Most mornings, I get up at 5am. I like the early morning quiet before the chaos. After a devotional reading and prayer, I head outside for my morning run or drive to the gym. Upon my return, I usually find my wife awake in bed surrounded by books and scribbled notes. My wife does not like to wake early and approaches the morning hours like warming up a car on a cold morning: slowly. Recently, I walked into our bedroom after my run and she handed me one of her devotional books and said, “You should read this one.”
Rev. Paul David Tripp, pastor and President of Paul Tripp Ministries, wrote New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional (Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2014). His January 25th devotional is titled: Theology without love is simply very bad theology. I then understood why my wife wanted me to read this devotional since I wrote a theological book after graduating from seminary.
Tripp was teaching a seminary pastoral care/counseling class. Many of these future pastors were more interested in theology and preaching but were forced to take his class to graduate with their Master of Divinity. He started the semester with stories of messed-up lives to hopefully get his students to understand why pastors need to learn pastoral care. “A student raised his hand and said, ‘All right, Professor Tripp, we know we’re going to have these projects in our churches; tell us what to do with them so we can get back to the work of ministry.’” This student “clearly loved ideas more than he loved people!”
When I read this story, I understood the professor’s stunned reaction. My undergraduate engineering and graduate business education focused on facts and left little room for emotion. Theology, with its unique vocabulary and complexities, can become esoteric and philosophical – sadly soulless. “The call is to do theology in loving community with other people. Truth not spoken in love ceases to be true because it’s bent and twisted by other human agendas. I cannot forsake truth for relationships, and I cannot forsake relationships for truth. They need to be held together, because we need to understand truth in community with one another to compensate for our blindness and bias, and we need truth to define for us what kind of community we should live in together.” Tripp writes with intertwined theological wisdom and compassionate love. Perhaps this is why my wife underlined these words.
My wife volunteers at a homeless non-profit. To help the homeless, it takes both understanding and love. The non-profit applies proven processes that takes homeless persons off the streets and assists these individuals in achieving self-sufficiency. It can be done successfully by following proven methods. But without compassion and love, people would not be willing to share their time and financial resources to help the homeless.
In seminary, we studied theory and practice: one without the other is suboptimal. With only theory, we can slip into fideism (looking at Scripture through a vacuum). Similarly, if we only express our faith through practice, it could lead to senseless acts. “Theology is never an end in itself, but a means to an end, the end that we would progressively become like the One who is the ultimate definition of what love is and what love does.”
I need balance in my life. My logical, forge ahead mentality benefits me when running a difficult race, tackling complex business problems, or organizing resources. But I need to be continually reminded to love. My wife supplies the emotional counterweight which I so need and welcome, just as she did after my morning run. “It is in a community of humble love that we are best positioned to understand all that God has said to us in his Word.” Look around you: do you have a community to keep you balanced in God’s Word? “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)