“I like it simple.”
That’s what one of my friends once told me.
I get the feeling he’s not the only one who likes his theology “simple.” This is the general milieu in “theological America.” Buffet theology, we may call it, wins the day because it takes less time, less energy, less commitment, and the list of less’s could go on and on. It also feeds into our consumerist ideal. A children’s Bible takes much less mental wherewithal to read than does a literal translation of God’s Word. But that’s what many expect our churches to deliver, children’s theology. And this is what our churches will deliver if we do not desire a higher knowledge of God.
Now, let me add a caveat, children’s theology is not a bad thing. It’s not wrong. In fact, it’s right and it’s commanded. Catechesis is absolutely critical in training up a child in the way he or she should go. But, at some point, we need to progress in the ways we think about God and His plan of redemption in Christ. We are commanded to this end:
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits. — Hebrews 6:1-3
We need to expect a measure of difficulty in our journey of knowing God rightly. The gospel is simple. Anyone can understand and therefore believe it, it’s milk for babes. But we are not called to remain in the likeness of new believers for the rest of our lives. We are called to know God more deeply, and I mean this in no mystical sense, per se. We need to grow in our technical knowledge about who God is. Yes, this is difficult, but it is expected of the Christian. In fact, one could say it, at least in part, defines what a Christian is.
We are commanded to this end, but why? First, let’s clear the air. If you believe the Scriptures, you believe God has all authority in heaven and on earth. If He says it, you do it. A divine command would be reason enough for the Christian. But, secondly, God graciously gives us reasons or practical uses for our theological knowledge.
The Hebrews passage I quoted above seems to be a reason or a preventative measure against what follows after it—one of the famous falling away passages:
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. — Hebrews 6:4-6
In other words, “Grow Christian! Grow in your knowledge of the Holy One, lest you be introduced to the Spirit and, not having taken interest enough to grow in His wisdom and knowledge, you fall away.” Knowledge of God is a means of grace and a Spirit-wrought instrument of perseverance. I have witnessed those, who were content to remain in their theological ignorance, fall away, being consumed by doubt in the face of questions they had no ability to answer. I have watched people reject Christ’s church because they are ignorant of what the church is and Christ’s work among it as His bride.
Ignorance—and by ignorance I mostly mean willful ignorance—is a pathway to death. But, lest we forget the obvious here, theology is difficult because its object is an incomprehensible God. This God, dear Christian, is the God who you’ve chosen, by grace, to know and follow. Theology is hard, but it’s not impossible. It takes work, but it’s Spirit-sustained work. It may seem unnecessary to consider the difficult questions, but we need to consider two things once more: (1) we are commanded to a higher knowledge of God, and (2) it feeds the soul on its journey to glory.
Never stop seeking the knowledge and wisdom of God in Christ.