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You Cannot Serve Both God and Theology

The Best Readers Can Be the Worst Listeners

The Pharisees fought Jesus at every turn. They doubted and even hated much of what he said and did, and tried again and again to trap him in a lie or inconsistency. They had read God’s word over and over again. They knew this book really well—or so it seemed—and yet they did not know the Word living, breathing and speaking in front of them—the Word through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that was made (John 1:3).

Mark recounts one of these confrontations between Jesus and the so-called spiritual experts of his day. “The Pharisees and the scribes asked [Jesus], ‘Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’” (Mark 7:5; Matthew 22.15″>22:15). This was defiance—an attempt to undermine and shame the Son of God.

They were so confident in their theology that they confronted the Christ himself. They tried to pin him down under the feather-weight and wading-pool-depth of their theology—the One who was the fulfillment and pinnacle of all the pages they had read. They challenged God’s own understanding of God. Their education and pride—their knowledge and confidence in their own system—had blinded them to the very image and voice of God. They knew so much about God, and yet knew him so little.

Even the Literate Need to Learn to Read

Jesus responds to their ignorant and murderous criticism with the very Scriptures they seem to know so well. “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’” (Mark 7.6–7″>Mark 7:6–7). Hypocrisy, according to Jesus, disconnects knowledge of God from true love for God. Hypocrisy is not just about disobedience to the Bible—the Pharisees would have been thought of as clearly “obedient”—but about disillusionment with the God of the Bible. You can know him and not know him. And that might be the most dangerous place in all the world—however comfortable, safe and informed it may feel.

Jesus goes on to say, “You leave the commandment of God”—an awful, terrifying condemnation—“and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8).

You Can Tithe Theology, Too

So we should fear money when it leads our hearts and allegiances away from God. And we should fear our system of theology when it more subtly does the same. In our good disciplines of learning about God—reading, asking, listening, writing—we must take care to develop habits of treasuring and worshiping him, too. Be committed to having a right theology, but be as committed to having a relational theology—a growing, humble and heartfelt intimacy with God. Do not simply search the Scriptures for soteriology, but search for salvation—the eternal life—that is only found in the flesh, blood and person of Jesus Christ (John 5:39).

Tithe your theology. Just like all money is God’s, all good theology is God’s, too—it’s all about him, all from him and all for him. Still, we give 10 percent or more of our money to declare week after week our gratitude, faith and joy in God, even to say that it is all his. Likewise, we need rhythms of responding to God in worship when we learn more about him. Look for every opportunity to offer what you’ve seen about God back to him in prayer and worship.

Stop, and pray God’s words about God back to him. Journal as a way of stimulating your heart over the things your mind is beginning to understand. Put the truths you’re learning on your lips for others to hear and love—share them with someone. The psalmist responded this way to knowing God and his love more deeply in Psalm 63: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. … My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips” (Psalm 63:3, Psalm 63.5″>5).

We will never be truly satisfied by knowing about God. We need to know him. If that dichotomy doesn’t make sense to you, beware. Facts about God without feelings for him and fellowship with him—without a sense that you are God’s chosen, redeemed and known son or daughter—will give you a false sense of God’s love and security. But facts about God can also draw you closer to him.

You cannot serve both God and theology, but you can serve and love and treasure God with good theology.

“We need our theology to be not only true, but Spirit-filled and fruitful.”