Sunday, May 27, 2007

Does Theology Really Matter?

Over the last several months I have heard numerous people suggest that controversial theological issues get in the way of our relationship with God. Granted it is definitely a possibility that theological discussion (cf. John 5:39-40) distract from our vision of God. However, if theological study is done with an appropriate humility and desire to see more of the glory of God in the person of Christ it can have some marvelous effects on our walks with God. Sam Storms has written a very practical article that shows how much of an impact a proper understanding of theology can have in a person's life. He lists seven ways in which his life would be different if he did not believe in the absolute sovereignty of God over all things including evil. The seven effects are listed below and can also be found on his website.

1. I would despair of my eternal destiny. I would have no assurance of salvation. Knowing the depravity of my soul, I would most certainly apostatize were it not for God's sovereign preservation of me (cf. Rom. 8).

2. I would be terrified of all suffering, with no confidence that God can turn evil for good and bring me safely through. Cf. Rom. 8:28 and relation to vv. 29-30.

3. I would become manipulative and pragmatic in evangelism, believing that conversion is altogether a matter of my will/skill vs. will/skill of unbeliever. J. I. Packer explains:
"While we must always remember that it is our responsibility to proclaim salvation, we must never forget that it is God who saves. It is God who brings men and women under the sound of the gospel, and it is God who brings them to faith in Christ. Our evangelistic work is the instrument that He uses for this purpose, but the power that saves is not in the instrument: it is in the hand of the One who uses the instrument. We must not at any stage forget that. For if we forget that it is God's prerogative to give results when the gospel is preached, we shall start to think that it is our responsibility to secure them. And if we forget that only Good can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize" (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God [Downers Grove: IVP, 1961], p. 27).
Once we begin to think that faith and repentance are in an individual's power to produce, we shall adopt those methods and contrived devices by which to extract them from him. We would become sinfully pragmatic: whatever works to secure a decision is for that reason deemed acceptable. Knowing what the gospel is would be only half the task. We would also need to develop an irresistible technique for evoking a response. The truth or falsity of an evangelistic method, therefore, would be determined solely on the basis of the fruit that it allegedly bore. Furthermore, Packer continues, "we should regard evangelism as an activity involving a battle of wills between ourselves and those to whom we go, a battle in which victory depends on our firing off a heavy enough barrage of calculated effects. Thus our philosophy of evangelism would become terrifyingly similar to the philosophy of brainwashing" (28).
But it is not right when we take it upon ourselves to do more than God has commissioned us to do:
"It is not right when we regard ourselves as responsible for securing converts, and look to our own enterprise and techniques to accomplish what only God can accomplish. To do that is to intrude ourselves into the office of the Holy Ghost, and to exalt ourselves as the agents of the new birth. And the point that we must see is this: only by letting our knowledge of God's sovereignty control the way in which we plan, and pray, and work in His service, can we avoid becoming guilty of this fault" (29).

4. I would cease praying for God to convert and save the lost. If the ultimate causal factor in human conversion is the self-determined human will, not the divine will, it is futile and useless to ask God to work or touch or move upon the human will so as to assuredly bring them to faith.

5. I would despair of the political process and live in fear/anxiety/resentment of those elected officials who oppose the kingdom of God. See Daniel 2:21; 4:17,25,32; 5:18-31.

6. I would live in fear of nature: tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, wind and hail and rain. Cf. Pss. 147-148.

7. I would despair of ever doing anything of a spiritual nature that God requires and commands of me. Phil. 2:12-13.

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