Editor’s note: Our staff had the opportunity to talk to J. I. Packer about the state of the church. During the interview, church unity became a subject of discussion. Packer argued that for the sake of unity, the church needs to be united around theology, the content of the Christian faith. Here J. I. Packer defines what he means by theology, and explains that every Christian should care about theology because theology is about God and his relationship to life. Theology is inherently practical.
Theology simply means the study of God. This is something that every Christian needs to realize. I think the way that the word has been used in the past has frightened many Christians away from it, even though they never stopped to consider what the word actually meant.
People got the idea somewhere that theology is the business of the seminary professors and the clergy, but has very little to do with the day to day living of the Christian life. It's something people seem to think you can get along without, provided that you read your Bible daily and think one or two guiding thoughts from your passage to keep you on the rails.
I don't believe it's at all like that. But theology means the study of God, and if we are to love God, as we are commanded, with all our "minds" then we need to be in the business of theology. So when I speak of theology, I am referring to the truth that God has given us all in Scripture which we all need to learn and digest. It is truth for life!
Now, I am a professor of theology, but I must tell you that in all my teaching and writing, I am trying to show that theology is supremely practical. If this could be seen, then I think people's fear of theology could melt away and they would appreciate, and benefit from, serious theological instruction.
Again, if you will allow me to beat the drum once more, this is a Reformational emphasis. If you actually get around to reading the reformers, such as Luther or Calvin, you will find that they did all their work from a pastoral standpoint, but at every point, they are applying truth to the lives of people.
What they were trying to do throughout their earthly lives was to build the people up in God's truth so their lives might bring glory to their Creator and Redeemer. It's as practical and down to earth, and as pastoral as that. That's what we need to get back to first, I think.
Adapted from “Interview with J. I. Packer,” Modern Reformation July/Aug 1993. Used with permission.