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We all know that the scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages had a great interest in angels. How many of them can dance on the head of a pin? they asked. Modern Christians regard the question as trivial and ridiculous, and certainly, thus stated, it may seem so. But perhaps a medieval theologian would be forgiven for asking, “Why, then, do you moderns have to push past so many angel and cherub trinkets and cards in the local Christian store in order to find a book about the eternal God?”

In fact, this question about heads of pins and dancing angels contains a whole series of other questions: Do angels dance, and if so, why? For dancing (at least in Scripture) is normally a sign of joy. Why would they be so joyful? And what about the head of a pin? Well, it raises intriguing questions about what kind of creatures angels are. Do they take up space the way we do? How do they move through space as they seem to do in Scripture? So—if we really believe in a supernatural universe, and a God who has myriads of heavenly creatures as His servants—these questions about the heavenly branch of the family of God are inherently interesting even if Scripture does not give us all the answers in its three hundred-plus references to angels. Think of this as you struggle past the trinkets: Have we become so short-sighted in our perspective on reality that we have little interest in the way God governs the cosmos?

In fact, the medieval theologians believed that the angels are also theologians. There is a theologia angelorum, a theology of the angels. If we “do theology,” why wouldn’t angels do it as well? Perhaps there is something we can learn from them (after all, we sing “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven” with its line “Angels help us to adore him”). So, with apologies to C.S. Lewis and Wormwood, imagine a young student writing home from the Gabriel Theological Seminary after his first few days as a freshangel:

“Professor Michael has now given us three brilliant lectures in T.S.A. (Theologia Systematica Angelorum) 101. I thought my notes would interest you! Here they are:

Come to 3rd topic. Refer again to human philosopher Aristotle: Final end in view must be the first thing considered in order to use means that will lead to that end. So, always begin with “end.”

Today: 3rd lecture. Third question: “What is the chief end of man?” Cf. Angelic reports of seventeenth-century earthly Westminster Assembly: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

This answer parallels yesterday’s topic: “What is the chief end of angels?” Saw answer is: “Angels’ chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

Reasons for this drawn from (a) the character of God, (b) the nature of creation in general, and (c) the nature and function of angels in particular.

This set us up for the consideration of the angels’ chief end in its earthly dimension in relationship to man’s identical chief end.

But Professor Michael stresses again: remember conclusion reached in first lecture when we asked ultimate question (i.e. the undiluted theological question)—a daring question. “What is the chief end of God?” and the answer? “The chief end of God is to glorify God, and to enjoy Himself forever.”

N.B. Divine glory and joy is the foundation for human joy, angelic joy. Both find their center and source in the Great I Am, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Human theology, angelic theology, divine theology—all have in view the “enjoy” that comes from the glory and glorifying of God.

Cf. the human poet Charles Wesley (eighteenth human century). We angels can also sing:
“Let earth and Heaven combine,
Angels and men agree.”

Professor Michael said tons more—but must rush for dinner: dessert tonight is angel food cake!

Learning so much! Lots of love, Septimus.”

Fanciful, of course, but it helps to make the point. Theology is a joyful and glorious activity because it is ultimately about the glory and joy of our God. Its goal is that of the angels, indeed, of God Himself: this combination of glorifying and enjoying God, which is to the unbeliever the ultimate contradiction but for Christians the discovery of our destiny.

Theology is a joyful and glorious activity because it is ultimately about the glory and joy of our God.

Next to the Lord Jesus, no one has embodied what this means more fully than the Apostle Paul. His thirteen letters (totaling a mere seventy pages in the Bible on my desk) turn out to be heavier than a man can lift, so densely packed are they with theology in all its forms. And the style? Soli Deo gloria.

Sit down for an hour with a concordance and look up the verses in Paul’s letters that contain the words “glory” and “glorify.” It will leave you breathless, at least metaphorically. The glory of God is the magnetic pole of his thinking. He had seen it in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). And those who have seen this glory can never be satisfied unless they taste more of it, and think more clearly about it. Like a young man who has seen a “glory” in a young woman (1 Cor. 11:7), we long to know more, to meditate lovingly, and to describe eloquently. Theology is simply eloquence about God, called forth by His glory.

Romans 9–11 provides us with an extended illustration. Remember Professor Michael’s reference to Aristotle? The end explains the beginning. Romans 9–11 is in fact driven on from its endpoint: “To him be glory forever. Amen” (11:36). What leads Paul to this conclusion? Reading backward through the passage—seeing how he “does theology”—will lead us to some answers.

We “do theology” with a single eye to the glory of God because He is the origin, governor, and end of all things (11:36).

This glory is manifested, even if not fully understood, in the riches of His grace, the intelligence of His wisdom, the fullness of His knowledge, the unsearchable nature of His judgments, and the inscrutable nature of His providential ways (11:33–35).  Paul drinks deeply, yet the ocean of truth remains undiminished.

Working backward, we now discover how Paul’s theological reasoning led him to this whole-souled conclusion.

He has just traced the ways of the Lord (11:1–32). God’s dealings with Jew and Gentile reveal both His mercy and His judgment; the mystery of the hardening of Israel shows the seriousness of sin against grace; the fullness of the Gentiles and the salvation of “all Israel” reveal the superabundance of His love and the certainty of his plan. Paul is doing theology in a redemptive-historical, biblical-theological fashion. Here is not the place to exegete his precise meaning but simply to gaze in humbled awe at God’s ways.

But, continuing this journey in reverse, we discover Paul expounding the way of salvation in Christ (10:1–21). The wonder of the gospel is its simplicity, its proximity, its universality (vv. 6–13). God bestows His riches on all who call on Him—no matter their ethnicity or their past. And behind all this lies the assurance that although God’s purposes may seem to have been thwarted by unbelief, the reverse is actually the case. His Word never fails (9:6–33). God indeed “moves in a mysterious way” and “plants His footsteps in the sea” where they may disappear immediately, but He never fails in His intentions.

These three chapters, then, are perhaps the headiest theology anywhere to be found in Paul’s letters. But what they reveal is that the doctrines of creation (from Him), providence (through Him), redemption (by Him), and final consummation (to Him) all are shaped by this one great end: the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We should not leave this subject without noticing that “doing theology” this way carries profound practical implications and effects.

What triggered Paul’s entire exposition here was his “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” of heart for his kinsmen (9:2). He longs that they will be saved (10:1). Why? A further step backward into Romans 1–3 provides the answer. It is because of his passion for God’s glory. He sees the tragedy of man’s condition—made in God’s image and for His glory but in sin exchanging the glory of God for creatures and idols (1:23). Sin is indeed “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of the law of God” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 14). But its result is that we “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and lose both our crown and our destiny. If we see this, the fallen condition of our kinsmen and its repercussions are heartbreaking indeed. So, those who “do theology” for the glory of God must also be prepared for sorrow (9:2) and have a willingness to sacrifice (v. 3) and evangelize (10:14–17).

Besides acting as a catalyst, Paul’s way of “doing theology” has life-changing repercussions. Romans 9:1–11:36 hinges into Romans 12–16 and especially into the first words of those chapters (12:1–2). The mercy God displays (11:30–32) calls for unconditional consecration to Him expressed in nonconformity to the world and transformation into Christ’s image, ultimately to reflect His glory. But how does this take place? By “doing theology” to His glory and for His pleasure. For transformation takes place “by the renewal of your mind” (12:2).

There is a grandeur to this perspective because it makes sense of cosmic reality; it humbles and exalts us; it leads us to our true “end.” In Thomas Aquinas’ summary, theology teaches God, is taught by God, and leads to God. What more can we ask for if indeed the chief end of both men and angels is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”?

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