by Mike Wittmer
I learned today that a prominent evangelical pastor warned in a sermon that we must not let our theology get in the way of our love. I didn’t hear the message myself, as I rarely listen to podcasts besides “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” and “Planet Money.” But I trust my friend who told me, and even if he heard wrong, it’s a sentiment I hear often.
I’m always shocked to hear pastors warn against theology, because it amounts to an act of self-sabotage. Theology is all we’ve got, so we can no more be against theology than the George Foreman grill can be against meat. Take away either the meat or the theology, and all that’s left is hot air.
I understand how bad theology can get in the way of our love. In fact, if it’s bad theology then it must. But good theology is simply God’s view about creation, humanity, sin, salvation, sex, and so forth. To the extent that what we say about any of these things lines up with what God says, to that extent we have good doctrine. This right thinking about God and his world must prompt us to love both God and his world, or either we don’t yet really understand or we’re willfully blind sinners, or both.
The Bible nowhere suggests that good theology can hinder love. Paul spends the first half of his letters expounding good theology. When he transitions to application in the second half, he never warns that some of that good stuff he mentioned up front might now become a hazard. And neither should we.
I suspect the pastor believes there is something wrong with our theology, but since he was addressing the issue of homosexual practice, he was afraid of offending his conservative listeners. So he conceded that our theology is good. But he also wanted to keep his progressive crowd, so he said that love rather than doctrine is the important thing.
What he forgot, or counted on us forgetting, is that we don’t even know what love is apart from theology. John wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Those are theological statements. Like all good theology, they lead us to love. That love may be misunderstood and slandered, as Jesus’ was. But it remains the purest form of love, because it started with God.
When we study this God of love, we’re doing theology. Theology is not an obstacle to love, but as 1 John repeatedly says, it’s the only way we can.