May 04, 2023

What Is the Goal of Studying Theology?

Nathan W. Bingham & Stephen Nichols
What Is the Goal of Studying Theology?

Studying theology is not an end in itself. It is a means to bring glory to God. Today, Stephen Nichols describes how as we grow in our knowledge of God, our theology becomes doxology.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: We’re joined today by Dr. Stephen Nichols. He’s a teaching fellow here at Ligonier Ministries and also the president of Reformation Bible College. Dr. Nichols, what should be our goal as we study theology?

DR. STEPHEN NICHOLS: We start with what is the ultimate goal of every endeavor of our lives, and that is the glory of God. So, the glory of God is the ultimate goal of theology. But I suspect the question really is in terms of “What is the goal for us?” and “What does theology do for us?” And so, there are a number of things here.

I think the first thing—the goal of studying theology—is humility. No matter what the subject is in theology, it’s going to arc back to who God is, and when we arc back to who God is, that immediately raises the question of who we are. And when we understand properly and in a way that is faithful to Scripture who God is and who we are, we can’t help but be humbled. It doesn’t matter where you are in this study of theology, whether we’re talking about the doctrine of God or the doctrine of Christ or the doctrine of the church, we will be humbled when we come face-to-face with the truth of theology.

I think the second thing—and it’s related to this—is gratitude, which also results in praise. And so as we study theology, we find even more and more reasons to be grateful to God for what He has done for us. And it’s sort of like going into a mansion and you think, “Oh, this is so impressive.” And you’re standing there in the entryway or the foyer, and then you go into this room and it’s amazing, and then you go into this room and it’s even more amazing, and there’s an even more amazing room. Theology is like that. As we continue in this subject of studying who God is, we find more and more reason to praise Him. That gratitude leads to praise.

I believe that gratitude also leads to knowledge and wisdom. So, one of the things studying theology gives us is knowledge, and it also gives us wisdom—and how much we need this in life. Theology guides us as we make decisions. It helps us interact with the very complex world that we live in. It helps us to engage and be discerning as different worldviews and different ideas come at us—and they come at us pretty fast and pretty furiously in this moment.

I think fourthly, the goal of theology is obedience and faithfulness. It’s content. Theology is content. It gives us that knowledge, provides us that wisdom, but it also, then, is that subject that enables us to be obedient to God. The more we study His word, we understand what He wants of us. And as we put that together in a systematic expression, we know what is expected of us as the servants of God, as the sons and daughters of God, and that leads us to faithfulness and discipleship.

Every once in a while—this pops up probably more in American evangelicalism than other instantiations of evangelicalism—but sometimes theology is pitted against discipleship, or theology is pitted against piety and devotion. And we might even say things like or hear things being said like: “I don’t want to know who God is; I just want to know God. I don’t need to get caught up and bound up in all these debates and Latin terms. I just want simple, pure worship of God.” Well, I think that is fundamentally a misunderstanding of what theology is, but I also think it’s very shortsighted, because it’s ultimately knowing about God that drives us to worship who God is. It’s ultimately knowing about what God has said in His Word—and understanding that and pulling it together—that then is the basis for us to live the Christian life and to have that discipleship and obedience and piety.

So we see the goal is humility. It is gratitude. It is knowledge and wisdom. It is obedience and faithfulness. And fifthly, the goal of theology is worship. Dr. Sproul would often say, “Theology is doxology.” To know who God is to praise God, to worship God. And as the author of Hebrews tells us, “We worship God in reverence and in awe.” Well, that comes with knowing who God is. That comes with theology. And so, you could be the smartest person, you could know your historical theology, you could know your Greek, Hebrew, and all of your Latin theological terms—that’s not the ultimate test of a theologian. The ultimate test of a theologian is one who worships God in reverence and in awe.