Theology for The Church: The Sail

Lane Harrison, pastor of Lifepoint Church in Ozark, MO asked me to come and talk with their Ozarks Church Planters/Leaders Network gathering early this week. I was to talk about the development of a healthy theological culture in the local church. It was a real blessing meeting these brothers and exchanging ideas. I certainly came away encouraged by many of their words and insights. I'll be sharing a few summaries from my talk there. First up, a few thoughts on the abuse and neglect of theology, and theology as "the sail." Theology, like any good gift of God, is often either abused, or neglected. In fact, when it comes to theology I see abuse and neglect more often than not. Theology is perhaps most commonly abused when the end for which God has given it is forgotten. It is rightly said that theology should lead to doxology, meaning that if our theology does not lead us to glory in God through worship and transformation we are doing something wrong. Those of us who love doctrine know how easy it is to become more excited about our theological perspective, formulations and traditions than the One these things should lead us to worship. As Ray Ortlund recently said on the blog,

We can admire our theology of God rather than God, because the theology itself really is gorgeous – but only as a dim reflection of the One described there.

Worse yet, we can admire ourselves for being so smart: “We get it, we’re Reformed, we’re not like those Arminian idiots over there in that other group.” God hates pride. All pride. Reformed pride. - Interview with Ray Ortlund

On the other hand, and I believe even more commonly, theology is neglected. It is found to be unnecessary and irrelevant. Some seem to eschew it because of its abuse by others, or fear of division in the church, and also because in recent history the local church has not exactly been the model of theological exercise and enrichment. We think of theologians as scholars working in the academy, not preachers in the pulpit. Of course, it was not always this way. Throughout history our brightest theologians have occupied the pulpit and pastored God's people. Examples like Augustine, Calvin, Owen, Edwards, and Spurgeon should show us a better and more biblical way.

Even among those who say theology is important, it is often likened to the foundation of a building. Theology is the foundation upon which everything else is built. It's a good illustration, but like the foundation of most houses, once the house is built people live in their homes without ever thinking about the poured cement. There is no practical interaction with the foundation. Experientially, it is an invisible element that is given little to no attention.

I believe a better illustration is that of a sailboat. Our theology is the sail. It is high and lifted up, not to be admired, but to catch the wind and find power outside of itself to move the boat. The sails are always visible and in constant use. The boat is the church. Without the sail all in the boat perish slowly. Without the boat people drown quickly.