Is Debating the Finer Points of Theology Important?

June 14, 2011

“If we cannot hope to understand these details why is it important?”

“Does anyone really believe Calvin and Lewis are now in Heaven debating the finer points of the atonement?”

These are some of the questions of recent that I have come across as a pastor both within my church and without. I have faced some heavy criticism of being a very heavily “theological” pastor. Whether it be preaching the Word or interacting with people or teaching a theology class in our PM services, I have felt that a thorough and sound teaching of the foundational theological truths is incredibly important for the life of the Christian and the church. Unfortunately, this has met with some resistance. When we have been discussing the finer points of thinking on human responsibility and God’s sovereignty in salvation I have heard the comments that this is really unimportant. We need simply to preach the Word. All of this fine theological discussion does not actually help us to grow in the faith.

Yet, does not our love for God grow through our profound knowledge of God? And as our love for Him grows does not our service to Him grow in proportion?

I had the same discussion with someone on Facebook about the differences between John Calvin and C. S. Lewis and that neither are debating issues of “Calvinism and Arminianism” in heaven. I was astounded at this. Will, when we reach heaven, know infinitely all there is to know about God and His plans? Or will we continue to plumb the depths of the wisdom and glory of God for all eternity since He is infinite and we will always be finite? No, Calvin and Lewis are seeking to still understand the wisdom of God in all these things. They’re just not doing it as acrimoniously as we do today.

I wondered if this was simply new to our age. We live in an age or feeling and emotion and care not for the finer details of theology. But as I was reading Justification Vindicated by the Scottish Covenanter, Robert Traill (1642-1716) written when it was a time when theological precious and acumen was greatly prized, I realized the same issue has existed forever. He writes,

A light, frothy, trifling temper prevails generally; doctrines of the greatest weight are talked of and treated about with a vain, unconcerned frame of spirit, as if men contended rather about opinions and schoolpoints than about  the oracles of God and matters of faith. But if men’s hearts were seen by themselves, if sin were felt, if men’s consciences were enlivened, if God’s holy law were known in its exactness and severity, and the glory and majesty of the Lawgiver shining before men’s eyes, if men were living as if leaving time and launching forth into eternity, the gospel salvation by Jesus Christ would be more regarded (pp. 39-40).

The reality is, these finer details of theology, about justification, regeneration, election, substitutionary penal atonement, are of paramount importance both for the individual Christian and for the church. And if we only recognized our own limitations and God’s glory, we would spend far more time seeking to fine tune our theology to be most faithful to the Word of God.

So, I continue to teach theology. I continue to preach the whole counsel of God. I continue to recommend (and read myself) good, solid books, emphasizing right theology. I realize it is not just this day that makes men sloth for caring about the eternal purposes of God in the Word, but every age. And with every age there needs to be pastors who prompt and prod his people to know God and His Word better and to live it more faithfully and teach it clearly to the next generation.

In the end, we’re not going to know everything. There is a certain mystery to so much of the workings of God. Yet, our goal is to know and love God completely. We won’t have that perfected even on the other side of glory, but that does not abrogate my responsibility to work at it. I pray, that as I teach theology to my people, they will in turn love God more, and serve Him more faithfully.