How do I keep from making God just an object of study? Dr. Michael Allen encourages believers to pursue the presence and love of God as the ultimate object of theological study.
There are lots of things we can study, and many of us who are Christian, many of us who pursue higher education in the realm of theological studies, we study other things, too. We may have majored in literature or in economics. We have, perhaps, studied medicine or other fields. One of the things you observe as you consider these various fields is that you look at data, you read literature, and you try and take stock of the state of the conversation. You assess and analyze. You make connections. You draw distinctions. You maneuver around and manipulate your data so as to ask the right questions, organize it in a productive way, and draw conclusions that hopefully provide clarity.
The Uniqueness of Theology
When we consider the task of theology, many of those skills can serve us in various ways. Many of those analytic tools can be of benefit, but we have to acknowledge that we are doing something radically different from other fields. When we study theology, we are studying a living being. When we study theology, we are seeking to engage our mind and reason in that which the totality of our existence has been drawn into.We are studying, not just a living being like us, another human—we might do that in the realm of psychology or social anthropology—but in this case, we’re studying the one who is life itself, the God who has life in himself, the God who is transcendent and high and holy, the God who reigns on high, the God who is higher than the highest of heavens. And so when we do theology, we are not summoning God into our presence, but God is summoning us into his presence. There’s something irreducibly personal about the task of theology performed by Christians. When we study theology, we are seeking to engage our mind and reason in that which the totality of our existence has been drawn into. God has revealed himself to us. God has called us unto him. God is seeking to work out redemption for those of us who’ve fallen into sin. And our mind, our intellect, our knowledge, is a part of that. As we consider the task of theology, it’s helpful to remember that this, too, is part of the ongoing program of sanctification and discipleship. And crucial to becoming holy, crucial to becoming a disciple, is that you enjoy the presence of the Master, of the Lord, of the God who makes holy himself.
The Presence of God in Theology
And so what we need to remember as we pursue the theological task—whether we’re reading the classic texts of the faith, or we’re exegeting holy Scripture, or we’re trying to analyze and connect the various dots of this and that doctrine—is always the way in which these things point to the personal presence of the Triune God, the way in which these are, at best, signs and testimonies of who he is, and how he is present in the past action of the gospel, in the present ongoing care that he lovingly bestows on us, and in the future promised grace that he heralds through his word. In all of that, we are attempting to exercise the fear of the Lord and holy attentiveness, that we would be mindful of him.
The Ultimate Object of Theology
And in all of that, we’ve got to acknowledge the great temptation that we would treat him as a tool or a means to some other end, that we would treat theology as a way of dealing with other things beyond God, that we would instrumentalize him in some way to help us politically or relationally, economically or psychologically. Theology is ultimately about helping us attentively know God better.God brings with him all other things, and knowing God brings wholeness in all sorts of ways. But theology is ultimately about helping us attentively know God better—know God better as He’s revealed to us, know God better as he is present unto us. And that’s why the good theologian is the prayerful theologian. That’s why the good theologian is the theologian who longs to open wide their ear, that they might hear what God is saying, because he is alive and he is active and he is the most interesting character in the theological task.