Anyone who is spiritually-minded must ask themselves at some point, “What does this mean for me?” You can’t open God’s Word, spend time studying it, or listen to a sermon and leave with no convictions. Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” It gets us, knows us, shapes us, and holds us accountable. There’s always been a connection to what we learn about God and how that plays out in our daily life. “What should I do in light of what I know?” should be a constant question for any believer—after all, we do need to have answers when the world comes knocking.
And come knocking it will! You don’t even have to watch the news regularly to know of religious violence like what happened in Christchurch, New Zealand. You don’t have to be especially tuned in to politics to know of the uncomfortable divide growing in our country. You don’t have to try especially hard to learn about various scandals or the sundry problems that plague our churches, organizations, places of business, and more. Life runs at all of us very quickly, and if something especially tragic or trying isn’t afflicting you, it surely is hitting too close to home for someone you know and minister to. The role of every believer is to know Jesus and make Him known, and to be able to speak into society’s problems with the universal truth of God’s Word is paramount to fulfilling our mission here on earth.
Can theology even be used to answer societal questions?
Theology simply means to study who God is as He reveals Himself to mankind. To ignore this study is to ignore the most important part of a believer’s life! Each and every single one of us should be a theologian—pastor or not. To not study God is to not know Him. To not know Him means you can’t love Him. To not love Him means that you won’t obey Him. To not obey Him is the root of the problem that got mankind into the mess that we’re in and have been in since the fall of man. Sin is a problem, and it’s the biggest one mankind must face. Speaking honestly, forget the fight against climate change, world hunger, the latest empty Hollywood news, the implications of immigration policy, or anything else big or small for that matter—the solution to everything is knowing God. Sin has created an untraversable gap between man and God, and only in knowing God and His commandments for our lives can we truly begin to solve society’s problems.
How do I use God’s Word to answer these questions?
If then we realize that we can’t separate our orthodoxy from our orthopraxy, where can we go to find the answers we seek? In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus invites us to “ask, seek, and knock,” promising that if we earnestly seek Him and His will, we’ll get what we’re looking for! Start by reading the Bible, and not just reading it, but knowing it intimately. Commit to finishing the whole book start to finish if you haven’t, and hide God’s Word in your heart (Psalm 119:11) so your faith will be able to withstand the attacks of the enemy (Ephesians 6:16), and have a defense for your faith (1 Peter 3:15). The Bible may not mention the politics of marijuana legalization or specifically the public health crisis that pornography has been revealed to be, but it is crystal clear on how a Christ-follower should give honor and deference to governmental authorities as well as how to handle sexual immorality. Scripture is the ultimate playbook in shaping our worldview: how should I feel about the refugee crisis? What about when the conversation moves to my front doorstep? What am I to do when disrespected by someone or faced with a disagreement? What if the horror stories of life hit me head-on? The loss of a loved one? Infidelity of a spouse? Prodigal child? The Holy Bible has all of these answers and more.
What role, if any, does the Gospel play?
The Gospel must be paramount in any application of theology to society’s problems. A relationship with Christ thankfully doesn’t result from us getting our lives together. God takes the sick and makes them well. He is the great physician, so let Him do His work! For too long and in too many ways, the discourse has been so backward—in short: Christ makes you behave better. This is not what we should be teaching, preaching, speaking, or intending. Christ doesn’t just make us better. He doesn’t just fix what’s broken in us. The goodness of God comes in the form of a Savior, Jesus Christ, who makes us brand new! Behavioral modification won’t fix society’s problems. A kind act or huge donation won’t manage to fix what’s broken in the world.
Our theology shouldn’t stand in the way of culture–it should guide the flow of it. We can’t guide others to a place we haven’t been ourselves. Let’s make it a point to know God and His Word, so that when (not if) the chance comes up, we won’t react in a way that gratifies the flesh, furthering the problems and turmoil in the world. Our goal is to make much of Christ in this world–when He is lifted up, all people will be drawn to Him (John 12:32)!
Canaan Chapman is Minister to High School Students at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.