I think it goes without saying, that if you are reading this blog on this particular site, you know that we think theology is pretty important. Lest we think it is an academic term, it is simply how we think about God and express that. What we think about God will impact how we as Christians live for him. We want to think rightly about him according to how he has disclosed himself to us through his word and I dare say tradition. Our Christianity should rest on simple faith but not simple thinking. We should care enough about him to want to learn about him on his terms.
However, the longer I live, the more I become increasingly aware of just how complex is our humanity. We have a range of influences that have impacted us, forming our personalities, our fears, hang-ups and our distortions. While I still don’t yet have 100% conviction, I lean towards dichotomy, meaning that humans are made up of material and immaterial parts. The immaterial parts all work in concert together. So when I say soul, I mean the conglomeration of our immaterial parts – our mind, heart and will. As a dichotomist, I would say it is essentially our spirit. Distortions in area, set off distortions in others. Places of hiding and deflection can develop to ward off detrimental impacts. Understanding our humanity and being in touch with it is important.
I have loved studying theology and the bible. But I confess that I have loved it much more than the care of my soul. But the Lord has taken me on quite a journey in the past few years that have involved understanding where our humanity plays a part. I am discovering just how much events in our lives can impact and even damage the soul. I am learning that in our broken condition, we will put up walls and grope for relics of significance to compensate for troubled spots.
What I have observed both objectively and personally, is that our Christian convictions can cause us to lean more heavily on one, even to the neglect of the other. As in any case, extremes can develop. Having right theology takes precedence over what is going on with our humanity or tending to the care of our soul, puts theology on a back burner. Neither is ultimately good for the soul.
In the case of theology without humanity, we can become overly focused on doctrinal purity and right theology. Intellectualized Christianity ensues and only what we think about God is important. I have observed that in some sectors of Christianity, we should not impose any areas of our humanity in the equation, lest we allow our theology to become man-centered. So what happens is that we think or feel is of no consequence.
Well the problem with this, is that the gospel’s transformative power is meant to have an impact on our humanity. And it can’t take root in our lives through correct doctrine alone, but through correct thinking – we are transformed by the renewing of our minds to prove what is that good, perfect and acceptable will of God (Romans 12:2). There may be things in our life, in our heart, in our thinking that produce a distorted perspective. If we don’t tend to those areas, we can hide under the veil of right theology and deflect troubled areas unto others. Theological learning and discussions can become an identity or way of escape. Anyone who has engaged such a person knows what I’m talking about. I confess, this has been my own tendency.
However, no matter how rightly we may think about God, good theology doesn’t do much good if it is filtered through a poorly transformed mind. And if it doesn’t take root within all our immaterial parts, then I’m afraid it becomes nothing more than cognitive awareness of God and his program, which is intended to have tremendous impact on our humanity through the Holy Spirit’s power. An unimpactful theology is definitely not good for the soul.
On the flip side, the attention to our humanity to the neglect of theology. We can look for what is right and healthy to make sure we are doing well internally. Now I confess, I have gained a greater appreciation for biblical counseling and applaud so many wonderful people of God who have devoted their lives to this endeavor. So this is no way a disparagement on this sector. But when taken to the extremes, what becomes most important is that we are well and whole.
Now the problem with this extreme, is that it can subject the person to grab hold of whatever theory or technique can work and how think about God can become a side dish. It can produce an overly subjective indicator to how well we are doing as Christians. Spiritual formation becomes nothing more than how we feel about being a Christian. And when how we feel about our Christianity becomes more important that Christianity itself and can subject the person to unstable or inconsistent theology. Being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine is definitely not good for the soul.
We cannot neglect our humanity for the sake of theology. Nor can we neglect theology for the sake of our humanity. Theology and humanity need to intersect and interact. Right thinking about God can only take root if our soul is in good condition. Our soul cannot be in good condition if it is not impacted by good theology. They need each other. And we need to make sure that neither is neglected. It is ultimately good for the soul.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]