I have endeavored to be a student of history (that of the Church and of dominant world cultures and empires). This study has led me to one dominant insight which is very helpful in understanding my own behavior and that of others. Namely that the conception a person has of God will determine how he or she understands reality. And people’s conceptions are shaped by the cultures they grow up in and find persuasive. The clearest examples of this come from people who hate others or even kill because of a specific ideology (tribalism, racism, Marxism, radical environmentalists) or theological beliefs (radical Islamic jihadists and sects within other religious traditions who persecute others to enforce what they believe upon others). In the case of those who would deny any specific category of belief in God there is a belief system which has a binding force upon their mind and allegiance.
The truth of this phenomena is almost too obvious for us to notice. Perhaps we would not note it except that there are those who are so “extreme” in how they interpret and practice their ideology or theology. They are so dedicated to their understanding of God and what they perceive to be God’s will, or understanding of how human life should be, that they will sacrifice their lives in that particular cause. Such persons present themselves as being supremely confident in the rightness of their beliefs and thus they act upon them as they perceive is best to do so; their behavior shows they are committed to what they believe.
The Christian church has long claimed that it has been given, in a way that is unique in the history of the whole world, truth regarding God and God’s will (see 1 Timothy 3:14-16). And there are (and always have been) many who certainly did not agree! Today the general mood among most people in the Western world (America, Europe) is dismissive or openly hostile to anyone making absolute truth claims about God. This mood has been called “post-modernism.” This negative critique of human beings’ ability to accurately perceive reality—ideas of God and everything else fundamental to human experience—effects the perceptions and expectations of everyone living in this culture. Regardless of one’s religious or “spiritual” beliefs and affiliations one cannot escape the creeping influence of “post-modernism.”
The cultural climate in which we live in (I am thinking particularly of the Western world) makes the task of discerning truth and consciously developing good theological ideas even more needful. To live today is akin to swimming in a large public pool with no life guard on duty; indeed, the absence of a life guard is an agreed upon condition for being in the pool. For we do not believe in the need for any spiritual guides or any public truth that would be binding upon all; all things are to be kept within the private and subjective vantage point of individuals. If some people find that they believe similar things they might be convinced of the value of gathering together for mutual encouragement. But this gathering is only incidental to the question of truth.
The force and influence of this dominant idea on people’s way of thinking demonstrates why good theology is essential. For since we have the Scriptures and they have been made accessible to us we do need to honor our faithful God by energetically studying them in order to know the truth God has revealed. Is this what one observes in the lives of professing Christians?
The consistent lack of interest among Christians in the Western world for seriously pursuing knowledge of God demonstrates the true character of our “spirituality.” For we want God to conform to our privatized and pathetically small perceptions of reality (based on our own comfort and self-interest). In order to gain true spiritual health and nurture all the life enriching aspects of truth we must want to know truth as it is found in the living God. And to find the Truth (God himself) we must seek him with all of our hearts, according to the means and medium God choose to reveal truth, with the expectation that God will graciously grant to us knowledge of his will (Psalm 119:29). Any other approach to “spirituality” is false and demonically coached hypocrisy of the corrupt human heart.
We who claim the Name of disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ face challenges from every angle, perspective and corner of human life and experience. Nothing in the humanly crafted (and demonically oppressed) culture we find ourselves in encourages us to be obedient to the Lord Christ. But we have, should we choose to exercise faith in obedience to God’s Word, the power which raised our Lord up from death inside our very selves.
For has not God sovereignly granted to believers’ existential knowledge of himself through the Lord Jesus? Has God not deposited this “treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power [to live in righteous hope] belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NRSV)? To vigorously search out to know and to practice truth lays the ground work for sound theological thinking. And sound theological thinking is essential to all efforts to discern what God’s will is for the particulars of our lives, our work and everyday challenges.