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Is Theology Your Idolatry?

We have often loved what we’ve learned about God more than God himself.

The Bible warns us about the dangers that come with our knowledge of God, especially for the theologically refined and convinced. “You cannot serve both God and theology.” Good theology is a means to enjoying and worshiping God, or it is useless.

Has your theology turned into idolatry? Has your knowledge of God ironically and tragically drawn you away from him, not nearer to him? Here are nine questions that might help you diagnose theology idolatry in your own heart and mind.

1. Does your theology draw you to God?

Does greater knowledge of God lead you deeper into prayer? Maybe the surest test of our theology is whether it produces greater intimacy with God. No one needed to tell Jesus anything about God, yet that didn’t in any way dilute or diminish his need to pray. Instead, it deepened and enlivened his commitment to meet his heavenly Father in prayer (Mark 1:35).

Tim Keller says,

The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life. Many people will pray when they are required by cultural or social expectations, or perhaps by anxiety caused by troubling circumstances. Those with a genuinely lived relationship with God as Father, however, will inwardly want to pray and therefore will pray even though nothing on the outside is pressing them to do so. (Prayer, 23)

2. Does your theology mobilize you?

Does greater knowledge of God send you further into the world? Knowing more of God and his word should build our burden for the world around us — that they would see and know and love the truth we have seen and known and loved. In every chapter studied, every passage memorized, and every doctrine understood there should be an impulse to go and tell.

Jesus prays this commission over us,

“Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. . . . As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world . . . so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:7–8, 18, 23)

The purpose of our knowing anything about God is that the world too would know him. Does your theology move you toward mission, toward making much of Jesus boldly and winsomely wherever he’s placed you?

3. Does your theology free you to sacrifice in love for others?

Does greater knowledge of God liberate you to love and serve others? Good theology breaks down barriers between Christians (1 Corinthians 1:10). It doesn’t build them. The hostility between us was erased (Ephesians 2:14), and in its place is a blood-bought love — a love that declares we belong to Jesus (John 13:35).

John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7–8).

4. Does your theology keep you eager to learn?

Does greater knowledge of God grow your desire to know him more? A mark of flawed theology is its settled conviction that it can’t be wrong. No, a deep, sound, robust, and grounded theology prays, “Open my eyes, that I may behold (more) wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).

A man or woman who truly knows God can never get enough. After all, theology is the study of an infinite Person, a God who never ends and is never exhausted. Theology, then, is not just a lifelong journey and pursuit, but something we’ll do for the rest of eternity. <