On January 7, 1855, the minister of New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, England, opened his morning sermon with the following statement:
It has been said by someone that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.
There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in it’s immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold, I am wise.” But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumbline cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with solemn exclamation, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God…
But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe… The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.
And, whilst humbling and expanding, the subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. It is to that subject that I invite you this morning…
-Charles Haddon Spurgeon (at that time, 20 years old)
I love this quote. I really do. It is one of the quotes which started me on the journey of learning theology.
And I’m sorry, nobody holds a candle to the way that C. H. Spurgeon could preach. If you have never read any of his sermons, you are missing out. Find a few online, go into an empty room of your house, and read it — out loud. When I was a pastor, I used to do that in my study to “prime the pump” for my own sermon preparation.
But here is my question: Spurgeon states a few times in this quote that theology is a science. He calls it the “highest science,” the “master science,” the “science of Christ.”
Is it really a science? When I think of “science” I think of organizing, categorizing, dissecting, compartmentalizing, listing, outlining, and structuring. And as we saw in our theological definitions, this is indeed how most people approach theology. God and the Bible are subjects to be studied, organized, and categorized.
While such a practice may be helpful in certain respects, is it wise?
Those of you who are married, how would you have liked it if, on the day of your wedding, your spouse treated you like a science project? If, instead of spending time loving you, they organized and listed your attributes and characteristics on paper in an orderly, bullet-point fashion?
And yet this is what lots of theology has done with God. We think we know Him because we have categorized, systematized, and organized everything that we have learned about him in neat little outlines and charts.
If I were God, I think maybe I would be offended when humans try to scientifically “summarize” me on a piece of paper.
Can God be summarized like a dissected frog?
To ask the question is to answer it.
Theology must never take the place of a living, vibrant, loving, genuine relationship with God. If we don’t have that relationship, theology is worthless. If we begin to lose that relationship, the pursuit of theology must be abandoned.
Maybe theology should be called theolovy. Then it would no longer be the science of knowing God, but the life of loving God.