Yes, I know. Those two words probably sound stuffy and boring to you. I used to think I'd leave those two pursuits to the theological braniacs of seminaries, too.
In fact, you might be surprised to find out that I haven't always loved reading 300+ page books on the incommunicable attributes of God, or wishing I had time to finish up those last few hundred pages in that systematic theology book.
Up until I was about seventeen, I actually preferred reading fantasy over nonfiction. My mantra was, "if a book is about real events or people, it's boring." Maybe you can relate. I had absolutely no appetite for biographies or history books. What really let my imagination fly was anything fictional. I loved boy's adventure novels like G.A. Henty, and fantasy works like the Chronicles of Narnia. It wasn't that I disliked theology or doctrine, but I just didn't have enough of an appetite to choose that over an exciting, rip-roaring tale in far-off places.
So what changed?
Simply put, I found a whole world of excitement right under my nose that was much more fulfilling than the most exciting adventure story I'd ever read.
Like Aslan says to Lucy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,
"I am [in your world],... But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little you may know me better there".
The reason we love fiction so much is because it reminds us of what we were truly made for.
Fairy tales are timeless. Have you ever noticed that virtually every culture in every era has a story with the same basic story line? The beautiful princess is waiting to find her prince charming, the king is reclaiming his kingdom, and the prince must slay the dragon to save the princess so that they can ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. Why do we never tire of the same old story?
Because it's so much more than a make-believe story...
I loved fairy tales, rip-roaring adventure stories, and fantasy books because there's an aspect of truth in them, and I longed for that truth. God made us to love adventure! He made us to work hard and accomplish great things. He gave us those desires for purpose and excitement. If we can just open our eyes to it, we will find that the lives God has given us to live will make fairy tales seem like hollow, shadowy imitations of reality.
In order to find that fulfillment, however, we must accurately and more comprehensively understand what God's overall plan is, what our role in that plan is, and how we can fight important battles, practically, in our own lives.
Sadly, few christians today are taught what a fully Christian worldview looks like, or much less how it relates to their practical life. The Christian church is largely impotent and apathetic. There is a battle raging all around us, and we're asleep. Like the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, we're deep in apathetic slumber even though we have commands from our Lord to carry out, even though there's work to do... even though there is history being made.
Reality is much more exciting than the most exciting fictional book ever written, you just need to find out how.
And that's what theology and doctrine are all about.
Many people react negatively to the word theology, believing that it involves dry, fruitless arguments about minute points of doctrine. They don't see the connection to real life. But what many people overlook is the fact that every person is a theologian whether they realize it or not! We all have an idea about what God is like and what our highest purpose in life is. If we don't understand what is true about God and our purpose in life, we will (by default), believe a lie. Someone once said, "you don't have the option to be a theologian; the question is what kind of theologian you will be... a good one or a bad one?"
“To be a Christian is to be a theologian—a student of God and his will.”
Theology is the study of God himself- It's the doctrines of God and His nature. The word theology literally means the study of God (Theo= God, logy= study of).
Before we can even begin to understand what it is that God wants us to do, we must first understand who He is. We must first understand and come to love our King wholeheartedly and unreservedly before we can go about His work properly. We all have an idea in our minds about who God is and what He is like. The dangerous thing is that if we have an inaccurate view of God, we are worshipping our idea of God, not the true God. That is idolatry.
So who is this King? Who does He say He is?
Well, that isn't something I can tell you in a blog post, that's an adventure you'll have to take yourself! Here are some books to get you started. (Italicized titles are available in audiobook format).
It goes without saying that you will need to set aside time to pursuing Christ yourself. We are not able to live in a Holy Spirit-controled manner apart from the Vine. Apart from Christ, we are a simply a dead branch. Set aside some time each day to pray and read Scripture. Christ was our example in this (Mark 1:35), and surely if Christ took the time to pray, so ought we.
Doctrine is "right teaching" or truth. Once we begin to understand our King, we will in turn want to serve Him. But that's where we often fall short of the mark.
I once heard a story about a business owner who called one of his employees into his office- fully intending to fire him. The employee hadn't been keeping up on his work, and the employer was distraught at the idea of having to fire him- something he'd never had to do to an employee before. Gathering his courage, the employer began his speech. However, before he had a chance say that he was fired, his employee launched into telling his boss excitedly about his visions for the company and all of the progress he was making towards those goals! He had been working hard to address the problems he had been seeing in various areas of the business, and had great plans for the future of the company.
I am afraid that we can too often be like that employee.
Rather than doing God's priorities, we focus on our own, and get so caught up in what we see as needs and goals. One of the worst things I can imagine is standing before the Lord someday, and not hearing the words, "well done, good and faithful servant". What if instead, I heard, "You did lots of 'good' things, but they weren't what I was asking you to do".
That is what drives me to understand the will of God for me. 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us to do everything that we do to the glory of God, even the simplest tasks like eating and drinking. We all know the well known catechism question, "What is the chief end of man?", which is answered, "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever". But what does that really look like in practical, everyday life? How do we glorify God?
I like the definition Joshua Harris gives for what it means to glorify God:
"Glorifying God means doing everything for Him, His way, to point to His greatness and reflect His goodness."
How do we do everything His way? That is the question that doctrine answers. It's a huge topic with never-ending possibilities because it's asking how to apply truth to life. You see, while the focus of doctrine is what scholars call "orthodoxy" (which means "right believing"), orthodoxy is inseparably linked to our "orthopraxy" (meaning "right-behavior").
In other words, what you believe automatically changes how you live.
The pitfall that comes with talking about theology and doctrine specifically is that their relevance to real life is often lost sight of. It's easy to study doctrine without understanding it's significance to real life, or how those truths need to reshape how we think on every topic. But doctrine determines how we handle our ordinary responsibilities, as well as how we will respond and cope with significant successes and terrifying trials.
I can't really give you a simple list for this topic because the possibilities are endless! Here are a few book suggestions to get you started on learning the foundational doctrines, but you also need to learn how to apply your doctrine to all aspects of life... and that's the exciting part! As you learn to apply God's will and truth to each detail, you are engaging in spiritual warfare. And that is exciting! (2 Cor 10:31, 1 Cor 10:31).
P.S. If you want to learn more about God's plan in history, be sure you've read my article on the gospel! (It's probably presented a little differently than you're expecting.)
Joe and Rachel Tenney
Joe and Rachel live in Hampton, VA where they enjoy life together. They enjoy traveling together, as well as reading and writing as a couple. Most of all, they enjoy learning what it means to live the gospel in everyday life, especially in the context of their sweet church family at Hampton Roads Fellowship.