Good Theology Can Be a Really Bad Thing

I’m in seminary, which means I’m going into debt, digging through old books, and spending too much time writing papers. My studies have led to one conclusion: there are times when good theology is a really bad thing.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s never bad for your beliefs to line up with Scripture. The Bible is the final authority in all of life, and if what we believe doesn’t match the Scriptures’ teaching then we should promptly change what we believe so that it does.

Additionally, there stands a long tradition of orthodoxy within the Christian faith—one that reaches all the way back to the earliest days of the church. But my time in seminary has shown me how easy it is to divorce theology from action.

If we get our theological ducks in their rows at the expense of living a holier life, we have missed the point altogether. Instead, we are left with a bunch of ducks sitting there all weird-like. (Nobody likes a weird-like duck.)

What I’m trying to say is that no matter how correct it is in word, our theology is dead if it is not or cannot be applied in deed.

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When it isn’t lived out, what sounds like good theology turns out to be really bad theology—and it isn’t just bad theology. Unlived theology is downright dangerous theology.

If your theology doesn’t make you want to behold God or imitate God, then you somehow ended up leaving the theo out of your ology.

One Easy Trick to Living Your Theology

1 John is the textbook for Christian Living 101. In it, John explains basic Christian doctrine and practice so that the early Christians could know how they ought to conduct themselves.

Look at what John says:

This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commands. The one who says, “I have come to know him,” and yet doesn’t keep his commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, truly in him the love of God is made complete. This is how we know we are in him: The one who says he remains in him should walk just as he walked.
1 John 2:3–6 (CSB)

We are not told to talk as he talked. We are told to walk as he walked.

But none of us do this, right? Like, it’s hard to walk as Jesus walked—in fact, it’s impossible. We’re imperfect. John knew this. He was imperfect, too. He gives us one easy trick for living our theology: “The one who loves his brother or sister remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him” (1 John 2:10).

He repeats himself again in case we missed it: “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another” (1 John 3:11).

It’s relatively simple. How do we live as Jesus lived? By bearing the burdens of our brothers and sisters in love (Gal. 6:2). It’s the easiest trick for keeping your theological studies in check.

Getting caught up in the apparent theological minutia of the Trinity? Think about how it might help you love your community group members.

Finding yourself excited for the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation this year? Consider studying the gospel principles that the Reformation helped recover alongside someone who needs the gospel.

Find yourself nitpicking someone else’s theology, especially when it comes to issues that do not compromise the gospel message? Try to find a way to love that person and show grace above and beyond within the week.

Good theology is important, yes, but it isn’t good theology if you aren’t living it. Good theology must cultivate love for God and love for neighbor—that’s what it means for it to be good theology—and if it is unlived theology, it is necessarily bad theology.

Good theology is countercultural. It changes lives and ushers in gospel-shaped change. Having good theology is hard at times, but it is a worthy pursuit.

And, most importantly, it looks a lot more like loving your neighbor than reading another book.

Cody Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Maryville, Tennessee, and is an MDiv student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He attends Pleasant Grove at College Street, where he is a church planting intern.