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  • Writer's pictureJM Zabick

Own Your Theology Proper!

Your Devotion, Spirituality, and/or Theology Will Never Rise above the Starting Point of Your Concept of God

I don’t think we can ever truly understand where we’re centered, theologically or spiritually, unless we have taken some serious time evaluating our theology proper. That is to say, what we understand God to be like (in essence) and audit the path we've traveled to arrive at that understanding.

What is clear to me, as an observer of American Christianity, is that a good many believers (even some who are very theologically/spiritually focused) have actually never stopped to ask themselves, “Who do I conceive God to actually be?”

They often will tell you how “biblical” they are.

They may claim that they just simply “love Jesus.”

They may suggest they just rely on the "spirit" for all they need to know about God.

They may even argue all that “theological stuff” just muddies the waters.

However, the doctrine of God is the starting point of ALL theology and spirituality, whether any believer recognizes or accepts that … or not. Even the remarkable number who argue, “we’re all theologians,” but yet have no idea what a “doctrine of God” even means.

The great Protestant pastor/theologian, A. W. Tozer opened his crucial text The Knowledge of the Holy, with this statement:

The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

Neither will you, in your Christian devotion, your spirituality, or your systematic theological acumen, will ever rise above your theology proper—AKA your “idea of God.”

Tozer goes on to argue:

For this reason, the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.

Namely, our theology, devotion, and spirituality, will always gravitate toward what we want or need God to be. Especially if we have never taken the time to truly orient ourselves to what God objectively is like.

Of course, we can never fully ascertain that. But it’s imperative we at least try.

Because the effort alone is the furnace where one's faith formation is truly forged.

After all, what good is it building the upper floors of a religious framework, if we’ve never taken the time to really immerse ourselves in the nature of our foundation?

What good is all the sophisticated theology in the systematician’s arsenal, without a thoroughgoing doctrine of God?

What good is all the leadership training in the pastoral student’s curriculum, without nary a single module (if that), much less a course, in theology proper?

What spiritual value is one’s pious sense of devotion, absent the uneasy process of assuring the object of devotion is not, in actuality, one’s self?

Here, I can’t help but think about the Psalm which urges us to, “Be still, and KNOW that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).

The phraseology of the Hebrew here, is richly informative, in that the connotation of KNOW carries with it meaning that is tough to easily translate, but which seeks to convey something like this:

“Investigate, detect, and/or discover all there is ABOUT ME, as God.”

Again, to Tozer, who explains:

That our idea of God corresponds as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us. Compared with our actual thoughts about Him, our creedal statements are of little consequence.

Of how much lesser consequence are our statements to self, suggesting “God is telling me …or showing me …” if we have never taken genuine efforts to square our image of God, to God in actuality?

Of how much graver and abusive consequence are such statements to another, when they speak to our desires for them, as though they were God’s?

Kyrie eleison!


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