What happens when theology is downplayed or degraded? A vacuum is created that will be filled with a syncretistic blend of toxic ideologies, half-truths, and human wisdom which exalts self over God. Are you feeling defeated due to a besetting sin or frustrated because of your circumstances? Perhaps you’ve embraced a form of me-ology.
For many Christians today, theology is a sore subject. It is reserved for the scholars who are locked away in their ivory towers, but not for the typical Christian slugging it out in the trenches of real life. But the fact is that, as R.C. Sproul said in a book by the very title, Everyone’s a Theologian.
Theology is simply the study of God, and at an even more basic level, it is what one thinks about God. Every religion has a theology, but even the atheist cannot escape it because by virtue of denying God, he has established the fact that he thinks something about God, and therefore he, too, is a theologian!
Defining & Understanding Theology
For centuries, theology has been at the heart of the Christian faith. Because we believe that God has revealed Himself to us in His word, we understand that our faith is based upon absolute, unchanging truth. This is why the church has wrestled with theological issues—from things like our understanding of the sovereignty of God over the universe, to the minute details of the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Jesus Christ, and everything in between. But as the influence of Postmodernism continues to infiltrate society and finds inroads into the church, theology is becoming less absolute and precise and more fluid and fuzzy. We see this in the ever-compromising drift of liberalism that began in the latter part of the 19th Century, but it has not spared even the most conservative of evangelical denominations either. Yet beyond what we see in the world or the church at large, individuals have always had the challenge of working out their own theology.
Me-ology vs. Theology
If you asked the average American who identifies as an evangelical Christian what he believes about God (what is his theology), there is a high probability you would get a reply that is what I like to call “me-ology.” Me-ology is a theology that is only me-deep. It relegates God to second position so that “me” becomes the central focus. The real center of me-ology is me! I am the focus of what I think about God. In other words, instead of seeing myself as made in the image of God, I make a god in the image of myself. If I am “a pretty good person who makes mistakes because I’m only human,” then God loves me just as I am. I need Jesus and all that, but I also reserve the right to question God when things go wrong in my life because after all, doesn’t God want us all to be happy?
If you asked a “me-ologian” to describe his beliefs in further detail, his response would likely be laced with a mix of references to the Bible (perhaps taken out of context or misquoted, or not in the Bible at all), New-Age mysticism, modern psychology, Marxist ideology, and some things dear old grandma used to say. And yet, if you asked him if he believed that the Bible is the authoritative word of God, he would answer in the affirmative.
“Me-ology is a theology that is only me-deep. It relegates God to second position so that “me” becomes the central focus. The real center of me-ology is me!
How Did We Get Here?
If the Bible is the authoritative word of God, how is it possible for people who identify as evangelical Christians to have this sort of jumbled, confused theology? There are at least four reasons.
1. Spiritual Deadness
Due to weak, man-centered theology in the Arminian strain, accompanied by the weak, man-centered evangelistic methods that have been used to peddle the gospel so pervasively in the United States for so long, there are countless people who believe they are Christians because of something they did at one time (e.g. pray a prayer, walk an aisle, or sign a decision card). They have been led to believe that their will is free to choose Christ on their own, and when they made a decision, the deal was sealed. But the Bible is emphatically clear that man is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), and his will is willingly enslaved to sin (Jn. 8:34; Rom. 6:16). The natural man is free to choose what he wants, but what he wants will always be sin. The only remedy for this condition is a supernatural work of God in the heart of man. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “you must be born again” (Jn. 3:3–7).
2. Satanic Deception
Not only are men dead in their trespasses and sins, but Satan is hard at work to keep sinners blind to the glory of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). He does this in various ways, but as the father of lies (Jn. 8:44), his chief modus operandi is to distort the truth. Just as he deceived Eve in the Garden by twisting the words of God, he is still misleading the masses through his deception.
All truth and all of life are issues of worship, and therefore Satan covers all the bases by attacking the two fronts which are commonly referred to as the secular and the sacred. He works in the secular realm to promote false ideologies that form godless worldviews. From the larger paradigms of Modernism and Postmodernism to their ideological corollaries, the fingerprints of Satan are found all over them. In the realm of the sacred, the truth of God’s word is distorted so that false religions, cults and sects arise through heretical teachings identified by the Apostle Paul as “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
3. Shallow Teaching
Among those who are genuine teachers of the word of God, the vestiges of the man-centered gospel still shape how a vast number of churches conduct their regular ministry. From the music to the message, everything is tailored to meet the felt needs of the hearers. Instead of producing a strong, biblical theology through the accurate, authoritative preaching of God’s word, talks are offered which are short, topical, and feed the weak tenets of the various me-ologies among the listeners. Oftentimes smaller group studies permit or even encourage subjective interpretation of Scripture which fuels the notion that even the truth of God’s word is subject to “what it means to me.”
