Parenting is difficult. My wife and I have a son who is only 9 months old, and already, from what little experience I have, I feel like I can say with confidence: parenting is difficult. Eventually, our son will be able to talk. And I’m sure he will express his curiosity about the world by repeatedly asking the grating “why?” question about everything, as children do. He will ask “why?” about mundane, and seemingly unimportant things, and he will ask “why?” about profound things—with depths of which neither he nor I fully understand. Humans are by nature curious and philosophical beings, even when they do not realize the depth or significance of the questions they raise. Here is how I imagine it: eventually, my wife and I will tire of answering our sons endless list of questions. What will happen is that his questions will be answered by “it just is that way,” or “because I said so.” For children, these answers are often sufficient. We do not need to provide any further explanation. If a child wonders why she cannot stick a fork into an electrical outlet, we do not need to explain how electricity functions. All we need to do at the time is to tell the child not to stick the fork in the outlet because it is dangerous and harmful to the child.
As children grow into adults, there becomes the need to explain things in greater detail. It gets to the point where the answer “because I said so” is no longer a sufficient answer. Sometimes, young people need to know why—not simply what to do or what not to do. A true explanation can lead to a greater understanding and appreciation for why regulations and safeguards are put in place to begin with. Why should I love people that are cruel to me? Why should I not sleep around? Why should I treat others fairly? Sure, the Bible says I should or should not do these things. But is God just trying to get me to jump through hoops? Or is there are deeper reason why, and can we learn it from studying the Scriptures?
My fear is that we, as Christians, are content to simply to give “because the Bible says so” answers to both other Christians and those who do not share our faith. There is a certain sense in which we can only understand so much, and when God does something or commands something, we simply do it without question. But that isn’t necessarily what I’m talking about. My fear is that we do not attempt to understand our faith—perhaps out of laziness—and therefore we understand our faith very little. We read something in a book, hear something on TV, see a quote on Facebook, and we accept it without any reflection. Our theology becomes a collection of things we’ve gathered here and there, and if we’re honest, we’ve never really taken it very seriously.
But we desperately need theology. Speaking practically, knowing theology matters is because it influences the way in which we live our lives (or so it should). Having taught Sunday school and small groups for several years now (and having been involved in these things for as long as I remember), I have found that we often teach each other ethics (what you should do, or how you should live), without much of a theological basis. The truth of the matter is that you cannot have a firm ethical system without theological roots. In other words, once you take God out of the equation, you lose any hope you have of a stable foundation. Your ethical system becomes relative to your own opinion. You need roots. Without theology you lack roots. Many of the ethical principles that I was taught in the church were rootless. It was simply “Do not do this because the Bible says so.” And I believe that this attributed much to my rejection of Christianity as a high school and college student, and paved the way for my agnosticism. It was rootless. It was simply “don’t do this,” without any explanation of why it matters, or why God might not want us to do these things.
Here is what I think happens. So much of our Christian teaching is just pureed vegetables. It’s great for children. We tell them that God loves them and that Jesus came down from heaven for them and that they should love one another and tell one another about Jesus and share their toys. This is good. But I get the feeling that sometimes this is as far as we go in our understanding as adults. We’re content with pureed vegetables. Probably because that is all we’ve ever known.
But I think that if we are going to make disciples (as is the point of the Great Commission in Matt. 28), then we need to move beyond pureed vegetables. We need to be serious students of the Bible—not simply to know more information, but because the information matters, and we need to be able to understand the roots and the foundation of this information. It should change the way we view God, ourselves, and each other. It should change the way that we live and think. It should change the way we handle worry and stress and whatever difficulties life throws our way. Notice of course that I say that it “should.” It is one thing to know something, and another thing to apply that knowledge. Let me admit that this is one of—if not my biggest—struggles. But the point remains that you cannot effectively make the correct changes in your thinking and in your life if you do not have the correct knowledge. Furthermore, you will not even know how to defend your faith when it is under attack (as it will be, if not already), if you do not even understand the faith that you have. We want to be able to understand our faith because it changes the way that we do life. Instead of having someone puree our faith and spoon feed it to us, we need to know how to grow our own vegetables, and we need to know how to teach others to grow their own vegetables. This is a communal effort, but it is an effort nonetheless.
Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself:
Am I making an attempt to understand God and the Scriptures?
Do I care about understanding my faith?
Do I want to know more?
Does my theology have a foundation and a root system, or am I living off of pureed vegetables? Am I okay with this? How can I change this?
Is my life aligning with my theology?
(Thoughts? Comments? Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org)