I think most Christians begin to study theology with good motives. We begin to study Scripture and to read books by Christians who have been studying Scripture for many years. We want to understand the Word of God. But even something good, like the study of theology, can be twisted in an evil direction. We can begin to study theology as an end itself. It can then easily puff us up with pride and arrogance, causing us to exalt in ourselves rather than in God. And when we exalt ourselves, we want everyone else to exalt us as well. That can only be accomplished, so we think, by showing our brothers and sisters in Christ our superiority by showing them how great our store of theological knowledge is.
As one who has the incredible privilege of teaching theology at the college level, it is important for me to remind myself of this danger regularly. It is also important that I explain the danger of theological pride to my students. Every fall, I tell the freshmen students that they will be learning a lot of formal theology over the course of the semester. They will be digging into numerous issues that many of them have never thought about. I tell them that if they go back home for Christmas break and sit down next to some elderly person who has been a faithful and godly member of the church for decades and view that person with any level of patronizing condescension because they now know some new theological vocabulary words, then we need to talk when they return.
We are learning theology to grow in our knowledge of God, so that we might grow in our love of God and neighbor. In the quote above, Owen makes this basic point. Theology is not a substitute for love of God. If it does become a substitute for love of God, it is nothing more or less than an idol.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on October 3, 2018.