Why Teens (And All of Us) Need Theology

Copy of We Have a Better Story

We want our Christianity to be alive. We live in a world full of bright explosions, flipping numbers, and urgent calls from everywhere–our world is in chaos, and we feel the urgency to do something. There is so much to do, so we want our faith to be powerful, moving, and deeply felt.

So when theology comes up, we might sigh. When discussions about inerrancy or impeccability or any other long i-word comes up, we shrug or settle back into that resigned place inside, holding tension low in our chests and low resentment in our eyes, because it doesn’t seem pertinent.

The word “theology” calls to mind stacks of books, ancient bearded men, and words that you have to dig to the bottom of the dictionary to find. Theology sounds like Latin and smells like dust; stifling any life beneath old, rigid machines that are too clunky for today.

It isn’t for us. Maybe intellectuals can hit ideas back and forth about canonization, and maybe our pastor should understand something about inspiration and inerrancy–but those things aren’t really pertinent to our day-to-day life.

But we’re looking at this all wrong. For teens who want a living, powerful faith that impacts the world, we need theology–and more than every before.

1: You Already Have A Theology

Our eyes might glaze over when we hear the word “theology,” but they do the same when we hear “dihydrogen monoxide”–yet we use both every day. Just as we daily use water without recognizing its scientific name, so we daily use theology without recognizing it.

“Theology” literally means “the knowledge of God,” and includes almost everything we think about God an our faith. Our theology is what we think about God, and what we think about God colors the rest of our day-to-day lives.

Theology includes our morals, what we think is right and wrong. Is it ok to cheat on a test? Is it ok to have an abortion to further my career? Is it wrong to fantasize about my girlfriend, since it doesn’t hurt anyone? Our decisions on right and wrong are shaped by our theology–how much does God know, and what does he want us to do and think?

Theology is also tied to our purpose, what God has made us for. Does God have a specific, detailed, personalized plan for my life? Which college should I go to? How should I use my talents? Should I start a relationship? Which clubs should I join? Our plans for the future and current choices are shaped by our theology–what is God’s nature, and his plan for what we do and think?

And of course, theology speaks to the practical side of our faith. How should I pray? Does God really answer prayers? Why do bad things happen; why do I hurt? How do I know the Spirit is leading in my life? Is the Bible written specifically for me? Our faith is shaped by our theology–who is God, and what should we do and think to properly worship him?

These are questions everyone has to answer.

All people have a standard for what is right and wrong, and have an idea of the purpose of their lives. We all have to make things make sense in our heads. Our answers might not be the correct answers, but we must have ones nonetheless. What we think about God (aka, theology) affects all those answers, and those answers affect all our actions. Theology is something we already encounter every day, and everyone has their own theology, regardless of whether or not they recognize it or if it is correct.

Since all the world has a theology, if we want to change the world for Christ, shouldn’t we have a clue of what Christian theology teaches?

2: Theology Keeps You From Error

“Stand for something, or you’ll fall from anything.” If you don’t have your own theology, the world will give you one.

There’s several popular t.v. shows currently that present God as an aloof, rather unfair and fairly incompetent deity. He’s out of touch with modern times, refuses to let people into the Good Place, and can’t really figure out how to make everything work the way it should. That’s a theology. That’s an idea about God and his nature. And while not all theologies of the world are as obvious as that, we must be careful that we don’t let wrong ideas about God shape our views.

There’s a rising movement that wants to use she/her pronouns for God–and it can be easy to shrug our shoulders and say, “Why not?” People make arguments for why Hell isn’t real, why Christ was the first created being, or why we should read the Bible just for moral lessons–and while we might feel that these arguments are wrong, without a proper theology, we won’t be able to quite put our finger on why.

You may never have a conversation with the word “neo-orthodoxy” in it–but you’ll likely have a conversation about whether God is most importantly an experience, something you need to feel to be truly real; or whether there are actual truths and facts about God that we must know, and that are true for everyone. People won’t claim “neo-orthodoxy,” but they’ll claim offshoots of it ideas as they argue that all religions are the same, or that they “just need Jesus, not church.”

These are issues that we face every day. Theology deals with the same topics we discuss with our friends–it just uses bigger words. We need to understand it.

Take one of the most common issues against our faith. We need to understand the inspiration of Scripture–how God wrote the Bible through human authors, without using them as puppets to dictate to, and also without allowing them to add in the wrong ideas of their times–so that we can be sure of the inerrancy of Scripture–that it has no errors or wrong facts in the original copies. Our schools and forums argue that the Bible is full of errors and contradictions. Do you know the Christian arguments for why it isn’t?

