As many of you know, I have been in Wake Forest, North Carolina, the past eight months attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I will be starting my third semester of seminary a week from now. This means that I have been through two semesters of seminary already. These two semesters of schooling are unlike anything that I have ever encountered. The reason I say this is because these two semesters have been semesters of graduate level classes pertaining to Christian education. The scary thing about these two semesters is that I can already feel the dangers of theological astuteness. When I use the word astuteness, I just mean intelligence. So when I say I can already feel the danger of theological astuteness, I am simply meaning I can already feel the danger of growing in my intellect on the things of God.
You see, I have been learning stuff like pneumatology (study of the Holy Spirit), Eschatology (study of the end times), Ecclesiology (study of the Church), Missiology (study of missions), Theology (study of God), and etc. I have learned a great deal in the past two semesters. I have learned certain theological lenses that will help me to read the Bible well. I have learned certain creeds that were penned long ago that maintain orthodox Christian belief. I have learned about the global mission of God as revealed in the Scriptures. I studied a great deal on evangelism and the importance of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. I have even learned certain heresies that have been rearing their head since long ago such as Gnosticism, modalism, Arianism, and Docetism. I have accumulated knowledge. Teachers have taught me a great deal, and so far I have learned a great deal. However, this is not always a safe place to be. Many times, accumulating all this theological knowledge on heavenly things is very dangerous.
But what is so Dangerous About Theological Astuteness?
The great danger of theological astuteness is that it is far easier to grow in theological knowledge than it is to grow in Christlikeness. It is far easier to gain a greater knowledge of the person of Christ than it is to submit to the Lordship of Christ in the whole of life. It is much easier to talk about the things of the triune God than it is have intimate communion with the triune God. You see, I can know a lot about pneumatology (study of the Holy Spirit). I can know that the chief role of the Holy Spirit of the Living God is to testify about Christ and also to glorify Christ (Jn 16:14). I can know that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin and righteousness and judgment (Jn 16:8). I can know that the Holy Spirit sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts (Rom 5:5). I can know all these things and all the while not KNOW any of it. I can know that the Holy Spirit sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts, all the while not having the love of God being poured into my heart because of indwelling sin. I can know that the Holy Spirit’s chief role is to glorify Christ, all the while I am not praying to the Father in Heaven that He would fill me with the Holy Spirit that I may glorify Christ.
This is the great danger of seminary. You learn all this stuff, but that does not mean anything. You can learn to articulate your view of predestination, election, and sanctification, but if these doctrines are not fueling you to pursue Christlikeness then it means nothing. You can learn that our God is a righteous God, but if you are not hungering and thirsting for righteousness then it doesn’t mean anything. You can learn about God’s design for marriage, but if your neglecting your wife so that you can study God’s design for marriage then your failing miserably. You can learn about evangelism, but if your not intentionally engaging people seeking to proclaim to them the wondrous Gospel of Christ then your not being obedient. You can learn about the depths of hell, but if this does not cause you to be truly grieved over family members, friends, and enemies that are under the wrath of God then it is of no value. You can learn about the supremacy of Christ Jesus and how glorious he is, but if that knowledge does not lead you to stand in wonder and amazement at the glorious Savior then it is of no importance. You can know that the chief end of man is to glorify God, but if your whole life is built around bringing glory to yourself, then that knowledge is going to only bring upon you a greater judgment.
This is the danger of theological astuteness. And the scariest part of all of this is that during this process of growing in theological astuteness, you can trick yourself into believing that you are maturing in your faith. You can begin to convince yourself that because you know more than some of the average laymen, then you are more mature than the average laymen. You can start to think highly of yourself because you know certain theological terms that other people are not aware of. You can really begin to mistakenly think that this knowledge that you are attaining is evidence of spiritual maturity. This is not the case though. The evidence of spiritual maturity in a believer is not theological astuteness, but rather Christlikeness. The one that knows the most is not the most mature, but rather the one who has the greatest affection for Christ leading to obedience to Christ is the most mature.
With all that being said, theological astuteness is not evil. It is not bad. It is very good! Gaining in your knowledge of the things of God is incredibly important, but it is not an end it itself. What I mean by that is this, gaining in theological astuteness cannot be seen as the chief end of your life. Rather, gaining in theological astuteness must be seen as a means to an end. It must be seen as a way to better know the triune God so that you can reverently worship the triune God in the manner in which He desires you worship him. So by all means, pursue theological astuteness as a means to worship the Lord Christ, but beware of temptation to esteem theological astuteness more highly then the resurrected Lord of Glory.
Philippians 1:8-11 “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Why does Paul want the Philippians to grow in knowledge and all discernment? Is it not “so that they may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:10-11).