“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)
The word “theology” comes from two Greek words that combined mean “talking together about God.” In the letter to the Romans, Paul offers a sustained theology of the Gospel of Christ. But he pauses mid-lecture (as it were) and breaks off into this song of praise. It’s a powerful and profound moment that indicates four important principles about the study of theology. The first is that it is shaped by praise. Theology is always devotional. It can never be dry, academic or nit-picking. We are not theatre-critics, pens poised for acerbic comment; we are the children in the balcony, mouths open in wonder. “To him be the glory for ever! Amen.”
The second principle in this passage that governs the study of theology is that it is anchored in Christ. Paul had no New Testament, of course, but with skill and precision he wove passages from the Hebrew Bible, from the long history of Israel together into a coherent Christ-centred whole. Jesus is the hub, the centre of the wheel, and every spoke connects to him. “For from him and through him and for him are all things.”
The third principle about the study of theology, you may be surprised to hear, is that it is incomplete. “How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” Christian theology is simply an attempt to understand God as he is revealed in the Bible, but ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” We are out of our depth, immediately, squinting through a fog at blurred outlines. We see “through a glass darkly” but yet we are called to love God with our minds.
This principle saves us from arrogance, from that fatal sense of thinking that it is our job to nail everything down, and then stand arms akimbo, satisfied that the job is now done. It was the mistake that the Pharisees made.
The fourth principle implied in this passage is that the study of theology is relational. It is a highly significant “We” who are “talking together about God,” in a conversation shaped by praise, and anchored in Christ.
So theology has a corporate significance. The mutual, devotional, Christ-centred study of God is, precisely, how we love God with our minds. It’s part of our worship, our “reasonable service,” our obedience, and our evangelism to work together to explain the ways of God to our generation.
And God himself is relational. When Moses asked who was sending him to Pharaoh, God replied “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). The name I AM indicates personality. God has a name, even as he has given names to others. The name I AM stands for a free, purposeful, self-sufficient personality. God is not an ethereal force or a cosmic energy. He is the almighty, self-existing, self-determining Being with a mind and a will—through his Word, and through his Son, Jesus Christ.
And “To him be the glory for ever! Amen.”