Theology is Indispensible to Piety

I read a lot. It helps that my job requires a good amount of reading but even before I started my work in retail I was an avid reader. Every now and then I read things that remind me not to let reading become an end in itself or rather just to fill my head with thoughts. This paragraph from Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith gave me pause. It’s a good thought for me to carry into the new year.

“More provocatively, Luther wrote, ‘It is by living, no–more–by dying and being damned to hell that one becomes a theologian, not by knowing, reading, or speculating.’ We learn on the road, as pilgrims making our way to the City of God through the trials, burdens, questions, and fears of our own hearts as well as the world around us. We learn truly of God’s providence as we suffer, of God’s forgiveness in our sins, of the resurrection of the dead as we lie dying. Luther’s poignant but hyperbolic statement does not mean that we do not read or study, but that even as we do this, it is more like looking for urgently needed rescue than contemplating eternal truths. We do theology on our knees, calling on the name of our Redeemer. Yet precisely because our God is so great, our situation so dire, and our salvation so full and free, theology is indispensable to piety.” (111)

He ends the chapter with this remarkable sentence: “Theology exists for this very purpose: to appeal to the God who has revealed himself and his redemptive purposes in Christ, so that he may be invoked in trouble, praised in deliverance, and obeyed in gratitude.” (112)


This reminded me of one of my favorite passages from The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis.

“What advantage is there to dispute loftily about the Trinity, if, in the absence of humility, you displease the Trinity? Truly noble words do not make one holy and just, but it is virtuous lives that make one dear to God. I choose rather to feel remorse than to understand the definition of it. If you know the whole Bible, and the sayings of all the philosophers, what advantage is all that without love and grace.” (The Complete Imitation of Christ translated by Fr. John-Julian, p. 3)

Complete Imitation of christ


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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