Bad Theology Is No Excuse

James was walking with his professor who also served as the chaplain in the university. The professor encouraged the 18-year-old student to read theology. James was not really interested.
I explained to him that I would rather not, since theology was bad for one’s soul. … as sad experience shows bad theology infects the heart with misbelief and unbelief… Many who ran well have been progressively paralyzed through ingesting bad theology… ‘Nonsense!’ exploded he, with what may have been the loudest snort in history; ‘theology’s the queen of sciences!’ [1]
James wisely followed his professor’s advice. He later on became a theologian. 

J.I. Packer. Image credit
When he announced recently the end of his speaking and writing ministry due macular degeneration or vision loss, James Innel Packer, or more popularly known as J.I. Packer, wrote “more than 300 books, journal articles, book reviews, dictionary entries, and innumerable forewords”. [2] 

Last February 2005, TIME magazine named him as one of The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America. 

[Packer], an Oxford-trained theologian, claimed the [Theological Traffic Cop] role informally with his 1973 book, Knowing God, which outlined a conservative Christian theology deeper and more embracing than many Americans had encountered. It did real justice to hard topics such as suffering and grace. ... That appeal led to Packer's current role as a doctrinal Solomon whose pronouncements as executive editor at the magazine Christianity Today exert influence beyond its 340,000 readers. Mediating debates on everything from a particular Bible translation to the acceptability of free-flowing Pentecostal spirituality, Packer helps unify a community that could easily fall victim to its internal tensions. [3]
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He’s now 89 years old. His classic “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” remains one of my favorite books. In his foreword in a handbook of doctrines, he wrote about his wrong attitude regarding theology. 
Corruptio optimi pessima (corruption of what is best is the worst); nevertheless, abusus non tollit usum (misuse does not take away right use). Thankfully I record that by God’s mercy I saw in due course that I have been talking through my hat, and I followed classics with theology, after all—a move that I never regretted, and would not hesitate to recommend to anyone’s else. [4]
In fact, he himself showed how good theology strengthened his heart with the right, strong belief. In spite of his degenerating eyesight, he remains stable.
God knows what he’s doing… God knows what he’s up to… And I’ve had enough experiences of his goodness in all sorts of ways not to have any doubt about the present circumstances. … Some good, something for his glory, is going to come out of it. [5]
Though the issue of divine sovereignty in view of human responsibility has long perplexed theologians throughout the centuries, his outlook about his condition proves that good theology is actually good for one’s soul. 


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That is also why when we are mentoring or discipling somebody, let us encourage that person to read theology. Who knows? He might become the next J.I. Packer! To discourage him or her from doing so because of our sad experience with the wrong use of theology or even because we would rather have practical messages,” we are doing a grave disservice to our Lord. 
If you explain these things to the brothers and sisters, Timothy, you will be a worthy servant of Christ Jesus, one who is nourished by the message of faith and the good teaching you have followed. ... Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:6, 15-16, NLT. Emphasis added.)
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Thus, bad theology is not an excuse. It actually underscores the need for good theology. 

To paraphrase C.S Lewis, “Good theology must exist, if for no other reason, because bad theology needs to be answered.”

[1] Bruce Milne, Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1982), 5.

[2] Ivan Mesa (14 January 2016), “J. I. Packer, 89, On Losing Sight But Seeing Christ,” The Gospel Coalition, retrieved from http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/. Emphasis added.

[3] TIME Staff (7 February 2005), J.I. Packer in The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America,TIME, retrieved from http://content.time.com/. Italics theirs.

[4] Milne. Italics his. Emphasis added.

[5] Mesa.

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