A reader named Charles wrote in with the following comments:
My question is, isn’t following Christ following his morality. I have read plenty of your arguments but why don’t we ever discuss morality. Who cares about theology if the morality is flawed. God isn’t going to test us on our understanding of the 2nd Council of Carthage or Martin Luther. I am not arguing this solely against your website, but against any apologist website that puts emphasis only on words and not on actions. We would all be blessed to put our polemics aside and work to make this planet one that truly reflects God’s wishes. Of course, I suppose the argument would lie on what is morality, but that’s why we have the Bible…right? Anyways, I don’t agree with everything you have on your page but your heart seems to be in the right place. I suppose I would challenge you to defend Christian morality rather than Christian theology. After all, my Lutheran friends are rather offended by your theology. haha Let’s find common ground.
On the one hand, it is good, proper, and necessary to preach about morality. On the other hand, without proper theological foundation, emphasis on morality easily becomes legalism. But to get right to the basic question, we do address both Christian morality (example from Dr. White) and Christian theology (of which you’re already well aware).
Why not set aside theology?
One problem with setting aside theology is that it can lead one to a distorted worldview. Thus, for example, a person who doesn’t understand the sovereignty of God can feel only despair, sorrow, and hopelessness in the wake of a great disaster like 9/11, the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, or the Haitian Earthquake of 2010. Those who understand God’s sovereignty are in a better position to have some comfort that even these dreadful calamities have a good purpose in God’s plan. We can also appreciate that such calamities can be properly viewed as judgment (discussed here) and warning (discussed here), although we do not insist that we know God’s intention in such events. That comfort and edification is lost on those who view such tragedies as simply the actions of autonomous man (in the case of 9/11) or mere chance or bad luck (in the case of Haiti and the Indian Ocean region).
This is proven from Scripture:
But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; as it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Why didn’t Israel, which followed after the moral law (the law of righteousness) attain the object of that law? The reason is that they did not seek it by faith but by good works. It is not wrong to follow the moral law, and it is even commendable to do so. Nevertheless, attempting to be a good person is not enough.
Instead of seeking the object of the law simply through our own effort, we must seek it through faith in the one true Rock: Christ.
If we have the wrong theology, we will seek to get God’s attention the wrong way. Not only can that take the form of seeking eternal life through works righteousness, but also through other wrong ways, such as injury to ourselves (as discussed by Dr. White here). Of course the physical injury done by self-flagellation is nothing compared with the damage done by seeking eternal life by some other way than the way appointed by God.
Going back to the topic of tragedies, we mentioned views that attribute these events to autonomous free will or chance. There are also other errant views, such as those of Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps who seem to think that they are able to discern the Providence of God to such an extent that they can pin a particular calamity on particular sins, or state with certainty that a particular nation is under God’s judgment. (Let’s not forget that even our respected Christian brother John Piper can make this kind of mistake.) A proper understanding of theology avoids this extreme, even while recognizing that suffering and death are the results of sin and that it is God who brings calamities on nations.
Theology is what not only defines morality (as Charles’ comment recognizes) but also what puts morality in its proper place. It shows us that morality is not what saves us, that God can bring punishments and chastisements to bring us to repentance from our immorality, and it can even show us that the Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and morals.
After all, what tells us that pacts with the devil are bad is Scripture – not a Caribbean earthquake. What tells us that Islam is wrong is Scripture, not the Indian Ocean Tsunami. What tells us that greed is wrong is Scripture, not the actions of the 9/11 terrorists. And likewise, it is the Scripture that tells us that sodomy is wrong, not a tornado in Minneapolis.
Yet theology can also help us to be comforted during events like the 9/11 attack, the tsunami, or the earthquake. It can remind us that God is sovereign over what occurs, and that consequently what occurs happens for a good purpose. We don’t always know what that purpose is, and we cannot automatically assume that it is judgment (remember Job!).
So, while I speak for myself (not for Dr. White), we will continue to emphasize theology. It through theology that we can identify flawed morality, as well as flawed emphasis on or apathy toward morality. Indeed, the study of theology is even a part of Christian morality. Without theology how can we be “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) and “answer every man” (Colossians 4:6).
We can’t leave out the salt, but it is through theology (namely the diligent study of Scriptures) that we give the right answers.
Proverbs 24:26 Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer.