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  • Writer's pictureDr Sean du Toit

Dr Sean du Toit (PhD) is the New Testament lecturer at Alphacrucis, a ministry training college helping people to explore and expound the wonders of God.

It is an astounding and overwhelming privilege that we are able to know the living and true God. Ever since my conversion, I have had this insatiable desire to know who God is and what God is like. And the more I learn about God, the more I want others to know who God is and what God has done and is doing.

This should come as no surprise to those who have encountered the beautiful grace of our Lord. One of the ways Christians have learnt about and encountered God is through the Word of God. Thus, when I read Jesus’ command in Mark 12:30, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” I knew that I wanted to study the bible so that I could learn more about the surprising kindness of the God who cares deeply about us. Studying theology became a way for me to understand and appreciate the various characteristics of God; a way to know God better. But it also had an unexpected effect on me. Studying the bible constantly caused me to pause, in both wonder and adoration, at God’s relentless faithfulness to people. Studying the Scriptures became fuel for my worship. It wasn’t until much later in my journey that I discovered that this is exactly how God planned it.

There is a necessary relationship to the theology that we hold and the worship to God that we give. Theology shapes and informs our worship of God. All authentic worship of God assumes a theology. But I wish to go further and suggest that theology itself is a form of worship. Listen to what Jesus says in John’s gospel:

John 4:23-24 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”

Every time we declare truth about God, it is an act of worship. In the verbal and, ethical, individual and communal proclamation of the truth about who God is and what God has done for humanity, we are engaged in acts of worship. John’s gospel is itself a theological reflection on the truth about the identity of God revealed in Jesus through the revelatory agency of the Spirit to the community gathered to worship and encounter God. John’s gospel is thus a declaration of worship, enticing those who hear to enter into communion with God. The vivid metaphors employed throughout are possibly strongest in the Eucharistic sections of John 6 where hearers are instructed to feast on the very body of Jesus, a feast of intimacy with God. However, that intimacy is developed and maintained through theological reflection on the Christ event revealed throughout John’s gospel and Jesus’ teaching. There is therefore a dynamic interplay between theology and worship throughout the gospel that invites those with ears to hear to come and taste and see that the Lord is good. As N. T. Wright has perceptively noted, “When you begin to glimpse the reality of God, the natural reaction is to worship him. Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that you haven’t yet really understood who he is or what he’s done.”[1]

John’s explicit purpose in this gospel is to evoke a continued relationship of trust in Jesus.

John 20:31 This is written so that you may [] trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through trusting you may have life in his name.

The subjunctive πιστεύ[σ]ητε may either suggest “come to trust” or “continue to trust” that Jesus is who this gospel declares he is. We need not quibble over the options as it is likely both. But that means that an explicit purpose of this gospel is to feed the faithfulness, memory and imagination of God’s people with the truth about God so that they may continue to trust him and rely on him for life through him. Worship sustains the community of God by facilitating an encounter with God and declaring truth about God. Furthermore, lyrical theology, i.e., the words of the songs we sing and recite, should give voice to the theology that shapes the life and practices of the church. It is for this reason that Karl Barth declares that,

Theology is a particularly beautiful discipline. Indeed, we can confidently say that it is the most beautiful of all disciplines. To find academic study distasteful is the mark of the philistine. The theologian who labours without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.[2]

Joy and exciting thoughts must accompany the theologian for it is upon the reflection of God given in Scripture that the theologian must wrestle with theology and construct imaginative portraits of this encountering God that remain in sync and faithful to the revelation of God throughout Scripture. Vanhoozer aptly notes that “To witness to the love of God is the Christian theologian’s supreme privilege and supreme responsibility.”[3]

Declaring truths about God which are faithful and in sync with the Scriptural revelation, are themselves an act of worship to the One who is worthy of our attention, affection and allegiance. The very act of theology must be an act of worship because God is no object to be studied but rather as humble subjects we contemplate the supreme excellency of the divine nature (to echo the words of Jonathan Edwards). This God who came for us, and revealed Himself to us in many and varied ways of love and salvation, healing and compassion is worthy of our worship. Stating that God is loving, saving, healing and compassionate is in sync with the truth of the Scriptural revelation, and thus reaffirms the character of God which is thus an act of worship itself.

If we return to John 4:23-24 we notice the central role of the Spirit. In John’s gospel, it is the role of the Spirit to reveal to us the identity of God and ourselves, but it is also the role of the Spirit to connect us to God (John 20:22). The Spirit facilitates an encounter with God as the revealing God. And truth about God is a medium through which God speaks and encounters his people. The Spirit thus reveals truth, declares truth and inspires truth.

Thus J. I. Packer is right when he states that “Theology is for doxology, that is the praise of God and the practice of godliness.” There is a dynamic interplay between theology and worship. Theology not only inspires worship, but is itself an act of worship. This worship causes us to further reflect on the God who is worthy of our worship, and thus inspires further theological reflection and a life lived in sync with the vision of God that we behold.

[1] N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 123.

[2] Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1, 656.

[3] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “The Love of God: Its Place, Meaning and Function in Systematic Theology,” First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermeneutics (Illinois: IVP, 2002), 95.

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