You may be aware of the debate that’s happening now on the nature of the Trinity. In short, some theologians disagree on whether God the Son is eternally subordinate to God the Father. Christianity Today has a summary of the issue and how it’s unfolded.
It’s tempting to think that pastors don’t need to worry about this debate. Let the scholars trade insults, and let the pastors focus on the work of ministry. I’d like to suggest, though, that pastors need to pay attention to this debate for at least three reasons.
Theology matters. Nobody’s put it better than A.W. Tozer:
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.
For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.
It’s easy to think that debates like this don’t matter. But this debate is about the very nature of God himself. Ideas have consequences. What we think about God has importance in itself, but it also has implications and consequences for life and ministry.
The Nicene Creed says:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
A quick reading misses the precision and beauty of this statement. It was written in the middle of a theological debate on the nature of Christ, and expresses theology in a way that’s beautiful and that counters heresy.
As Christianity Today points out, debates like this help the Church continue to clarify its theology. It helps us avoid heresy, which is an ever-present threat to the Church.
We Need to Grow as Theologians
I’m a pastor and a church planter. I feel way out of my depth in debates like this, and that’s a good thing. It reminds me that I need to continue to learn. It makes me want to be more careful in how I preach and teach. Pastors are, after all, public theologians.
Mark Jones tweeted:
If pastors are driven to become better theologians through debates like this, then we will have gained something valuable indeed.