Why is theology even relevant– isn’t it just for Bible scholars?
The short answer is, “no.”
Basically, theology is the study of God– His nature, attributes, character, will, and truth. Having a correct view of Scripture and a right understanding of Church doctrine leads to right living. If we read Scripture and lack understanding of theology, we will likely misinterpret Scripture; if we misinterpret Scripture, we will not be able to understand God’s character as He truly is… and if we cannot understand His character, we cannot trust His character… and at its heart, the only true way to healing is found in and through Christ, namely, by trust in Christ. The trust I am speaking of is not merely of belief, which is a mental ascension or agreement of fact, but of faith, which is a wholehearted commitment to that which one believes. How can we commit wholeheartedly to something we do not trust? We must at the very least, have a teeny-tiny mustard seed of faith (Matthew 17:20) – just enough to pray and ask for the Lord’s help in healing, in order for the Lord to begin His work. He is a gentleman; He will not push and shove Himself into our lives, but He will come immediately upon invitation.
So how does this make sense in practice? I am glad you asked.
Let’s take the Doctrine of the Trinity, for example. To have true faith in God, we must believe He is who He says He is: God is one, existing in trinitarian form. He exists co-eternally and co-equally as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In short, God exists at all times and in all places as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God the Father is not the same person as God the Son and/or God the Spirit – they are three individual and separate persons existing as one Godhead.
There are many heresies concerning the Trinity (let’s not get all caught up about the word “heresy”; it just means holding a belief that is strongly opposed or contrary to accepted Church doctrine). One such heresy is called Modalism, or Sabellianism. Modalism asserts that God is one, but that He has existed throughout history in three different “modes.” This is basically saying that God manifested Himself in different forms depending on the present need. For example: Before Christ lived on earth, God existed as the Father; while Christ lived on earth, God existed as Jesus or the Son; after Christ’s ascension into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father, God existed as the Spirit. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, therein lies the sneaky deceit… Scripture is strongly opposed to this view of God (see Wayne Gruden, Systematic Theology).
Does Modalism not appear to you as diametrically opposed to Scripture when the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus (God the Son) at His baptism (Luke 3:22)? If in three modes, how can He exist as the Spirit and the Son simultaneously? Or in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth through His Word, was not the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the deep (Genesis 1:2), while God the Son was in the business of executing the Word (John 1:1-18)? it is clear that God does not describe Himself in a modalistic way, and in fact, it is an outright denial of the Trinity. The Trinity as Scripture describes is as defined previously; it does not and cannot be true along with a Modalistic view of Scripture. These two views are mutually exclusive and directly oppose one another. Much Scripture can attest to the fact that God exists in trinitarian nature, along with the aforementioned (Mark 12:29; John 10:38; Matthew 28:19; Acts 5:3-4).
So what of it? Well, if we deny God as He describes Himself (as the Trinity), then we deny a very tenet of our faith and cannot be saved. To be saved, we must believe God is who He says He is, and this requires that we believe Him as He describes Himself in Scripture.
So how does this pertain to mental health?
Good question… but I oppose that with a few questions of my own… if we deny the trinity, how can we be saved? And if not saved, then how can we be healed, if the only way to true healing is in and through the salvation offered by Jesus the Christ?
A further example might be found in the belief that salvation is: 1) By faith alone through Christ alone, or 2) By faith in Christ with the addition of good works (e.g., charity, church attendance, performing sacraments, confession, serving, etc.). The former belief system (faith alone in Christ alone) opposes the latter (salvation by faith plus works), as the former asserts that good works do not lead to salvation, but rather are the evidence of that initial salvation. Rather, good works are not required to be saved, but they always accompany salvation. Because we are human, the latter belief system will eventually cause us to be in a cycle of mindless repetition, not really thinking about why we are doing what we are doing, and most definitely not concerning the condition of the heart. The thought is that as long as I do the things I am told to do, I am right with God. This is false. God said:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:15-23).
The more dangerous side of the belief of salvation by faith plus works is the thought that if we do not comply with what we are told to do in all ways and at all times, we are going to hell. Thus this leads to an unhealthy fear of God (or what He might do to us), rather than a love for Him. This fear can lead to feelings of shame, condemnation, and false guilt. And if we are always feeling shame (because no one in heaven or on earth can fully comply with the law of God except God Himself), then we live a life of shaming ourselves and others. We become miserable and hateful, hypocritical and judgmental, anxious and depressed– possibly even suicidal as I have observed in my work.
Salvation by grace through faith requires only belief, faith, and confession (see The Roman Road). Because of this freedom and love we receive, we cannot help but respond with a true heart of love for God, and therefore a true heart of love for His people. This belief system leads to a steady inner desire to do what is right and to worship the Lord. Through this system, we are less concerned about the law and good works than we are concerned about the condition of our hearts and having a right posture of heart before God. God is more concerned about the condition of our hearts than He is concerned with our circumstances. From a right posture of heart, good works and law-abiding will flow naturally, like a fresh spring arises from the ground. Out of it flow the abundance of springs of everlasting life. Not just in heaven, but here on earth, as eternal life is this: that we believe in Christ and Him crucified (John 17:3). Eternal life starts now. In summation of this view, the love, healing, and freedom experienced through Christ when we believe we don’t have to necessarily “do” anything to be acceptable before Him (other than belief/faith and confession of that faith) can lead to freedom and healing from anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other mental health concerns. I am a living testimony of this… He is handsomely, generously, and lavishly able.
A side nugget of wisdom: Any doctrine that leads to anything other than the freedom Christ came to offer is a false doctrine. Alternatively, the belief of any doctrine that leads to feelings of shame, condemnation, or false guilt is most assuredly the belief in a false doctrine. Beware of negative thought patterns/feelings, as these indicate a wrong view of God in one or more capacities. The question for God is, how can we trace this wrong view back to an event or multiple traumatic events, and how can we replace this wrong view with a right one? How can we repurpose these memories? How can we get head knowledge of His character translated to heart knowledge?
Over the next 18 blog posts, we will be discussing terminology and answering questions related to theology in order to better understand God and our faith, thereby leading to the healing freedom of mental health found in and through Christ Jesus. Stay tuned for our next discussions on systematic theology!