When Theological Knowledge Goes Bad–and How to ‘Good’ It Up

History lessons are helpful. Theology lessons edify our learning about God. But has this captured your heart and not just your head?

In J.I. Packer’s seminal work Knowing God, he brings some questions before us that we would do well to heed:

What is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things?

What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have it?

He goes on:

If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate and dismiss them as very poor specimens.[1]

If you walk out of away Daniel 8 thinking, “Wow, God set up Alexander in order to set up the apostles to take the gospel with just the Greek language!” Or, “Wow God set up the Pax Romana in order for the gospel to be taken from territory to territory more easily!” Or, “Wow, God moved Caesar to set up a census to get Mary and Joseph to their home city, to fulfill prophecy from Micah 5:2, etc.”—and that it’s just facts of history or theology, you’re missing the point.  Yes, this is fascinating, to be sure–“intoxicating,” as Dr. Packer suggests.

First Corinthians 8:4 says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Has simple knowledge about God come your way, or does should this knowledge lead somewhere? May I quote from Packer again about how we can turn knowledge about God into knowledge of God?

It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.[2]

Yes, I know God’s timing is perfect–in my head. I know He is working all things to a glorious end–in my head. But has it dug deep down that God’s sovereign, holy, perfect work is a reality with you, dear Christian? Do you realize that the lesson of Him sending His Son at the fullness of time means He will do His work in and through you in His time as well?

  1. Pray about what’s now. God has given commands, and if we love His Son, dear Christian, we will do what He says.  Pray about what God has clearly said in His collective Word, and that He gives you the strength to obey.
  2. Pray you’re ready for what’s next.  Do you know what’s next?  Neither do I.  But we know who knows what’s next.  Surrender to Him and His will today, and trust Him for tomorrow!
  3. Pray you understand God did what’s necessary.  We as Christians were sinners, lost and damned and going to hell.  But God did what was necessary in the fullness of time to rescue us!  By His grace!  For His glory!  But don’t just understand—embrace it!  Swim in the deep end of that pool and splash about!

That’s when theological knowledge goes good!

[1]J.I Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 21.

[2]Ibid., 23.


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