Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Conclusion: Light and Heat, Spirit and Truth

All of Life is about Theology

In this series, we've considered what exactly it means to do theology, and what theology is all about. We learned that, when we're honest with ourselves, we discover that all of life is about theology. That is, any part of life that is worth knowing about and understanding leads us to ask questions, and those questions are always, invariably, ultimately questions about God. And answers to those questions come from learning who God is and what He is like.

We've also considered that there are quite a few people with quite a few differing ideas on how to go about answering those kinds of questions. Some people think we should follow our heart and do what our feelings tell us. Others think we should hang out with our friends and discover what is "true" relative to our particular community. And yet we've seen that God Himself speaks into His creation and to His creatures through His Word -- the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments in which He has revealed Himself.

All of Life is about Worship

We learned that the world is fundamentally about the worship of God, because that's precisely how God designed it. And so the answers to our questions are all relative to that chief purpose for which the entire world was created, for which we all exist to this day: for the worship, honor, glory, and praise of our Creator who is worthy of the highest of worship, the most exalted honor, the most magnificent glory, and the most passionate praise.

We Worship What We Know

And Jesus, the object of all this worship, told us how true worshipers worship. True worshipers of the true God worship what they know. They don't have some vague, ethereal, esoteric fabrication of a god that they would like to exist. They don't make up whatever feels right to them. They don't take pieces from this religion, and aspects of that philosophy, until they come up with a perfect mosaic of a god made in their own image. And most of all, true worshipers don't simply abandon the pursuit of a true knowledge of God because they think doctrine is overrated and we should all just "love Jesus" and have "no creed but the Bible." No, life is about worshiping God, and true worshipers worship what they know. So true worshipers don't mind giving their life to diligent and disciplined study if it means that they will rightly know and thus rightly worship the God they were made to know and enjoy.

We Worship What We Know

And yet, in response to that anti-intellectual emotionalism there has emerged an anti-emotional intellectualism that seeks to squelch all true expression of affections. We see some of the nonsense that goes on in the name of being "Spirit-filled" or "passionate," and we don't want any part of that. So we do our best to turn life, to turn theology, to turn the pursuit of knowing God into a merely academic exercise by which we assimilate and formulate propositional content. We actually abort the actual doing of any real theology by forgetting that theology -- just like everything else in the universe -- exists for the purpose of worship. Yes, we worship what we know, but we also worship what we know.

And you don't honor what you don't enjoy. I don't know any artist in the world that is honored by someone who comes into a museum and analyzes their painting with a cool, wholly dispassionate disposition. Even if that person is an art connoisseur, and can identify the particular technique, the light/dark contrast, the method of the brush strokes, and the use of perspective, but recognizes all those things only with a furled brow and an occasional raised eyebrow. The artist desires to affect those who behold his work, and he is more honored by the one who sees all those things for what they were meant to communicate, actually receives that communication, and revels in the genius of the artist who could produce something so magnificent.

Just the same, to gaze into the most glorious exhibition of beauty and genius revealed in the face of Christ, who is the image of God, and to be intellectually stimulated without being affected, and moved in the depth of your soul, is to dishonor God, and treat as common that which is holy.

Theology exists for worship. Thinking deeply is necessary in order to enjoy fully.

Light and Heat, Spirit and Truth

Therefore, our commitment to doing theology must have worship as its end, and our theological method must be entirely shaped by that aim. “Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers….On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought” (Piper, Desiring God, 82).

But as a Christian—as a true worshiper—I must worship in spirit and truth. I must engage in theology and arrive at the formulation of doctrine because I desire to know and enjoy my God as He is. This is impossible without both accurate knowledge and a heart exhilarated by beauty.

As a pastor, I need to do the same, because God has entrusted me with the care and oversight of a flock of His people, and I must shepherd them in the knowledge of Him. I must indeed be the lead worshiper, because if I myself am not thrilled by the clear, contoured, unadulterated vision of an all-glorious, all-satisfying, exalted God as is revealed in His Word, I will never be able to lead people there. And without such a vision, the church is left unfilled by the Spirit, powerless in our fight for holiness, because apart from that vision of the glory of God in the face of Christ we have no resources to battle the desires of our flesh with superior desires for Christ (2 Cor 3:18; Gal 5:16-18).

It's fitting for me to close this series with the thoughts of Jonathan Edwards, a pastor, theologian, and worshiper of the first order, who embodied the Christlike example of a mind enlightened by the knowledge of God as He is and a heart warmed by the passion to enjoy the glory he was created to behold:
If a minister has light without heat, and entertains his auditory with learned discourses, without a savour of the power of godliness, or any appearance of fervency of spirit, and zeal for God and the good of souls, he may gratify itching ears, and fill the heads of his people with empty notions; but it will not be very likely to reach their hearts, or save their souls.

And if, on the other hand, he be driven on with a fierce and intemperate zeal, and vehement heat, without light, he will be likely to kindle the like unhallowed flame in his people, and to fire their corrupt passions and affections; but will make them never the better, nor lead them a step towards heaven, but drive them apace the other way.

But if he approves himself in his ministry, as both a burning and a shining light, this will be the way to promote true Christianity amongst his people, and to make them both wise [and] good, and cause religion to flourish among them in the purity and beauty of it. (The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister, Works, 2:958)

Series Outline

Light and Heat: Introduction

1.1 - In Pursuit of Light: We Worship What We Know
1.2 - Systematics and Doctrine Matter
1.3 - Loving God with All Your Mind

2. In Pursuit of Heat: We Worship What We Know

3. Conclusion: Light and Heat, Spirit and Truth

1 comment:

Emmie Vroman said...

I found this series very interesting. True how much easier it is to worship God by knowing Him. As a younger person, I am just learning this myself, your blog post was very helpful! May I suggest writing about God's will? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject!