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Do You Need to Know Theology to Know Jesus?

I saw this recently on a friend’s Facebook page. It’s one of those sayings that looks good at first, but if you think it through, you begin to realize that its not as good as you initially thought.

I’ll prove it:

Proposition 1: Theology is the study of God.

Proposition 2: God is Love.

Ergo, Theology is the study of love.

One cannot reveal Jesus without an understanding of Theology. Perhaps more precisely, acts of love don’t reveal Christ unless a person understands theology.Conversely, one does not truly understand how to love unless one understands theology.

For example, a business owner may treat their employees with love, but either he nor his emoloyees believe in Jesus. But because I know theology, I can clearly see Jesus in their interactions.

Having said this, Mr. Mattson is making a very important observation, one that all of us Theology geeks need to listen to. I read some of his material, and I find myself agreeing with much of what he says. The book the quote comes from is called the Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ, and it sounds a lot to me like the problem we have- that we teach Theology in a way that does not apply to the average Christian. We teach theology in a way that does not show us the love of God.

How many times have you listened to a Theology talk, but never thought of how it is connected to love? The talk was simply some esoteric collection of facts that seems to have no impact in your own life. Mr. Mattson is correct in that if you want to know Jesus, the average theology geek is ironically not likely to help you much.

But the problem is as much with the average Christian as it is with the theologian. In the homily I heard this year for the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, Father talked about how the Trinity is a mystery, and so instead of trying to understand the mystery, we should just love. But the question that haunts us is “what is love?” and the the answer the question can only be found through understanding what is a trinity. And trinity is all around us. Every act of love begins with one person, is brought to fruition by a second, and is done in a certain holy spirit. God is love because he is a community in which the Father initiates the act of love, the Son brings the act of love to fruition, and they do so in the Holy Spirit. Every act of love is an analogy for God.

To know about someone and to know someone are intimately connected, although one can know about someone or something without knowing them.

For instance, growing up, I loved learning about the ocean. I watched documentaries and read books and magazine articles on the ocean.I learned about the animals and plants and plankton, about the currents and the deep sea vents and so much more. I knew a lot about the ocean. Yet I’ve only been to the ocean a handful of times and I’ve been in the ocean twice. Once I was just swimming, and once I was scuba diving. So I know about the ocean, but I don’t know the ocean.

We can compare my experience with a pacific islander who relies on the ocean for his livelyhood. It’s where he gets much of his food, and he probably can dive deep down and hold his breath for more than a minute. He can perhaps even sail a canoe to a distant island he cannot see merely by his understanding of the currents. He may not know about the migrations of sea turtles or the Mid-Atlantic currents or the deep sea thermal vents, but he does know his part of the ocean intimately. So he knows the ocean.

But we can also compare him to the famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, who I enjoyed watching as a child. Cousteau knew a great deal about the ocean by studying what others knew but also spending a great deal of time in it himself. He traveled all over the world on his ship, the Calypso, and was snorkel and scuba diving everywhere he went. He knew about the ocean and he knew the ocean, and his knowing about the ocean was not a thing easily separated from his knowing the ocean, and both proceeded from his love of the ocean. Oceanology was not an interest for Cousteau, but a love affair.

A person may study theology and yet never have a relationship with God. One might on the other hand be a pious soul who prays diligently but who never learns theology. And one might be a pious soul who learns theology to understand the God whom they have a relationship with.

God understands you. He is the ultimate anthropologist. But more than that, he is interested in each person as a unique individual. Thus, we might say that he is the ultimate Matt-ologist, the ultimate Susie-ologist, the ultimate Mary-ologist and so on. Because a true “ologist” is someone in love with the things that they are studying. Knowing somebody without knowing about them is silly. It is true that one can know about a person without knowing them, but one can also know a person without knowing about them. And yet I don't think that one can say one real knows a person without knowing about them; Knowing who a person is without knowing their favorite food or childhood stories or their taste in movies is really not knowing them at all.

In dance, the leader and the follower often know about each other prior to knowing each other. That is, the science of dancing is necessary to truly know one another as dancers. I may have just met this follower for the first time, yet in the second I put my hand on her back and feel the connection, I can tell that we understand one another, because we understand the science of dance. Having mastered the science of knowing about dancers, the act of knowing each my dance partner has become a forgone conclusion. In the same way, knowledge of God is necessary for us to dance with him. It is necessary for us to understand him to follow his lead. We can be like the theology geek who knows all sorts of facts about God but does not have a relationship with him. We can be like the pious Christian who talks to God all the time but has no idea what God is saying back. Or we can be a theologian and understand what God is leading.

One does not need a theology degree to be a theologian. St. Therese of Lisieux is a doctor of the church, yet she never finished high School. She was a theologian whose theology came out of her relationship with Christ. She was able to follow Christ so well because she always was trying to follow him better, which impelled her to understand him better. She studied other followers of Christ but also studied her relationship with him until she became a master at following him herself.

So this I would say this to Mr. Mattson: Show me someone who knows and loves Christ, and I will show you a master theologian.


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