It’s about 11:00 PM Saturday night. After a productive weekend in Orlando I’m looking forward to being home tomorrow afternoon. But tonight I’m thinking about church. One thing I appreciate about the local church (alongside the coffee, godly friends, and a well-stocked bookstore) is the chance to learn theology together. In the kindness of God’s curriculum for my soul, I can recount a number of times in my life that reading a particular theological work on a particular topic coincided with a sermon. For me many of these “coincidences” were the moments when the theology, once only engrafted in paper, spread wings and lifted off the 17th century page and animated to life like some dusty Aztec cave opening its secret treasure with the push of a hidden button in an Indiana Jones movie.
During these sermons the theology clicked and sticked.
This is true of the most monumental sermons early in my Christian life. I’ll never forget Pastor Phil Green’s sermon on John 10:1-21 (Jesus the Good Shepherd). It was in that message that the sovereignty of God in salvation became clear and I from thence was happy to be identified as a Reformed, Calvinist, Anti-Pelagian, Soteriological Augustinian, Biblical Predestination-ite-er. Whatever label you want, from then on I was formally consenting with a man (Calvin) whose theology is said to drive men insane (according to Chesterton).
But my convictions were forged (and are sustained) not ultimately due to the fact that I was reading Calvin’s Institutes or Boettner’s Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. I saw the truth of scripture laid plain in an expositional sermon at church. There the secondary literature clicked and sticked.
And this was true later on in my Christian life when I heard Rick Gamache preach a sermon on God’s adopting grace or when Joshua Harris preached a message on Christ uniting all things in Himself. The list could go on.
My point is that I think this is the way I think our Savior intends for me to learn theology—together with others. Not (as I often think) as an over-caffeinated bibliophile at a round table in Starbucks and with wires curving from my ears as if I could attempt to manufacture an audiological deserted island (or shack) to learn about God. It’s not that reading alone is wrong, it’s just that I often place an over-exaggerated hope that in secret I will discover the most effective place for the truths of scripture to click and stick.
Should we read and learn and study on our own? Yes, of course. But our anticipation should be awaiting how God will affirm what we’re reading as we gather together as a local church to learn truth and have our souls fed. And this is especially true as we seek to discover the depths of God’s love revealed in the cross. I pray that we “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).
For this understanding of Christ’s love we need more than our own table in Starbucks. We need God to bless us with corporate strength and unity (Eph. 3:18). We anticipate Sunday because it’s in the church that he has called us to learn theology together.