Theology serves as Batman’s utility-belt for the Christian. It’s been developed through centuries of challenges against the truth and nature of God, and it’s now available for you to utilize. But if you don’t know it, you can’t use it. Even the flimsiest of arguments against the truth may sway you if you don’t know the mighty towers standing against it. For one who doesn’t see the army behind him, two men with swords are enough to frighten him.

So know your true strength. Your faith won’t be alive if it’s strangled by the world’s ideas of God. Learn theology, and “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

3: Theology Makes Your Love For God Alive

We often shy away from theology as something that is dull and boring, just facts about God that will dry up our passion. And that can be true, if we’re seeking knowledge simply for knowledge’s sake. But really, learning theology should help us seek a relationship. Jen Wilken, speaking on women digging deeper into God, pointed out, “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.”

Knowledge is needed in a relationship. As you’re dating someone, you’re seeking to know them. I ask my boyfriend about his thoughts on topics, what he cares about, and what he hates–not to gather enough information to define him in an encyclopedia, but because I want to be in a relationship with him, and know who he is. Shouldn’t it be the same with God? When we interact with strangers, we ask them questions about their work or homes to show we care about them as people. Shouldn’t we extend the same courtesy to God?

When we know more about God, it brings us closer to Him, giving us more to delight in.

When we see better how He is outside of time, we can better be in awe of how he takes time for us. When we understand better how he gave and preserved his Word through the Bible, we can better rejoice in the fact that we have a God who comes and talks to us. When we see more clearly his glory and his majesty, we like both Isaiah and John, may better fall on our faces, declaring that he only is worthy of all praise and honor and glory.

As teens, theology isn’t something that we often consider or are taught. But we need it. It permeates our life and our choices, it keeps us from errors, and it helps us to delight in God. Theology is the knowledge of God, and we need to know him. That’s what we were designed to do, to walk by him day by day, better understanding him as we do.

And we’re not doing this alone. You’re not the only one in this relationship. As you seek to understand and know God better, he’s coming closer too. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

Whether you’re a teen, a millennial, or part of the older generation, we all need to draw near to God. So let’s do the hard thing, and learn theology, knowing God better so that we may also understand ourselves, our purpose, and our world. Learn theology, and learn to know God. Only through knowing him can we find strength to fight the wrongs of the world, only through knowing him can we understand our place, and only through knowing him can we hold out hope to the world. Learn theology, and have your faith be alive.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

 

 

This article was posted in its original form on TheRebelution

The Ocean, Outer Space, and The Overwhelmingness of God

TheOceanOuterSpaceOverwhelmingnessofGod.png

There are some things we love that are too big for us.

The sea and the sky, the waves and the stars, the pearls below and the planets above–these two have always been my loves. They’re close and familiar to me; they feel of warm soles slapping against grey boardwalk planks, and of neck upstretched to see it all spread out at night. Yet they’re far and distant too, both ever stretching out of reach, out of sight, with islands and planets and worlds far away to explore.

These two are my loves, and they have been since I was young. I’m a child of the sea and the sky, a Navy daughter and a pilot’s child, exploring the aquarium in my childhood mornings and soaking up NASA documentaries at night. These two, so close and so far away, each hold a strange attraction for the astronauts and the sea sailors and for every one they touch. They are vast, they are beautiful–there are waves dancing and stars twirling and we wonder. We turn our eyes out far to sea, we turn our lenses out far to space, ever curious, ever looking, ever surprised and in awe.

Because it’s glorious what we glimpse. Continue reading

Christian, Stop Dehydrating Yourself

The worst place to die of thirst must be the ocean.

“Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink,” says the old poem, and it’s an apt description of the situation. Stranded in a small boat, with not canteen of fresh water, you’re surrounded by miles and miles of water–but none of it does you any good.

Ocean water isn’t fit for drinking. The salt in it dehydrates you, drying you out from the inside out. Drinking it won’t hydrate you–it’ll do the opposite, and absorb your life away. The sea mixed with salt can’t help you. You can scoop it, splash in it, and even swim in it–but none of it will quench your thirst.

The worst place to be thirsty is in the middle of the ocean–and the worst place to be thirsty for God’s Word is in Bible class.

After all, you’re surrounded with Scripture. You can scoop up verses in class, splash about in it during discussions, and swim deeply in it for papers. But sometimes, none of that really does you any good. You’re still thirsty. Because you’re not really drinking fresh water. Because the water of the Word is mixed with the salt of second-hand. And if you’re not careful, it can dry your spiritual life out Continue reading

We Have a Better Story Than Game of Thrones

We Have a Better Story

“It’s a great story. It has sex, violence, a whole lot of money, and it’s full of good-looking people. What more do you need?”

My head jerked up at the words, not quite sure my car-trip-dozing ears had heard the radio correctly. But I hadn’t misheard.

