I have heard it said that some men love theology more than they love God. Do not let it be possible to say that of you. Love theology of course: but love theology for no other reason than that it is THEOLOGY—the knowledge of God—and because it is your meat and drink to know God, to know Him truly, and as far as it is given to mortals, to know Him whole.
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851–1921) served as professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary for almost thirty-five years. He was one of the greatest theologians of his era, a polymath who seemed to find time to read everything. In September 1903, he delivered an address to the incoming class at Princeton Seminary titled “Spiritual Culture in the Theological Seminary.” This address was later published in pamphlet form and is now available in volume 2 of his Selected Shorter Writings.
As a professor of theology, Warfield knew, as well as anyone could know, the particular dangers associated with the study of theology. He knew that students of theology could begin to treat God as an object to be dissected on the lab table of theological debate. He knew that after thousands of pages of reading, students could become weary of contemplating the things of God. He also knew that theology itself could become an idol. He knew that our love of talking and thinking about God could replace the love of God Himself. He knew that men could love theology more than they love God.
Warfield’s warning is as relevant today as it was in 1903. It remains especially relevant for Reformed theologians and Reformed theologians in training. As Reformed Christians, we have a reputation as loving to study theology, to talk about theology, and to argue about theology. We love theology. We love theological books, theological journals, theological conferences, and theological theologians.
But do we love theology more than we love God? That was Warfield’s concern, and I do not believe that it is an unwarranted concern. When Christians first encounter the deeper issues of theology and begin for the first time to contemplate them, it is like seeing the ocean for the first time. Its size and beauty are both exhilarating and overwhelming. Many fall in love with it. But many also fail to recognize that there is a hidden danger. Those who do not respect the power of the ocean can be swept away by waves and currents. Something similar can happen when we begin to study theology. We can become so overwhelmed that we forget what theology is. We can love theology and forget God Himself.
Imagine that you are married (some of you will not have to imagine). Now imagine that you tell everyone how great your spouse is. You write articles and even books about various characteristics of your spouse and about what your spouse does for you and your family. You read letters written by your spouse. You argue with people in person and online about what your spouse meant in one of his or her letters. And yet if someone asks you, “When was the last time you talked to your spouse?” you cannot remember.
Warfield recognized how easy it is for us to forget that theology is the knowledge of the living triune God, our Creator and Redeemer. Theology is not like the study of any other subject. In theology, we are seeking to grow in our knowledge of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is not merely abstract knowledge. It is personal knowledge of the One whom we love because He first loved us.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on April 25, 2018.