We often see a disconnect between what we know about God and the spiritual realities that affect or don’t affect our lives. Many people are not convinced by the truth and promises presented in the Bible. One person can come to know much about God in theory completely void of its effects while another person can come to experience the spiritual realities of life without any discernment of the truth. Both are led to a disastrous end.
Yet, theology ought to clarify and enrich our spirituality and our spirituality ought to confirm and strengthen our theology. By theology, I am referring to our study and understanding of God and His truths in the Bible. By spirituality, I am referring specifically to our perspective, approach and experience of God in our lives. I believe it to be true that you cannot have one without the other.
To separate theology and spirituality is to misunderstand, and even damage, both.Dr. Kelly Kapic,
A Little Book for New Theologians (2012)
The Heart of Theology
1 Corinthians 8 is a clear example of the heart of theology revealed in spirituality. Proper theology allows a person to know that eating foods offered to idols is not a problem. If theology was separated from spirituality, this person might live by this principle and find greater obligation to live out this truth and address, teach and rebuke those who think otherwise. If spirituality was separated from theology, this person may believe that the idols to which the foods were offered was just another form of God and give thanks to such a God for the food without ever discerning God from idols.
However, the uniting of theology and spirituality leads one to a maturity of faith. The heart of theology is expressed in our spirituality when we are led to consider other believers who may stumble if we partake in foods offered to idols. And in considering those who may not yet understand or grasp theology, we would not partake in these things at all for the sake of their faith.
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.1 Corinthians 8:1-3
It is interesting to note that there is a knowledge without love which does not build up others. And those with this kind of knowledge, no matter how right, does not know as they ought to know. There is a way we ought to know, a way we ought to understand theology that directly relates with our love for God that results in being known by God. In this we recognize that there is something beyond knowing God. It is to love God and be known by Him.
In separating theology from spirituality, we lose the heart of God and we lose our love for God. Our faith either becomes legalistic and rigid in thought or useless in constant contradiction of thought and action.
The Pharisees’ Contradiction
The division of spirituality and theology can also be seen in the Pharisees in the Gospel of Mark Chapter 2 and 3 who followed the law to its strictest sense but lost the heart of God and could not see it themselves.
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.Mark 3:1-6
They could not see that their hearts were marked with corrupt theology in their plot to accuse Jesus and destroy him even on that Sabbath day as they clung onto the traditions and customs developed by the application of the law. And in their silence, Jesus looked around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart.
Here, Jesus shows the unity of spirituality and theology. His anger towards the Pharisees was not fueled by a desire to undermine them or destroy them but to uphold the holiness and goodness of God who had made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath and bring them to repentance. But because their hearts were hardened to the truth, he grieved at their hardness of heart. Genuine theology grieves at the hardened heart.
Theology + Spirituality
To avoid the danger of dividing spirituality and theology, we must root our spirituality upon a solid foundation of theology. And for theology to have any meaning or value in our lives, we must walk in obedience to it. Theology comes alive in our spirituality similarly as faith comes alive through our actions. As it is written in James 2:20, “…faith apart from works is useless.” And we must also constantly come back to the Gospel. The undeserved grace of God to save sinners such as us humbles us all. It is this full understanding of the Gospel that invites us to know God and not just know something about Him.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
The purpose of theology must remain firm. If theology does not yield greater affections for God and my neighbors, if it does not yield the fruit of greater intimacy with Christ and conformity to Him, our theology is corrupted. Our theology becomes meaningless without its affects on our spirituality. And in the contradictions of theology to our spirituality, our spirituality becomes a playing with fire without proper understanding of how to handle the flames. Not in the sense that we can ever handle the fire but rather for us to live in the fullness of joy and love as we obey and are handled by God.