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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Is Theology Practical?

Not long ago I heard a pastor mention that he wasn’t “really into theology.”  He said, “I just don’t see how it’s practical.”  Of course, I almost choked.  I agree that many people don’t see the practical implications of theology, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t practical.  It just means that people aren’t take the time to really think about it.
Just a cursory look at five attributes of God shows how one of the most seemingly impractical areas of the theology is intensely practical.  One of the most practical points of theology is God’s sovereignty.  The doctrine of God’s sovereignty states that God plans and carries out His perfect will as He alone knows is best, over all that is in heaven and earth, and He does so without failure or defeat.  Ephesians 1:11 refers to God as the one “who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”   Likewise, Daniel 4:35 says of Him, he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"  This attribute is important for the believer because it affirms that everything that happens in our lives is part of God’s plan.  There is no such thing as a truly random event.  Even the most difficult things in my life happen for a reason.  That’s practical.
A second important attribute is God’s goodness.  Goodness is the intrinsic disposition of God by which He shows kindness to His creatures.   Psalm 119:68 reads, You are good and do good.  Psa 145:17 says that The LORD is…kind in all his works.  When we hold this attribute in connection with His sovereignty, it reassures us that what He is doing in the lives of His people is being done with good and kind intentions.  God is not capricious and uncaring.  His kindness is demonstrated by what He sovereignly wills in our lives, even though we do not always understand how that can be.  That’s practical.
God’s omniscience is a third important attribute.  That God is omniscient means that He knows all that can be known.  He knows everything actual and possible, in the past, present, and future.  Isaiah 40-48 shows the repeated contrast between God and the false gods of the Israelites, with the most prominent difference being that God knows all things (particularly the future) and the false gods do not.  This means first of all that we cannot hide our sin from God.  He sees all things.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:13).  Second, God knows what is best for us in a way that we never could, so we ought never second-guess Him.  That’s practical.
God’s wisdom is a fourth important attribute.  God’s wisdom is the application of His infinite knowledge to accomplish the best ends by the best means possible.  Proverbs 3:19 reads, The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens.  Paul marvels at the wisdom of God in Romans 11:33, Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!  This attribute should be a comfort to me, knowing that the means God uses to accomplish His will in my life are always the best means, and the ends are always the best ends.  Again, I should not second-guess God.  That’s practical.
A fifth crucial attribute of God is His forgiveness.  God’s forgiveness is a gift given to the repentant through which He promises not to use their sins against them.  Psalm 86:5 says, For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.  Psalm 32:1-2a says, Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity.  That God is forgiving is a comfort to those who have repented and an enticement to repent for those who have not.  Also, that God has forgiven us means that we should forgive others (Eph 4:32).  That’s practical.
There are many, many more attributes of God than we could ever blog about, all of which have some practical meaning to our lives.  Further, the attributes of God are just one branch of theology, a drop in the bucket of all the doctrines that have practical significance to our lives.  The problem is not that theology is not practical.  Rather, the problem is that we do not take the time to think hard about what the different doctrines have to say about how we should live.  May the Lord grant us to do the hard thinking necessary to be faithful to Him!

Posted by Greg Birdwell

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