The radio continued on talking of the release of the final season of a popular show, that everyone was excited about, that everyone was talking about–oblivious to the fact that it had just dropped a profound revelation encapsulating our culture. (Regardless of whether or not you agree that its description of the show is accurate.) Here, on this solemn channel of BBC, a serious professor declared that all a good story needs is sex, violence, money, and attractive people. That’s it. That’s all the story needs. Continue reading

We Can’t Go Back to Our Childhoods–But Maybe That’s a Good Thing

kelly-sikkema-203594-unsplash

“I wish we could be 10-years old again–back when we played as little princesses and life was simple and easy.” My friend sighed wistfully as she said it, and my heart echoed the sentiment. We were discussing the myriad of different challenges and choices in life, and she was a little overwhelmed by it all.

Haven’t we all felt the same at some point? There was a time long ago when we were young, when everything was beautiful. We were sure everything would be simple and easy; we were convinced everything would work out alright. But we’re grown now, and we’re not quite so sure anymore.

Because as life went on, it also became harder. Dreams have died. Loved ones have been ripped away too early. We’ve stumbled and fallen. Life is no longer full of play and enjoyment; there are decisions to be made–big, life-altering ones–and we’ve known failure enough to fear its coming again. We’ve let love in, only to let it wound us, and are left wondering if we’ll ever find it at all. We’ve lost friendships and trust, and wonder if in a way we’ve also lost us.

Because we’re not those happy little children anymore. Growing up is hard, and we bear the evidence that we’ve learned that through experience. Our toy crowns are long gone, our shoes are scuffed and scraped, and our eyes have seen some tears. And sometimes we wish it all away, that none of this had ever happened, and that we could go back to being those children again.

But maybe it’s a better thing, to be more than merely innocent.

Continue reading

4 Things To Remember When Your Spiritual Life Stalls

4 things to remember when your spiritual life stalls

I’d love to travel on a sailboat. To hang out over the railing, the wind whipping the rigging, flying fast and free over the foamy blue. Sun, salt, and sea-spray lightening the red of my hair, utterly unbridled joy and excitement. This water-daughter has lived most her life by the sea, and would love to sail upon it, to reach glorious lands yet unknown (at least to me).

And in a way, that’s what I’d like my spiritual journey to be like too. To fly along blown by God’s Spirit, utter and complete joy in everything, each day bringing a new cresting wave of truth and knowledge.

But sometimes the wind stops. The sails droop. And you’re caught in the doldrums—the place feared by sailors of old, where the wind disappears for days, even weeks, and only oars can take you anywhere. It’s a stifling hot still, where everything is numb and the same. You can row and row, but each pull is agonizingly hard and there’s not a glimmer of change on the horizon.

And sometimes, we can get into spiritual doldrums too. Bible reading just doesn’t excite us as it did anymore. You don’t feel overwhelmed by God’s greatness in worship. Prayer seems like a chore, not a privilege. The wind of excitement seems to have completely disappeared, and you’re wondering what happened. You keep rowing, keep on going, but there seems to be no change, and you’re tempted to throw the oars overboard in defeat.

But there’s some things we need to remember when we get caught in the doldrums of life.

Continue reading

Hospitality When You Don’t Have Your Own House

hospitality when you don't have your own house

None of us are strangers to feeling outside.

I’m a military daughter, I’ve moved from one coast of the country to another; so I know what it’s like to walk into a room full of pre-existing circles—circles that you aren’t in. Alienation isn’t a new experience for any of us, nor an unusual one, but there is one experience I’ve had that I think encapsulates it.

It was a large Christian event, held at a lovely venue with bright windows, benches in each, and open hallways large enough for chatting to the side, while able to hail friends passing by. Perfect for socializing, and that’s exactly what everyone was doing. A buzz of laughter and chatter filled the room, as stories were swapped.

Yet I stood quietly in the midst of it. I offered an open smile to those passing by, which they returned, but didn’t stop to discuss the trade. It reminded me of standing in the midst of Chinese traffic, everyone driving and weaving about in a frantic dance that somehow they all knew the tune to, except you. Everyone knew everyone else, everyone wanted to see everyone else, everyone had their own circles–and I was standing outside of them.

Now none of those people were doing anything wrong, and I don’t begrudge them for it. It’s good to have your own friends, and special friendships must in some sense be exclusive. But still, it’s hard to be the stranger in the room full of friends.

The Heart of Hospitality

Hospitality has become a popular discussion in Christian circles, from multitudes of articles on Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition, to Rosaria Butterfield’s book on it, The Gospel Comes with A House Key making the rounds (quite deservedly). But for us young people, it can seem rather abstract or out-of-reach.

After all, we don’t own our own house, our schedules are rarely our own, and a college student’s budget can barely handle feeding one, let alone others. The full house and fresh bread of hospitality seem unattainable for us. But perhaps we’re confusing certain results for the real thing. Perhaps we’re equating an outpouring for the heart. Perhaps hospitality is more about how we live than how many people come into our living room.

