What’s More Important: Theology or People?

Recently I had a thought-provoking interaction/debate on Facebook with a few college friends.  One of those friends posted something that peaked my interest.  There was a lot said that peaked my interest, but overall this one comment stuck with me.  During the midst of all the commenting this friend stated, “As Andy Stanley once said, ‘People are more important than my theology.'”  Is this true?  Are people really more important than theology?

I gave this much thought since I first heard this, and I’ve concluded that my answer is: no, theology is more important than people.  Why do I say this, and what do I mean by this?

  1. Everyone is a theologian, don’t miss this.  To say ‘people are more important than my theology’ is an extremely theological statement.  It not only presupposes an idea of what theology is but it presupposes the idea that our love to one another takes precedence over doing theology.  The question is not, ‘do I do theology?’ the question really is this, ‘is the theology I do true or false, right or wrong, God-honoring or God-belittling?’  We are all theologians.
  2. To believe people are more important than theology is to have a low view of theology.  Theology is the study of God and God is the most important Person in existence.  He created us for His glory (Isa. 43:6-7), He does with us whatever He sees fit to do (Ps.115:3), He has revealed Himself to us (Rom. 1:19-20, 2 Tim. 3:16), and because of these things what God has to say is vastly more important than what any human being has to say (Ps. 119).  A correct view of theology, therefore, is a high view of theology because it is the study of God, and if we have a high view of God we should also have a high view theology – the study of God.  There is no greater study to which men may devote their lives to.  To love God is to love and do theology.  To say people are more important than theology is not only to misunderstand the nature of theology, it is to say people are more important than God Himself.
  3. To believe people are more important than theology is to have a high view of man.  I do not mean this to be a good thing.  If we have a high view of man we will set aside our theology if it offends man.  If we do this it means our true master is man not God, that we fear man more than we fear God.  True theology will not always be accepted in a fallen and broken world.  I’m not seeking to be a martyr here, but asking you to remember one thing – didn’t they kill Jesus?  Why then are we so worried about being offensive?  We must expect resistance even if it is just a small degree of it.
  4. To believe people are more important than theology is to misunderstand what true theology leads to.  A true study of theology leads to a life lived in line with that theology.  Another way to say it is: orthodoxy (right doctrine) leads to orthopraxy (right practice).  This is where we see truth from error.  If someone is living wrongly it’s because deep down they believe wrongly.  If someone is living rightly it’s because deep down they believe rightly.  Notice the implication here?  Right practice can only come from a right theology.  This means theology is the most practical endeavor a man can put himself towards.
  5. To believe people are more important than theology is to ignore the fact that the only way to genuinely love another person is to love God first.  If we do not love God first we will only use other people for our own selfish ends.  When we rightly love God before all others, we’ll rightly love others (meaning: we’ll love others in the manner God has loved us – sacrificially and humbly, a gospel-like love), giving others exactly what they need, knowing they don’t deserve it.  True love stems from a gratitude of what God has done for us.  This should lead us to love God.  To seek to love people before we love God is to turn the greatest commandment on its head.  In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  God is first, others come second.  If God is not loved first, theology will be avoided, and all sorts of wayward-ness will step in and take over.
  6. I think the gist behind this Andy Stanley quote is a good desire.  We should desire to love people with an authentic, genuine, honest, real, and gracious love.  This is a good thing.  It is even a good thing when we can love God (do theology) together with others.  We will have disagreements, and this should cause take great care.  We should desire to be flexible where the Bible allows us to be flexible, but we must be firm where the Bible is firm.  This desire to love authentically goes awry when we think we’re loving someone when we set our theology aside, or ‘agree to disagree.’  This is not true love because it’s not authentic love.  It’s a lie because it’s not loving someone according to who we really are and what we really believe.

Over all my answer to the question ‘Are people more important my theology?’ is no.  But I want you to see that these two things (doing theology and loving people) are so intimately connected that we cannot set one aside without hurting the other.  To love someone the deepest is to love God (theology) with all your might.  If we love people without loving God, we make the mistake of placing man at the center of our hearts.  If we love God without loving people, we’re not loving God in the manner we should.

Just some thoughts, I hope they sparked some thinking in you today.

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