Theology Matters: The Fruits of Good Theology, Part 1
In my last article, I wrote about why good theology matters. Theology matters because it allows us to know and understand God, his creation, and his plans for us. Theology not only teaches us about God, but it also applies Scripture to all areas of our lives. As a result, theology provides certainty, grounding, and hope in our uncertain times.
In this second article, I wish to begin to explore what good theology does. When we begin a disciplined study of God, what spiritual fruit should begin to develop in our life? To explore the fruit of good theology, let us examine Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai in Exodus 34.
Before we examine Exodus 34, we need to understand the context preceding it. The Lord had led the children of Israel out of Egypt and had brought them to the foot of Mount Sinai. The Lord made a covenant with the people there and delivered the law to Moses. While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the law, the people broke their covenant with the Lord and created and worshipped a golden calf (Exodus 32).
Because of the people’s idolatry, the Lord became angry and desired to consume them in his wrath. In response, Moses interceded for the people and came down the mountain to confront their great sin. After the Lord sent a plague on the people, he commanded Moses to lead the people away from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land.
Moses, however, did not want to begin the journey to the Promised Land without the presence of the Lord. Moses asked the Lord to “show me now your ways, that I may know you” (Exodus 33:13). Because Moses found favor in the sight of the Lord, the Lord promised Moses that he would “make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’” (Exodus 33:19).
In Exodus 34, then, the Lord reveals himself to Moses. After learning about God’s ways and his glory, Moses responds beginning in verse eight with humility, worship, prayer, and repentance. What, then, does Exodus 34 teach us about good theology?
Good theology leads us to Scripture.
When we begin our disciplined study of God, we by necessity become students of God’s Word. God does reveal his existence, character, and moral law in nature (Psalm 19:1–5; Romans 1:19–20), history (Job 12:23; Daniel 2:20–21), and human conscience (Romans 2:11–16). This is known as general or natural revelation. General revelation communicates just enough about God to condemn us for our sinfulness and rejection of God. However, it does not communicate redemptive truth and is thereby insufficient for our salvation.
Divine or special revelation, on the other hand, is the primary means by which God personally reveals to us both himself and his redemptive plan. Divine revelation is initiated by God the Father (Deuteronomy 29:29), revealed through God the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10), and personified in God the Son (Hebrews 1:1–3). Today, God reveals himself to his church in his Word. Good theology, therefore, always leads us to Scripture.
So, what does God reveal about himself and his redemptive plan to Moses in Exodus 34? We learn in verse six that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” In verse seven, we learn that God keeps steadfast love, he forgives our wickedness, rebellion, and sin, but he will not exonerate the unrepentant sinner. If we had time, we could unpack each of these revealed characteristics of God. However, our focus now is on how Moses responds to this revelation. Moses just had a personal encounter with God and a doctoral course in theology. What did this knowledge and understanding of God produce in Moses’ life?
Good theology leads us to humility.
After the Lord revealed his ways and his glory to Moses, Scripture records that, “Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth” (Exodus 34:8a). Moses humbled himself before the Lord. Humility and reverent fear are the same responses found throughout Scripture when men and women encounter the Lord.
The prophet Isaiah had a similar encounter with God. His response to the vision and proclamation of God’s holiness in Isaiah chapter six was to humble and curse himself because of his sinfulness: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). These responses of “dread and amazement,” as Calvin describes them in the Institutes, occurred to all those in Scripture who beheld the presence of God.
In the same way, when we begin a disciplined study of God, one of the first fruits of our study should be a profound recognition of God’s holiness and majesty and of our own complete sinfulness. This recognition should, at the very least, humble us. Good theology, therefore, leads us to humility toward God.
Good theology also leads us to humility toward others. I know from first-hand experience how easy it is to become puffed up with pride when our knowledge and understanding of God increases. After studying through my first systematic theology in my twenties, I thought I knew more theology and Bible doctrine than almost everyone at my church including my pastor. I made sure everyone knew that I was now a serious theologian, able in a single bound to untie the knottiest theological issues. I may have been a serious theologian, but I was definitely not a good theologian. Good theology leads us to humility toward others, not pride.
Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, says it best:
In our study and understanding of theology, it would be very easy to adopt an attitude of pride or superiority toward others who have not made such a study. But how ugly it would be if anyone were to use this knowledge of God’s Word simply to win arguments or to put down a fellow Christian in conversation, or to make another believer feel insignificant in the Lord’s work…. Systematic theology rightly studied will not lead to the knowledge that “puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1) but to humility and love for others.
When we begin a disciplined study of God, what spiritual fruit should begin to develop in our life? Good theology leads us to Scripture, and it leads us to humility toward God and others. In my subsequent articles, we will explore the next three fruits of good theology: worship, prayer, and repentance.