The Greek word for hospitality, philoxenos, comes from the words both for friend and for stranger. Pulling those two in, and making them one. In a sense, it means to draw in, to take those who are outside the circle, and including them.

The Hospitality of the Gospel

Isn’t this at the very heart of the Gospel? Before, we were aliens and strangers. But now he has brought us “nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12,13). Christ took those who were different, and reconciled them together. We were standing out in the dark and the cold, but he threw open the door, welcoming us. He prepared a place for us at his table, gently took off our heavy loads, and crouched down to wash our feet.

When I think of hospitality, I’m often reminded of that iconic retro Thanksgiving photo, where the whole family is gathered around the table, eagerly watching the father carve the turkey and passing it down the table. And maybe that’s what the heart of Christian hospitality looks like. The whole family of God, gathered around the table together. Different ages, different races, yet one thing is the same, we all have our eyes fixed on Jesus. And in that, we beckon others to come join us at the heavenly table, even if we don’t have our own.

Finish reading here on TheReb

 

 

To The Broken Ones: Don’t Let Shame Strangle You

To the Broken Ones

She sat across from me, clutching the coffee mug tightly in her hands. This was supposed to be a normal conversation in a café, yet quickly became anything but. As her words and then tears began to trickle and then gush out, I quickly came to sit beside her, letting the torrential rain of hurt and grief flow out. When the storm had slowed, she looked at me with broken eyes. Her hurt is not mine to share, but her words then and a hundred others’ could have been paraphrased thus: “I’m not even worthy anymore. I have to be perfect, to be so good, and I failed. I’m broken forever.”

Those words cut me.

I wanted to weep and scream and fight those words. Even now, I still tremble and my throat tightens at the remembering. I hate them. The choices that led to them, the beliefs that fed those conclusions to her, and the ravages they had done to her. This was my friend, and she was being destroyed. Shame was strangling her life away, and not only metaphorically. She had been pierced, so deeply wounded, and I hated that she had done it and I hated that she had been told to just throw a Band-Aid over it and I hated that she was dying inside because of it. If I could have physically walked up to her shame and thrown myself punching at it, I would have. My soul screamed and grieved at the brokenness of it all.

And the worst part is, she’s not the only one. Different words, different girls, but I’ve heard so many echoing the same conclusion. I’ve messed up. That’s it. I’m not good enough anymore, and I can never go back. Everyone, God included, is disappointed with me. I can’t go to Him after what I’ve done.

And I want to scream, No, no, no, and do something drastic, anything to take away this hurt from them. But I can’t. You can’t fight something that’s not physical. Continue reading

Why Writers (And the Rest of Us) Need Poetry

Why Writers Need Poetry

Poetry is difficult for me.  I can’t identify the rhythm scheme of a stanza to save my life, and I was never very interested in doing so. Yes, I did the required reading for school; yes, I memorized The Ride of Paul Revere; but if you asked me, the style got in the way of the story. It would take up so much less space if we didn’t stack the lines. And at least that was a story-poem, the best kind in my opinion. The poems for just poetry, of snow and leaves and fog creeping in on little cat feet– I could do without them. When I left highschool and Edward Lear behind, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had no time for all of that.

Perhaps it’s not odd that I had this view, all things considered. After all, we live in a  scientific, straightforward, and practical culture. Lines section our sky, from towers to plane trails to power lines. We live in a world of checklists and traffic lanes, everyone always rushing by with something to do. We live in a reality where things have an exact place and a strict definition. A house is just a dwelling for people. A pen is just an instrument for making markings on paper. A star is just a globe of gas billions of cold miles away.

But poetry asks, what if we’re wrong? Continue reading

We Don’t Like to Believe God

We don’t like to believe God.

Yes, He knows all things, so we probably should believe Him. Yes, He’s the truth, so we should probably listen. Yes, we’re Christians who have already believed Him in the most imperative thing of how we gain eternity and salvation. But still, we don’t. Sure, we’ll believe Him when He says, “no man comes to the Father but by Me,”(Jhn. 14:6) but some other parts of His Word, some other facets of His plan, we’re not quite sure about. We’ll follow His logic, but only so far.

God tells us we were sinners, separated from Him; and we’ll nod our heads and mourn. (Rom. 5:8) He says Christ Jesus has come to save sinners, and we shout Hallelujah.(1 Ti. 1:15) He declares He makes sinners new, and we clap our hands. He tells us we are now saints, and we shout, “Amen!”(Rev. 21:5) But then He starts to tell us who we are as saints–and we hesitate. We shuffle our feet. We become uncomfortable, unsure if He’s right.

We Don't Like To Believe God

Continue reading