Growing up, I learned a lot about God’s truth. I also learned that the Bible is filled with His truth and can be trusted fully. In my mind, “truth” was anything pertaining to my faith in God. Then I went to seminary to study theology, and what I learned was a bit life-shaking. Some of the biblical “truths” I had come to rely on weren’t as firmly planted in Scripture as I thought. Now before I get ahead of myself, I should make one thing clear. The Bible is fully true. I believe that with all of my heart.
But just because something is fully true… doesn’t necessarily mean we fully understand it.
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Jesus defined Himself as “the Truth.” We also know that the Word of God is true. (Although… the Bible also refers to Jesus as “the Word.” So in essence, Jesus is once again the truth.) It all comes back to Him. The Truth is Jesus Christ. He is a truth we can rely on fully in every circumstance. Truth is absolute and nothing can shake it.
We also know the Bible to be true because it inspired by God.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Essentially, theology is the study of truth. We study, debate, and study some more… all in our attempt to learn and grow in God’s truth. Theology is not the truth. It never was and never will be. Throughout church history, theology has shifted and changed. And this is a good thing! As we learn and grow in Christ, our knowledge of Him grows too.
Think about it this way… Throughout the New Testament, Paul wrote numerous letters to the early churches. Most of those letters contain theology. In fact, Paul is often referred to as the first theologian. He would regularly go back to the Scriptures of the Old Testament to teach the early church and help them understand the truth. He also used analogies that they would understand.
You see, the early church was still trying to figure everything out. In an instant, Jesus came and everything was different now. Paul had to address their theology because as everyone tried to figure it all out, bad theology was finding its way into the church.
Why it matters…
When we understand the difference between truth and theology, we are able to study and discuss the truth in a healthy and profitable way. When we don’t understand… we argue and create division within the Body of Christ.
- We learn to respect differing viewpoints. If there was anything I learned in seminary, it was how to have a healthy dialogue with someone I disagreed with. Because the truth is that there will be those you don’t agree with in the Body of Christ. But as Paul said, “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food.” (Romans 14:20) Yes, he was talking about a specific theological issue in this passage, but the message is still the same. The vast majority of what churches argue over are NOT salvation issues, yet we allow them to divide us as if they were.
- We learn to listen and read for ourselves. Growing up, I thought I knew how to study Scripture. But reading it and studying it are two entirely different things. We have so many tools at our disposal as Christians today. We can instantly look up a verse in numerous translations. I can look up a passage in the original language to help better define its meaning. And I also have access to more commentaries and studies online than I could ever want or need. These tools have allowed us to all become theologians at heart. We don’t have to take someone’s word for it, rather we can study for ourselves.
- We are more able to grow. My theology has evolved greatly since I first became a Christian. The more I learn about God, the more my perspective shifts. He reveals more of Himself to me every time I pray and read His Word. But what if I were so stuck in my ways that I refused to grow? What if I chose to read the Bible through the eyes of current personal beliefs instead of reading it for what it is?
We all have a filter through which we read the Bible. Our experiences and personal theology shape how we interpret every part of Scripture. Sometimes we miss crucial details of the passage because we are subconsciously trying to make things fit into our filter. I did this for many years. It wasn’t until someone challenged me to simply read that I began to see things more clearly. I learned that it was okay to ask questions. In fact, it’s GOOD to ask questions because, in the end, that’s how we find answers.
I have watched theology and differing viewpoint divide us as Believers. I have witnessed people being called heretics and false teachers over minor differences in their theology. Truth is truth. It will never change. And if someone knows and believes the truth and bows their knee the King of kings, they are your brother and sister in Christ… even if they disagree with you on a theological point.
In the end, theology is the study of the truth. And just as I have seen many divided over their theology, I have also seen it bring people together. Let’s choose to use theology as a tool rather than a weapon.
Let’s learn, grow, and have healthy discussions about God and His amazing Truth.
Theology allows us to discuss the truth of God in a respectful manner, allowing us to grow and mature the way God intended.
*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.