Is My Reformed Theology Sick?

The Best Test of Spiritual Integrity

We will not experience real life and hope and happiness without good theology. And yet, because of our wandering hearts, we often love what we have learned about God more than we love God himself. We often know more about him without knowing and enjoying him more. A disconnect easily emerges between our head and heart, and if left unchecked, it can grow the more we know and learn.

“We often love what we have learned about God more than we love God himself.”

Increased knowledge about God — more theology — can fill our faith with greater affection and devotion and wonder. Therefore, theology is priceless. But when pride and greed and fear get a hold of knowledge, that same knowledge can blind and dull and puff us up (1 Corinthians 8:1). Instead of bringing Jesus into higher definition, our knowledge of him, wielded sinfully, makes us want to watch something else. We change the channel of our hearts. Usually to something more about us, something that makes us love ourselves a little more. Therefore, theology also can be dangerous.

We ought to give every day we have here on earth to getting to know our big, sovereign, glorious God more — to learning good theology. And everything we learn should make us a little more humble and a little more in love with him.

The Best Test

If learning more about God means we pray less, we may be reading and learning and knowing, but not with our hearts. Does greater knowledge of God — more sermons, more books, more podcasts, more classes — lead you to pray more?

Perhaps the surest test of whether our theology is full or empty is whether it produces greater intimacy with God in prayer. No one needed to correct Jesus in anything about his knowledge of God, and yet that didn’t diminish his need or desire to pray. Mark writes, “Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). He prayed more and more passionately, not less and more casually.

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)

The more we know and love this God, the more we wean ourselves off the things of this world and center our hearts, our ambitions, and our longings on him. The more time and energy we give to hearing him and seeing him. The more we pray.

Does what you know about God draw you closer to him?

The Eyes of Your Heart

“The surest test of whether our theology is healthy is whether it produces greater intimacy with God in prayer.”

If we begin to sense a disconnect between our head and our heart — between our learning and our praying — the solution is not simply more head. Read more. Take more classes. Google more definitions and explanations. Knowledge about God is important, but it is not the key to reviving our hearts. God himself is. Knowledge alone doesn’t open eyes and ears. Knowing God does.

The apostle Paul prays,

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened. (Ephesians 1:16–18)

Paul doesn’t say put away God’s revelation, or neglect theology and learning about God, or disregard difficult questions in the Bible. No, he simply prays that God would set all of that thinking on fire in our hearts in knowing him.

God does not want you to feel guilty about the books you have read, the courses you have taken (or taught), or the Bible you have memorized. But he is not honored by our knowledge about him, unless our knowing is filled with loving. Paul says, “[If I] understand all mysteries and all knowledge . . . but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). All mysteries and all knowledge — and nothing. The point of our theology, then, is not knowledge in itself, but knowing and loving God.

Wider Hearts, Deeper Joy

If we are serious about reality and eternity, we do not want to read the Bible for another ten years, and end up being a little more bored with God. We don’t want to simply settle into church Sunday after Sunday, and secretly wish we were somewhere else, doing something else. We don’t want to go to God in prayer tomorrow, and have it feel more like doing chores than spending time with your Father in heaven who loves you. We don’t want to learn more about “the mission of the church in the New Testament,” and keep ignoring and avoiding the lost living next door. We don’t want to understand another difficult passage, or be able to explain another difficult doctrine, and have a little less awe and wonder toward God.

We want our theology to be healthy and alive. We want every single thing we learn about God this week, and for the rest of our lives, to widen our love for him a little more. And intensify our joy in Jesus a little more. And break our heart over sin a little more. And grow our compassion toward others a little more.

“We do not want to read the Bible for another ten years, and end up being a little more bored with God.”

Pharisees (in the New Testament and today in our churches) know what to read and say, but the truth is lost on them — the good theology is fenced out of their hearts. What Pharisees fail to see is that the Scriptures were written to help us love Jesus. Jesus said to them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). We have to look deeper than the Pharisees were willing to look — into ourselves, and into the Bible, and into our great God. If we’re not looking for more of Jesus when we’re studying the Bible and learning theology, we’re missing the point, and not just wasting our time, but being worse off for it.

Learn for love. Read to know him. Study to enjoy him. Memorize to love him. Do it all for the surpassing worth of knowing him.