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The Importance of Prayer to Theology

Posted On January 31, 2018

It is extremely easy to make the discipline of doing theology all about us. We can rob God of His glory in theological study by doing it in such a way that it ignores actual interaction with Him. Kelly Kapic reminds us that God is not merely an object of study, but the Lord that we worship (A Little Book for New Theologians, 64). To keep this right perspective it is important, then, that we see prayer as a necessary part of our theological study. Prayer is a forgotten essential of theological study.

It’s important that we understand what prayer is. Prayer is communion with God, but we ought to see at as more than just a literal folding of the hands and bowing of the head. Kapic speaks of it as a way of living. He writes:

We are concerned not only to have a few minutes a day set apart for God, but also to have a constant communion with him (1st Thessalonians 5:17; cf. John 15:1-17). Whether eating, drinking, laughing or working, all that we do is done before the face of God. This is what undergirded the Reformation slogan Coram Deo—living before God in all areas of life. This especially applies to our theological studies. Here we are on holy ground, and thus our attitude must be an attitude of prayer. If we are to be faithful, we must always be aware of his presence. (67)

We are doing theology as worship, in humility, before God, in His very presence. We are not merely studying Him, we are communing with Him. That ought to change everything about our theological work.

Anyone can pick up the Bible and read, or study its grammar. Anyone can open a systematic theology textbook and pour over its pages and reflect on its philosophical arguments. Anyone might hypothesize on the nature of God, the hypostatic union of Christ, the atoning work of His cross. But only a true believer, one who worships the living God, can truly perform theology. Theology is not about acquiring knowledge, or attempting to solve divine mysteries. Rather, theology is about knowing God which requires that we approach Him with humility, respect, and faith. Theology directs us to commune with God.

It is important, too, that we do our theology as a dialogue with God. We are not coming to conclusions on our own. As we study God’s Word, we are to ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds, to give us wisdom to discern truth, to give us eyes to see truth, and to grant our hearts to receive it. If theology doesn’t affect our lives it is not usually because of intellectual failures, but rather a result of heart refusals. Vern Poythress keenly writes:

Our deepest difficulties cannot be resolved merely on a narrowly intellectual plane. Our deepest difficulty is sin, rebellion against God. We have desires in our hearts that resist the Bible’s views and what God has to say. We want to be our own master. (Inerrancy and Worldview, 16)

This means we need to do theology as part of our conversation with God. We must prayerfully seek the truth if we are to find the truth. Certainly this means staying grounded in the Word of God, but even in reading the Scriptures we are seeking divine aid to understand them (Ephesians 1:16-17; Colossians 1:9). We pray through our theology because we need God to help us understand. We pray because theology requires us to be in dialogue with God. It is only in that place that we can really begin to grasp theological thoughts. As Anselm of Canterbury wrote, “A theological thought can breathe only in the atmosphere of dialogue with God” (Proslogion).

Theology done without prayer is a great way to turn what should be an act of worship into a cold academic discipline. It is a great way to make theology “something we discuss rather than something that moves us” (Kapic, 64). At one level we could say that anyone can be a theologian. I had a college professor who was a “theologian”, but who believed nothing of what he taught. It was more interesting philosophy than truth. On another level, however, we must say that only the true believer in worship to God can be a theologian, for only the man or woman who is moved by the things of God understands them. As we engage in theology we are to do it in communion with God, for His glory and for our good. Such theological work requires that we be in prayer. Without prayer our theology will be all about us, which robs God of glory due His name. Without prayer theology will never achieve its ultimate purpose, to draw us closer in communion with God. Prayer is a necessary part of our theological work.

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