If you had told me three years ago that I’d be a theology major, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Leaving high school, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. God had other plans for my life, and I am incredibly grateful for it. But why would I, or anyone, study theology? Isn’t it rather useless and a waste of time?
This is a very common response, and one I’ve thought myself. But if any subject is meaningful, it must certainly be theology. If we talk about things being “a waste of time” or “useless,” we are assuming (and rightly so) that we have meaning and purpose, a design, a telos. And purpose — true, objective purpose — can only exist if we have been designed by a Creator who has given us this purpose. In other words, meaning and purpose flow from God. We are made for His glory (Isaiah 43:7) and only find meaning and rest when we honor and worship Him. Would not, then, the greatest and most meaningful subject be the study of this great God, the source of life, truth, and “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17)?
Or let me ask you this: “[W]hat will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). If this is not a good enough reason to care about theology (whether or not you major in it), I don’t know what is. We all stand on the brink of death and eternity. It will not matter in the slightest if you were rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, married or single, successful or unsuccessful. When you stand before God’s Throne all alone, with no one to hide behind and no excuses to deceive, only one thing will matter: Do you know Jesus? Are you united with Him? Have you been born again or regenerated by the Spirit through faith in Christ and His atoning death and resurrection? Understanding this, why refrain for one more moment from learning about this great Savior? What reason could you possibly have for not devoting your life to tracking Him down, to drinking ever more deeply of His love and grace towards wretched sinners like you and me?
I am afraid, though, that even this will not convince anyone. Most of us have heard such exhortation not to neglect Christianity — all to no avail. It may engage and excite us for a time, but sooner or later, we find ourselves ignoring it. The fault is not with the arguments but with ourselves. Can we honestly say that we desire God, that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), not in a slogan-on-a-coffee-mug kind of way, but really mean it? We travel countless miles to see cities and beaches, but we will not lift a finger to open our Bibles when we “don’t feel like it.” We spend hours watching movies and sports, but we don’t want to spend 30 minutes earnestly studying God’s Word. We often say it’s “beyond us,” that we can’t understand what it’s saying. But, my friend, what would you do if you felt this way in a class of yours and the final was coming up? Wouldn’t you buckle down and endlessly look over your notes and the internet for help until you truly understand it? I shudder to think what God would say to me if He was my manager or professor. And yet He is infinitely greater than any of these.
“But you’re a theology major,” I can imagine someone saying. “Aren’t you ‘alright?’” And herein lies one of the many dangers of majoring in theology: viewing it as a work that affords you a better standing with God. This is a terribly dangerous error. “Nothing is quite as deceitful,” D.A. Carson writes, as a Christian “scholarly mind that thinks it is especially close to God because of its scholarship rather than because of Jesus.” Theological knowledge, the publishing of papers and books in the top theological journals and presses and even a whole life devoted to studying the Bible will not save you. The Pharisees are the perfect example of this. They knew the Law and the Prophets like the back of their hand. They were the most pious and devout of men, yet Jesus said to them, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33). Jesus’ words are true: “[U]nless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Unless you are born again, all your theological and religious accomplishments will mean absolutely nothing. They will not bring you closer to God but will bring upon you greater condemnation (Matthew 11:20-24; Romans 8:7-8). Your works cannot save you. Only the Cross can.
In our study of theology, then, let us not depart from the heart of it: that we are justified “not because of our works but because of [God’s] own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9). We cannot add anything to Christ’s finished work, but are saved through faith in what He has accomplished for sinners. And when we see in ourselves our sins and our neglect of God, let us not run away but “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). And this includes you, reader, despite all of your sins. Whether you’ve never been in a theology class or have been studying it for decades, come to Him now in repentance and faith, and He will save you.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.