’t know if he was saved, or even what he was supposed to believe in order to be a Christian. And he wanted me to give him some information about his and my assumed faith, a faith about which I suddenly knew far too little.
Finally, I referred him to the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds. I said that these words seem to sum up what you must believe to consider yourself an “orthodox Christian.” Then we did the guy thing and changed the subject back to sports. This was an opportunity wasted.
But it was a lesson learned. It was a lesson that caused me to read books that (at least then) would not have otherwise caught my attention. Authors like Lewis and Barclay and Merton to a certain extent replaced such as Ken Follet and Tom Clancy. It was a lesson that caused me to ask more questions and to listen harder. It caused me to think about my faith.
As I learned and thought, my faith became more real, more focused, and more alive. As I read, I realized that the summary of the law
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
meant that I had to do more than go to church and be comforted in the receiving of the bread and wine. I had to try to live these two commandments. If I love God, I want to know – understand – more about him. And if I love my neighbor, I must want my neighbor to be saved. It follows that I have to find some way to be a missionary to my fellow man.
I suppose that it is possible to reach out in ignorance and do good. It seems to me better – both easier and safer – to reach out with the confidence of knowledge. Jesus didn’t send his disciples out to teach until he had taught them. If we are to be a part of the communion of saints, a part of the priesthood of all believers, we must learn and understand. Knowledge and understanding can give us the ability to answer a casual question in such a way that the asker wants to know more and the confidence to feel comfortable talking about our faith. Reading and talking about theology starts us on the path to the necessary understanding of our faith that we need in order to truly live our faith.
– Charles M. Bear Dalton