Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The End of All Learning

When asked “which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus responded, “You shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Honesty, and perhaps some humility, demand that we admit that not a single one of us has kept this great commandment, for even one day of our lives. Thus the law of God drives us to the grace of God, and it is in the grace of God that we find rest and salvation.

But though we do not find salvation in the law of God, we do find direction there. Specifically, we find direction as to how it is that we are to love God. We are to love God with all of our being, and a large part of our being is our mind. Hence, we are commanded to love God with all of our mind.

How often have I lamented that a great number of Christians fail to love God with their minds? The Christian may fail to love God with his mind in many ways, but I wish to speak here of two--one being obvious and the other not so obvious. We begin with the deplorable condition of biblical and theological illiteracy so rampant in much of the church world today. The Christian, persistently ignorant of the faith, cannot be loving God with all of his mind.

I dare say that never in the history of the Protestant faith, has the evangelical church been more shallow and superficial in its theology. Some of this theological ignorance is due to laziness in the pulpit. I am put in mind of Ezekiel, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherd feed the flocks?” (34:2). How much of the institutional church is comprised of weak, anemic, starving sheep languishing under idle shepherds?

Yet, much theological ignorance is not due to laziness in the pulpit, but laziness in the pew. To the Lord’s “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18), the lazy pew yawns, “Oh, it’s Sunday, the day of rest. Don’t make me think too much.” Then of course, the lazy pew is quick to add, “But don’t bore me either!” Alas, the lazy pew is shallow and superficial and cannot love God with the mind. Sadly, the church is never more like the world than when she is weak minded.

Theological ignorance is one way, the most obvious and the most prevalent way, that Christians fail to love God with the mind. But there is another way, less obvious and less prevalent, yet more insidious than theological ignorance; and it is the way of theological arrogance. We could stress the difference thus: The theologically ignorant fail to love God with their mind; while the theologically arrogant fail to love God with their mind.

I have met Christians who are theologically sound in many ways, yet paradoxically, in their arrogance; it appears that they love theology more than they love God. Theology is not God. We must never forget this. It is altogether possible to be more excited or proud concerning, or to love more, the doctrine of God, than God. When I love the doctrine of God more than I love God, theological arrogance ensues. This is the import of Paul’s words to the Corinthians. “Knowledge puffs up...if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him” (1Cor. 8:1-3).

Now, it should be understood that one cannot love God apart from doctrine or theology. How can we love God if we do not know Him? But it should be equally understood that we can love theology with the mind without truly loving God with the mind. Respected theologian, J. I. Packer, writes,

What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have it? For the fact that we have to face is this: If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it. There can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge; but it is equally true that there can be no spiritual health with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose and valued by the wrong standard. (Knowing God, p.p. 22-23)
Is there a remedy for theological ignorance on the one hand and for theological arrogance on the other? I know of only one: Love God with all your mind. This is our duty and should be our delight. To conclude, I leave you with the words of John Milton: “The end of all learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love and imitate Him.”

2 comments:

  1. I appreciate this perspective on the continuity/applicability of the Torah for today. I do wonder whether the church's ignorance about this, though, is rooted in a misunderstanding of the continuity/applicability of the Mosaic Covenant and Law in general.

    It seems that if the church realized that the New Covenant doesn't annul the Mosaic Covenant/Law, folks would be a lot more clear on the applicability of the Torah to the church today.

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  2. Rob,
    Many Christians today know very little of the New Testament, and even less of the Old Testament. Because of this, I have found a lot of Christians are ignorant of the vast amount of OT verses/passages/allusions which are contained in the NT. But we should not view the OT as being less inspired than the NT. Nor should we consider the OT to be of little value to the Christian faith.

    We should realize that the OT is a Christian book, in fact we could say a Christian library. And Christ is the lens for properly understanding the OT.

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