“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Revelation 2:4
One of the well-known pitfalls of studying theology is the possibility of treating it as an end in itself, rather than as means to an end. The goal of theology, the study of God, should be doxology, the worship of God. When we treat theology as an end, simply the acquisition of doctrinal knowledge, theological pride becomes a very real danger. Additionally, should theological pride be avoided (which is ever-present), another danger exists. Doctrinal knowledge apart from Doxological practice is bound to deaden the heart’s affections toward God.
Because of the recent resurgence of interest in the Reformers, the doctrines of grace, etc., particularly among 20 and 30-somethings, the net for this trap has been cast far and wide. While certainly any so-called denomination or group can easily fall prey to this, it seems most prevalent among those who hold claim to hold to reformed theology. Once the Scriptures have been opened to illuminate the mind to the sovereignty of God over all things including, particularly or perhaps especially, the salvation of sinners, the flesh is easily tempted to revel in newfound knowledge that others have yet to learn. Thus the trap for theological pride is set.
However, as we alluded to earlier, there is another trap, perhaps more deadly because it has less to do theological debates or waxing eloquently on this or that doctrine and everything to do with the affections of the heart towards God.
In his book, Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, John Owen comments specifically on this danger
“It is unimaginable how the subtile [sic] disquisitions and disputes of men about the nature, properties and counsels of God, have been corrupted, rendered sapless and useless, by vain curiosity, and striving for an artificial accuracy in the expression of men’s apprehensions. When the wits and minds of men are engaged in such thoughts, ‘God is not in all their thoughts,’ even when all their thoughts are concerning him. When once men are got into their metaphysical curiosities and logical niceties in their contemplations about God and his divine properties, they bid farewell, for the most part, unto all godly fear and reverence.”
When we divorce doxology from theology we engage in nothing more than an exercise of the flesh; it’s not only futile, but it’s sinful. Studying theology is good, but it is good because it gives us a better understanding of the nature of God and His Son Jesus Christ, which ultimately leads us to worship of God.
Despite recent attempts to marginalize and discount their value, the Puritans were the quintessential pattern for how theology leads to doxology. They were often described as fire and ice. They had running through their veins the ice of doctrinal precision and steadfastness in the face of opposition along with the burning fire of affection for God that boiled in the bowels of their soul.
Below is further exhortation on the dangers particularly facing the young and reformed. There, Paul Washer suggests a safeguard to avoiding them, namely the increase of prayer.