Let’s be honest. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who asked for the three volume set of Elenctic Theology in their stockings this year, and the other 6,999,999,998 of us on the planet.
Ok, perhaps that’s not an entirely fair polarization of humanity. But maybe you’ve wondered sometimes, what’s with all this talk of doctrine and theology and academic stuff? Shouldn’t Christians just love Jesus and love people? In this post I want to give you one particular reason why it might be worth your time to crack open a challenging doctrinal book over the holidays (though your stocking still might be better off without Elenctic Theology). But first a story.
When I was a kid, I loved all things western. I wore a cowboy hat in my preschool pictures; through my mom, I personally dictated a letter to the local TV station that had the audacity to remove Bonanza from the daily programming (oddly enough, an irate letter from a 5 year old did nothing to alter their decision). Around the time I was old enough to have my own room, I discovered the author Louis L’Amour who, despite having about four basic plot ideas, managed to write over one hundred western novels. I read them all. But there was a problem.
The heroes in all the L’Amour novels were tough mountain men, and I soon discovered that they shunned sleeping in beds as too “softening.” Real men slept on the hard ground, wrapped in their one blanket, six-shooter in hand, steely eyes piercing the gloomy dark for bandits and desperadoes. I on the other hand had a box spring, a mattress AND a goose-down pillow. My manliness was in serious jeopardy. So I asked my parents for permission to remove my bed. And (I have very flexible parents) they agreed. For about three years I slept on the floor (though my parents drew the line at a six-shooter and campfire). Why? Because when I learned about Louis L’Amour characters, I loved them – and so I wanted deeply to be like them. What we know and love, we imitate.
Now here’s the point: if you want to be like God, you need to know and love God. And conversely, if you grow in your knowledge of who God is (which is what good theology is all about) you will begin both to love him more and to imitate what you love in Him. There’s no better way to grow more patient towards you spouse than to study God’s patience towards you; there’s no better way to grow more compassionate to the people around you than to study Jesus’ compassion to hurting people.
So why tackle a book like Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology or Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed or John Piper’s The Pleasures of God? Because the more you and know and love God, the more we’ll imitate him and strive to be like him.
And (thankfully) God won’t make you give up your mattress.