The Purpose of Theology

The Reformer and French Theologian John Calvin writes,

 “The whole sum of our wisdom—wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured—broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. The purpose of the first of these is to show not only that there is one God whom all must worship and honor, but also that he is the fount of all truth, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, judgment, mercy, power and holiness. We must learn, therefore, to expect and ask these things from him, and with praise and thanksgiving to acknowledge that they come from him. The purpose of the second is to show us our weakness, misery, vanity and vileness, to fill us with despair, distrust and hatred of ourselves, and then to kindle in us the desire to seek God, for in him is found all that is good and of which we ourselves are empty and deprived.”

From Calvin’s outlook on the purpose of theology, we can determine three reasons why we should study, learn, grow and pursue Theology:

1. To Know God-The whole sum and purpose of theology is this: that we may know Him, and not just know about him or know facts and data about Him and His scriptures but that we may truly know and be known by God, like the kind of connection, depth and intimacy you would desire from a friend, family member or loved one, but so much greater than you could ever imagine, because in fact this is what you were made for. The study of theology is different than other disciplines in this respect, for the main subject of theology is God and the goal of knowing his name, his nature, his works, his wonders and his love. And in response to this study, it leads us to prayer and praise and a “kindle in us [for] the desire to seek God.”

2. To Know Ourselves– Our culture is fascinated with the idea and journey of trying to find our “true selves.” I have never really known what this meant, but for some reason it often seems that the people who go on these journeys already know who they are and are just looking for a reason to travel the world or try new things. However, whatever self we find, it is often a worldly self that has not thought to look in the most fundamental place where to find oneself, that which is in the presence of the Creator. Looking upon the revelation of who God is, reveals in his light who we truly are, what he has made us for and in a primary sense, how far we have fallen. This is what Calvin is getting at when he writes, “The purpose of the second is to show us our weakness, misery, vanity and vileness, to fill us with despair, distrust and hatred of ourselves.” Calvin seems bleak about our standing, however, when looking upon the perfect, holy, righteous God of the universe and then look down in comparison, how could you not feel that way, especially when you know that your finite evil against an infinite God is an enormous tragedy and crime. Calvin is not advocating self-harm or mental abuse, but a realization or hatred of the indwelling sin within us that we were not made to be a body for sin and that we were created for so much more. It is this purpose in theology that leads us to seek out what it truly means to be human, how to repent and confess and follow God in a world against Him.

3. To Know Salvation-Of course, the logical flow of Calvin’s thought, after looking upon the revelation of the Holy God, and then seeing our rebellious, polluted selves, we can’t help but find a way to be rescued. This is the redemptive purpose of theology, so that we may know salvation, that we may taste and see that God is good and worship Him that despite the fact that we are rebels to His Throne and traitors to His Kingdom, The Son descended from the throne of grace and became man, lived the perfect life and died the most gruesome death, so that his people may know salvation and from rebels, become sons.