The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. - Deuteronomy 29:29
Many have rightly noted that everyone is a theologian. The only question remaining is what kind of theologian you will be—a good one or a poor one. This is an old reality—as old as Moses and the people of Israel. When Moses taught the people of God the deep things of God, he also made sure to frame their understanding of what they were hearing. What follows is a brief “theology of theology”—an attempt to learn from Moses and to place in your mind some helpful categories and overall perspective on the theological task.
With Appropriate Humility
Moses begins with an important reminder—there are “secret things” concerning God that are beyond our capacity for understanding or fully comprehending. Of course, that should not surprise us if we are truly dealing with the God of the Bible. A God small enough to be fully comprehended is not the infinite, all-surpassing God revealed in Scripture.
In practical terms, this means that our study of God and His Word will, at times, lead to mystery rather than mastery. That reality is rarely appealing to the modern mind, but it’s nonetheless true. We like answers, especially when others press us for a definitive response. But if there are secret things, “I don’t know” is one of the most theologically precise answers you can offer. This isn’t theological cowardice, but appropriate humility in view of a great, majestic, and glorious God. In the end, it is joining Paul in deep reverence and awe in Romans 11:33-36:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
With Grateful Hearts
Moses would not make a good postmodern. The notion of “things that are revealed” is so certain, so objective, so confident sounding. Yet, Moses doesn’t shy away from the idea that God has given His people revealed things—truths about Himself, truths about man, truths about the world. And all these belong to God’s people.
Indeed, this theme of truth as possession runs throughout the Bible. The Word is called gold in Psalm 19:10. In Colossians 2:3 Christ, the culmination of God’s revelation, is a treasure chest of wisdom and knowledge. Paul urges Timothy to guard the good deposit that is the gospel (1 Timothy 6:20). To put it simply, we may not know everything about our infinite God, but what we do know is of infinite value and worth rigorous pursuit in heart, mind, body, and soul.
By God’s grace we have truth—a treasure chest full of truth—and our life’s aim is to explore it with all our might. To return to the previous paragraph, that which is not categorized as mystery is worthy of mastery.
With Clear Goals
We dare not miss Moses’ stated goal in this verse: “that we do all the words of this law.” The entire theological enterprise is obedience-oriented. God has given truth for transformation, not merely education (cf. James 1:22).
In the church I serve, every Tuesday morning about 10-15 of us gather at 6 a.m. at a BBQ restaurant for what we call “theology breakfast” (yes, a BBQ restaurant for breakfast—God bless the South!). We’ve read through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Michael Reeve’s Delighting in the Trinity, and we’re about to start C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. The “win” is not a smarter group of men in our congregation but a more faithful group of husbands, fathers, evangelists, and church members. The “win” is a man who, now understanding the sovereignty of God in the new birth, prays more fervently for his two little boys (knowing that salvation is of the Lord) and shares the gospel more frequently with them (knowing that the Lord accomplishes salvation through His Word).
The “win” is a man who, now understanding better God’s plan for the church, takes more seriously his church covenant and begins praying about becoming a man qualified to serve as an elder in that same body. The “win” is a man who, well, by God’s grace and for His glory, now desperately desires and is better equipped to do “all the words of this law.” He’ll encounter some mystery, hopefully he’ll gain some mastery, however small, and, if theology is pursued rightly, he’ll live on mission.