4. Spiritual Lethargy
There are many Christians who are genuinely born again, and who receive good teaching, yet somehow they hang on to their me-ology. This paradox is a result of a failure for the believer to realize that he is in the midst of a spiritual war. Like soldiers asleep in the midst of combat, many Christians neglect the reality of the spiritual battle before them and their responsibility to take up the armor of God and fight (Eph. 6:10–20). Satan is not only at work “out there,” he is even harder at work against the people of God, and therefore the believer must be vigilant (1 Pet. 5:8).
From Paradox to Orthodox
If we are going to become people who are genuinely growing in Christ and who can genuinely make an impact for Christ in the world and the lives of those around us, we need to be grounded in the solid theological truth of God’s word rather than our own man-centered suppositions and ideas. In that case, there are at least three things we are going to have to do.
1. Check for Real Spiritual Life
How do we move from being a Christian who operates according to whatever may be our version of me-ology to being a Christian with a biblical and robust theology? Perhaps the first step would be to examine yourself to see if you’re really in the faith. This is anathema in some circles, but it is actually something the Bible calls us to do when we are faced with just this sort of paradox within ourselves (2 Cor. 5:5). In fact, the epistle of 1 John was written to help Christians with this very issue. It’s not that God wants us to be in constant doubt of our salvation; the opposite is actually true (see 1 Jn. 5:13). But when we have good reason to doubt, we must take a sober look into our hearts in light of God’s word.
2. Receive Real Spiritual Nourishment
If you are convinced that issue is settled for you and that you are a true believer, the next step is to find a church that practices expository preaching. Rather than using a text of Scripture as a launching pad into a string of stories, or stringing a set of verses together to support a particular proposition, expository preaching finds its proposition in a particular text and then explains and applies it from that text.
Expository preaching upholds the Bible’s authority and sufficiency, building a theology through exegesis (i.e. pulling the meaning out of the text) rather than eisegesis (i.e. reading the meaning into the text). Expository preaching will help you to identify the false ideologies of the world that have infiltrated your thinking while filling you up with the solid spiritual food you need to grow. Plus, as you sit under faithful expository preaching week in and week out, you will begin to learn how to read the Bible in a more meaningful way.
3. Engage in Real Spiritual Battle
While the Scriptures are absolutely necessary for Christian growth, you can’t stop at simply consuming. You have to engage in applying the word of God to your everyday life. Our Lord prayed that His own would be sanctified in the truth, which is the word of God (Jn. 17:17), and we are called to work out what God has worked within us (Phil. 2:12–13). To be sanctified means to be set apart from sin and unto the service of God, and this happens as we let the word of Christ dwell richly within us (Col. 3:16) and allow it to renew our minds (Rom. 12:2). As our minds are renewed, our affections begin to change, and our me-ology is replaced with theology because “me” no longer occupies the center of our universe. God is rightly placed back where He has belonged all along.
This is so crucial because it is here in the battle of the affections that so many Christians fail and face the consequences of feeling frustrated, or even of being tempted to wander back into the same sins we once forsook. When “me” is the center of our world, the word of God does not seem to have much practical relevance to our lives. But when God is the center of our thinking and affections, we will stop looking for the quick-fix for our felt needs and instead begin to drink in the ocean of truth that comes—sometimes as a flood, sometimes as a slow and steady trickle—and we find that His word is not only relevant, but powerful to change us from the inside out.
“As our minds are renewed by the word of God, our affections begin to change, and our me-ology is replaced with theology because “me” no longer occupies the center of our universe.
As the word of God washes over us and our me-ology is gradually replaced with a rich theology, we are no longer “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14), but the truth of God’s word begins to serve as the anchor of our soul. The great doctrines which flow from the character of God revealed in the Scriptures keep our feet firmly planted and our worship soars to new heights. Everyone’s a theologian, but not everyone has this glorious theology out of which flows maturity, stability, and fullness of joy.