They (and we) hold to at least a few core beliefs of what is really “True” and a few core values of what is “Good”. And that spiritual core in each of us explains why we have certain priorities, who we seek out, how we interact in relationships, what we feel about our circumstances, and more. But if we want to know any person’s theology, the litmus test is not so much in what they say. It’s in what they do. The same is true for you and me.
That’s our “operational theology”: how we live because of what we really believe and love.
A person might say they believe in the Bible and love Jesus, or the Communist Manifesto, or the Eight-fold Path, but the real revelation will be in their schedule and checkbook – if they keep physical records. In other words, how we invest in and guard our limited resources (time, money, etc.) proves where our real treasures lie. Isn’t that what God’s Word tells us in Isaiah 29:13, Haggai 1:4, Matthew 6:21, etc.?
And it’s a two-way reality: our passions and actions reflect what what we believe as “True” and value as “Good”, and our actual beliefs and values direct our passions and actions.
In talking with lots of parishioners and counselees over the years, it seems that most of us have chosen our theology in one of three ways. 1) We simply adopted what our parents modeled and taught us, 2) we go with what’s popular around us, or 3) we do what we feel will bring us the most pleasure and least pain. But most of us also “flock together with birds of the same feather”: everyone around us thinks and lives similarly, so there’s not much urgency to question what we’re doing – consciously or not.
That might be fine…until we discover that the world is not flat, and we’ve been missing a whole lot of reality.
On a cautionary note, we must never start with what we want and then look for a theology to support it. We must start with what is Truth and Good and then discern the appropriate courses for Life. Although I don’t agree with the following grouping, consider four basic theologies below that many in American society identify as “Protestant” (on the left side of the matrix). And notice how each of the four emphases of maturity (along the top) could be outwardly applied to any of the theologies.
Now, please note this point…
Individuals and churches of radically different theologies could look very similar in their pursuit of “life” through programs of ministry, unity, zeal, and religious language. But their apparent “successes” would not necessarily reflect a theology of what is actually True and Good.
On an advisory note, even assuming a truly Biblical theology, the nature of our emphasis will also determine our vision, what we consistently convey to others, how we counsel them, what we pray, the content and style of music we desire, how we believe our church building should be used, what mercy ministries we serve (if any), and all our other actions.
Of course, the four theologies above are somewhat formal. There are other less formal theologies: “whatever brings in the most people” or “what keeps the most peace” or “what we’ve always done before”, or “what brings the biggest bang for the least buck”, or “what’s the easiest”, or “what the squeaky wheels demand” or “what the workers do best”, etc. But none of those are necessarily True or Good, either.
In my experience, few of us have given much deep thought and prayer to our theology.
So we often run on auto-pilot.
The question is, are we about to sail off the edge of the earth, or are we bound for glorious discoveries in Christ over every horizon?
God knows, and He’s told us in His Word. I encourage you to join me in a deeper exploration of Scripture in this series. Specifically, we will be considering how to understand and apply the Bible for yourself and 8 “P”s of the Gospel that run from Genesis to Revelation.
To view the brief introductory videos, click on “Theology Thursdays” in the menu above.