“[Calvin] was more pastor than theologian, that, to be exact, he was a theologian in order to be a better pastor.” – John T. McNeill
Of all the things I’ve learned in the past couple of years, it hasn’t simply been more aspects of systematic theology, or a deeper, broader understanding of covenant theology, or getting a deeper sense of the larger, redemptive view of scripture given in biblical theology, or seeing the truth of and studying deeper on the sacraments as means of grace that has done my heart the most good, though it all certainly has in abundant ways. The deepest impact that has been made on me personally, in my own relationship with Christ, has been practical theology or what could even be called affectional theology. How does all of that theology meet real life? And how can it all be made accessible?
Specifically, the biggest impact has been how all of the aforementioned, and more, brings Christ, His person and work, by His Spirit, to my aching heart and those whom the Lord has brought near me. Affectional theology connects back so much with what Augustine speaks of concerning our desires and how our loves dictate action. And if this studying of theology is disconnected from our love and affection for Christ, the result can be, by way of example, a seminary student shipwrecking his marriage in the service of his studies, as a result of being disconnected from fellowship with Christ and letting the theology kindle his affections for Him, and by necessity, his wife as an overflow of his heart being filled to the brim with grace.
Too often the academic, and at times the theoretical, speculative, or conjectural side of theology can certainly intrigue the mind and yet, if not coupled to prayer, repentance, resting in Him like a child, and a devotional life of being fed by Christ through the means of grace, can all leave you dry and somewhat dead to what it points to, namely rest and joy in Christ. To be sure, at some point in my personal studies of theology, I recognized this tendency, where you could study it and know it and yet be unchanged by it. It had the potential to be merely head knowledge for its own sake, which amounts to pride. Such was the fate of Nicodemus, the Teacher of Israel, who didn’t understand how desperate his need was, as was preached on this past Sunday.
However, the importance of always keeping the practical as the end goal has been highlighted for me, ministering the gospel to hurting souls (my soul even) in order that it not merely become head knowledge, but knowledge in order to love Christ and show Him forth more clearly. Just as Calvin’s end goal was becoming a better pastor, dispersing the salve of the gospel by His word to those who so desperately need it (namely, all of us), so also our goal in the pursuit of theology has to be for the end of pouring ourselves out in the service of others, in both spiritual and tangible ways, that they would see the brightness of His grace and thus be changed.