“A crucial litmus test of the authenticity of our theology is where it ultimately leads us. Since God relates to us in the totality of our being – not merely as disembodied mind or spirit – then theology will always reflect those wider dimensions. God’s purpose for the church is that she may ‘be to the praise of his glory’ (Eph 1.12).”
How do you know if you are doing theology as it should be done? In one sense it could be by asking the obvious question as to whether or not it is orthodox. Is it in step with the historic creeds and confessions of the faith? That indeed must be requisite to all attempts to faithfully articulate the teaching of Scripture, but is there more to it? And the answer to that must be ‘Yes!’
If theology in its very essence is ‘a word about God’, then sound theology cannot be divorced from the God of whom it speaks. And since in its truest form it is never merely men’s words about God born out of their own speculation, but rather their words as they are shaped and directed by God’s word, then it can never be done in detachment from the God who has spoken.
The task of theology is utterly different from that of the second year medical student systematically dissecting a cadaver to understand human anatomy. It is reverent interaction with the God whose word cannot be detached from his presence or from the fact we must one day answer to him for the words we speak about him.
This immediately raises a question over much that has been done in the name of theology in the history of the church and indeed of all human thoughts about God in their widest expression. Too often theology has been akin to talking about God as though he were ‘not in the room’. And too often the manner in which it has been done – even at times in the name of Reformed theology – has been with an academic dryness that demeans the very nature of God himself. And sadder still is when such distortions of theology are found in preaching that conveys an impression of God which contradicts all he really is.
A crucial litmus test of the authenticity of our theology is where it ultimately leads us. Since God relates to us in the totality of our being – not merely as disembodied mind or spirit – then theology will always reflect those wider dimensions. God’s purpose for the church is that she may ‘be to the praise of his glory’ (Eph 1.12). And his purpose for his people individually is that they should display ‘the likeness of God’ (Eph 4.24). Therefore what we are as the people of God is intended for his glory. But, more than that, God’s purpose in salvation is that his people should ‘declare the praises of him who called [them] out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1Pe 2.9). The truth of God expressed through theology must ultimately lead to full-orbed doxology.
At one level such praise and honour to God is presented formally through psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The book of Psalms has provided the church of the ages with a canonical songbook. And the best of hymns and paraphrases that comprise the church’s repertoire of sung praise, although not inspired worship, are nevertheless deeply shaped by God’s truth revealed in his word and confessed by his people. So when the people of God unite their hearts and voices in song (and prayer) they give God the glory that is rightly his.
There is, however, another dimension to this doxological response to God. One that is spontaneous and not rehearsed, but equally influenced by the impact of God’s revealed truth in the lives of those who receive it. We see numerous examples of this throughout Scripture, but we see it best in the letters of Paul. As the foremost pastor-theologian of the New Testament Church expounds the great doctrines of Scripture (and becomes the Holy Spirit’s agent of the fullness of God’s revelation found in Christ) he cannot do so without bursting into praise. In a way that is neither contrived nor rehearsed, he punctuates his letters with outbursts of praise.