The last two years have been a whirlwind. It’s been 20 months since my last blog post on this site, and life looks remarkably different. Some of it’s been good (published one book with another currently undergoing the editing process before its release in 2021, a new ministry at an incredible church), and some of it not so great (a painful and sudden ending to a 14-year ministry, living through a global pandemic).
Here’s something I can say I’ve learned: I really do believe my theology.
During the lowest points, my faith in the sovereign goodness of God held my life together. I’m no perfect exemplar of faith, but I have experienced the power of having good theology. It holds you up when you feel like everything else is crumbling. And when your thoughts and heart stray, your own theology rebukes you and calls you back to faith. Over the course of these last 20 months, the Lord has graciously sustained my faith to help me live my theology.
Professed vs Actual Theology
For many of us, our professed theology and our actual theology aren’t the same. By “professed theology,” I’m talking about those theological truths that we affirm with our minds. These are statements about God, the world, humanity, and salvation that we hold up and say, “This is what I believe.” But our “actual theology” consists of those theological truths that guide our daily lives. For instance, if someone who knows you well was asked to write what you truly believe about prayer, God’s goodness, the power of grace, the importance of biblical authority, etc. – would their descriptions of your actual theology align with your professed theology?
One of the greatest areas where I’ve seen this disagreement take place is around the authority of Scripture. Many Christians who profess faith in the authority of the Bible (“it is the Word of God and all truths must be measured according to Scripture”) actually marginalize the Bible in their evangelism. This happens when Christians believe their nonbelieving friends aren’t ready for the Bible yet because it’s over their heads. So instead, they look for more relevant or engaging books. This is a functional denial of the person’s professed theology. If the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, why would it ever be a good idea to withhold God’s Word from someone who is spiritually dead? Good, clear books about the gospel and evidences for Christianity are helpful to give nonbelievers; but not as a replacement of the Bible.
For pastors, the question is a risky one: If someone evaluated your ministry in order to determine what your core theological convictions are, would they match your stated theology? I suspect, many self-proclaimed Calvinists would be described as functional Arminians, but that’s a topic for another post. Realigning one’s ministry to match their theology could cost them their job.
Trials Reveal Our Theology
These past two years have shown me how much I need to trust in the sovereign goodness of the Lord. Life can change so quickly. It’s good (and wise!) to plan and be prepared for the days to come. But remember that your control is much less than you realize. This is one of the central tenets of Reformed Theology: God is sovereign over all things and he is full of grace for towards his children. I have preached, spoken, and written extensively about this message. This year I’ve experienced this message’s comforting truthfulness.
The trials and victories of life reveal so much about who we really are. Where do we turn for comfort and hope? Is prayer a treasured response, or a last resort? Do I believe God owes me his blessing, or can I praise him from the valley of the shadow of death? These are real-life issues that lift the cover of our faith.
When moments of clarity strike that reveal the differences between your professed and actual theology, don’t avoid them because it’s uncomfortable. Lean in, and grapple with the question, “What do I really believe?” Pray, repent, and believe the power of God’s grace to sanctify you. Then, live your theology.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!”