I am at an academic conference. This is not the way you start a blog if you want people to keep reading. I am at an exciting academic conference. Well, now everyone knows that I am just lying. I am going to keep this introduction boring. I am at an academic conference this week. It is the annual gathering of the Society for the Study of Theology. This gathering is most of the theologians in the UK and many others from Europe and around the world. It is quite an interesting place to be with many fascinating topics being discussed.
On Wednesday I heard a paper that was discussing the personal aspect of theological reflection. The main contention is that there is a line that can be drawn in theological engagement that sees the work of theology holistically, that is theological reflection is an act of love that draws us closer to the object on which we reflect, namely God. While there were a few things in the paper with which I would disagree, overall I thought the trajectory plotted is a helpful corrective for much of what passes for theological reflection in our day. Whether it be in the church pew, pulpit, or academic podium, it is all to easy to conceive of a divide between theological reflection and the way in which it transforms the life. For much of church history, this divide did not exist. To do theology was to live the Christian life. You could not live the Christian life without considering it an act of doing theology.
After I left that paper presentation, I went back to my room and I read Thomas Brooks' Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. This week I was on device 5 and 6. What struck me was the parallel between what Brooks is considering here, and the paper I had just heard delivered. Device 5 for Brooks is to have an incorrect view of God, viewing God as solely a God of mercy. Brooks says that Satan tells us that we need not worry about sin because God is all mercy. This view of God, however, causes us to forget Christ. Not only does Christ demonstrate to us that God is rich in mercy, but he is also just. We witness the coming together of mercy and justice on the cross when Christ takes on the full penalty for sin. He does this so that we may receive mercy.
Having this view of God corrected will change how we live. It changes how we interact with each other and with God. Brooks argues that as we come to know God, we see our lives become lives lived as a constant act of repentance. To paraphrase Bavinck, the Christian life becomes one marked by repentance. Repentance is the high-water mark of the Christian living. Brooks reminds us that Satan will tell us repentance is easy work. We easily think that in repeating a few words or phrases we have repented. However, when we know who our God is, we realize that repentance is a daily act. Again from Brooks:
True repentance inclines a man's heart to perform God's statutes always, even unto the end. A true penitent must go on from faith to faith, from strength to strength; he must never stand still nor turn back. Repentance is a grace, and must have its daily operation as well as other graces.
Repentance is a regular part of the Christian life. It is not a quick momentary act, but the habitual stance of the Christian life. It is not easy, but it is soul saving.
When we truly study theology, it transforms our lives. It changes who we are and how we think. It draws us closer into relationship with God. As we are draw more and more in fellowship with God, we find that we are conformed to the image of Christ. To study theology, to consider the deep things of God, we are not left unaffected, we become more human.