One of the greatest dangers for studious Christians is loving the study of God more than God himself. We love books. We love to love God with our minds. We should. So did the apostle Paul, who asked Timothy to bring his cloak and his books (2 Timothy 4:13). God commands us to love him with our minds (Matthew 22:36–37).
“Real theology doesn’t keep theology as the apple of its eye — it’s enthralled with Christ.”
But the key to the Great Commandment is that we are commanded to love him. Not merely the study of him. Not only books about him, but God himself. And if we are honest, we can get these confused. A shelf of hardback books doesn’t fulfill the Great Commandment. Study of Scripture cannot be separated from loving God and others. If it is, we are washing the outside of the cup more than we realize.
Theological Trophy Hunting
We must stand guard against the sin of the Pharisees. They loved sentences more than they loved God and others. Has that ever been true of you? It has of me. I’m a recovering theological trophy hunter.
Theological trophy hunting is when you read the Bible to get more verses on your side, more points mounted on the wall, so you can win an argument or show how much you know. It’s for recreation, not transformation. It’s when your Bible reading is less like going on a safari and beholding with awe, and more like tracking down game to show how impressive you are. And in this trophy hunting, you don’t even eat the meat. You got what you needed: the reference, the persuasive argument, the horns you can mount.
Where is Jesus in all of this? Is the aim of our reading Christ? Real theology doesn’t keep theology as the apple of its eye — it’s enthralled with Christ.
Beautiful and Dangerous
Doctrine is beautiful, but it’s also dangerous. We must handle it with care. Paul reminds us that “the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
“Calvinism is a precious doctrine for Christians, because it offers us glimpses of Christ.”
Love is the aroma of true theology: love for God, love for others, and love for truth. And Paul warns us what happens when we swerve from love being the goal: “Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:6–7). Without love, Paul says we don’t even know what we are talking about. We are noisy gongs or microphone feedback (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).
If Christ isn’t truly loved in our camps, they’re shams. And if our neighbors aren’t loved, it distorts our professed theology. We need students of the word who are Christ-centered, Christ-enjoying, Christ-spreading, others-loving Christians.
The Points Point to a Person
To really understand Calvinism, for example, we must get beyond the talking points, zoom out, and see where they lead us. We need to see Jesus as the point of the points. Calvinism must be Christ-centered, because the Bible is Christ-centered. Since we believe the doctrines of grace are coming from the Bible — not Augustine, Luther, or Calvin — every point, sub-point, and parenthetical thought must eventually lead us to behold the glory of the Lord.
I think about all of the times I searched the Scriptures to argue with an Arminian friend while missing the entire point of the Scriptures I was flinging around. “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). I was searching for right-ness, all while missing his royal highness. Proof texts have something to prove; the points of Calvinism point us to a person: Jesus of Nazareth.
Tethered to Christ
Calvinism is a precious doctrine for Christians, because it offers us glimpses of Christ. Who is the only one that isn’t totally depraved — yet became our sin so we could be made righteous? Jesus, the righteous. Who are we chosen in before the foundation of the world? Jesus, the Son of God. Who died for his bride, securing her pardon? Jesus, the Bridegroom. How are we drawn to faith? By the triune God’s work and his word about the Son, Jesus the Messiah. Who holds us in his hands and keeps us from stumbling till the end? Jesus, our chief Shepherd. Calvinism is meant to show us Christ the Lord.
Like Charles Spurgeon, we should enjoy the points only when they are connected to Christ:
How I do love the doctrines of grace when they are taken in connection with Christ. Some people preach the Calvinistic points without Jesus; but what hard, dry, marrowless preaching it is. . . . Let every believer remember he does not get these doctrines as he should get them, unless he receives them in Christ. (Alpha and Omega, 715–16)
“Love is the aroma of true theology.”
Let’s not love doctrine as theological trophies hunters, but rather because doctrine leads us to a greater love. Let’s not love our books yet miss their Subject, but rather be grateful for them and for preachers and theological systems because they guide us to where our hearts, souls, and minds find true love: the triune God. May “the aim of our charge [be] love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).