When Theology Interferes with Theology

Sometimes our study of God interferes with our knowledge of God. There are times when we spend so much time studying God that we fail to know God.

Oxymoronic, paradoxical, nonsensical . . . call it what you want, but sometimes theology gets in the way of theology. The dictionary definition of theology is the study/knowledge of God (Greek theos = “God”; ology (from Latin logia and Greek logos) = “study/knowledge of”). Herein lies the paradox: sometimes the logia/logy of God interferes with the logia/logy of God.

Confused? Let me put it this way: sometimes our study of God interferes with our knowledge of God. There are times when we spend so much time studying God that we fail to know God. A few weeks ago I was up late at night thinking about on the relationship between my academic, intellectual knowledge of God and my personal relationship with my Lord. Can one have the former and not the latter? Can academia supplant the relationship?

I thought about various passages and how they might apply today. But before they can be applied, I had to first decide what they mean, which requires I know what they say. To fully understand what they say, it helps to be familiar with Greek and Hebrew, though good commentaries can help those who haven’t studied these languages. Then there’s the question of interpretation. What did the author intend? Is this prescriptive or descriptive? Does this apply only to the Jews or is it universally applicable? Then there’s always the critical aspects: When was the passage written? Is it derived from oral tradition or primarily written? Is the author the book’s namesake or someone else, and how would that impact the meaning? Suddenly, my head hurt.

After days thinking and praying about this vital relationship between academic study of God and one’s relationship with him, God led me to two conclusions. First, one can study the details of the Bible and gain all the intellectual knowledge possible, yet never know God. Just like one can study the works of Shakespeare, Plato, or Homer yet have no personal relationship with them, the same goes for God. If allowed, academic study can interfere with one’s relationship with God (aka, “heart” knowledge). But that doesn’t mean that academic study/intellectual knowledge (aka, “head” knowledge) is evil, corrupting, and should be avoided.

The second conclusion God led me to was that there is a balance between intellect and relationships. In the movie Fireproof, Caleb (Kirk Cameron) learns that if he wants to strengthen his relationship with his wife, he must study her. Gaining intellectual knowledge about his wife would help his relationship with her; the two are connected. The same applies to God. We cannot have a relationship with God unless we have an academic awareness of him. In other words, we cannot have heart knowledge without head knowledge.

God reminded me that he gave us Scripture so that we can know him more. He wants us to study him academically and relationally. Sometimes, though, it is possible to let the academic/head knowledge become so dominant, that we begin to overthink everything (for example, see paragraph three). Meditating on God’s Word is healthy and even scripturally commanded, but not when it overpowers or replaces one’s relationship with God. Both are necessary.

There is a direct relationship between head and heart knowledge. We must study God’s Word to learn about him more. We must think hard and meditate on the various aspects in Scripture, including authorial intent, original meaning, etc. If you are unfamiliar with Greek and Hebrew (and even if you are), there are a many good commentaries that can help you delve into the depths of Scripture. Prayer, though, is vital! When studying God’s Word, we must do so prayerfully, seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance and illumination. This helps with the relational/heart knowledge. These two combined allow us grow in our relationship with God.

When we study God without seeking God, theology interferes with theology. When we pick up a commentary or other academic work without consulting the Holy Spirit, we let our head dominate our heart. However, when we bathe all our studies in prayer and submission to God, and ask how the passage study should change our lives, we grow in our heart knowledge of God; and just as Caleb discovered, our relationship with Jesus grows ever stronger and more intimate.

About John L. Rothra
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