Theology and Praise

What do you think of when you think of the word theology? Be honest.

Maybe it brings to mind some arrogant scholars who live with their heads in the clouds, out of touch with the everyday. Maybe the thought of theology makes you a little sleepy. Or maybe the word “doctrine” burdens your mind with further thoughts of big words and divisive debates.

We often make the mistake of associating theology with dry and boring intellectualism. Something that is not really connected to the reality of everyday life, or worse: something that may even distract from a truly vibrant relationship with Jesus. Who needs that doctrine stuff anyways? I have written before about a growing trend in modern Christianity that looks to break free from the “shackles” of theological structures, replacing them with the free space intimacy of just me and God. Whatever that means.

But the truth of the matter is that real theology (the study of God) is unquestionably the most important study anyone can undertake. It is only from an accurate understanding of who God is that we can find an understanding of who we are and how life fits in light of his existence. Furthermore theology can never be divorced from the “vibrancy of a relationship” with God, because you can never have a relationship with someone you know nothing about.

So theology is not a dull pursuit. It is rather, when done properly, naturally linked to praise. Take a look at Psalm 135 where the Psalmist David gives a call to praise. In the opening verses his intent is obvious:

“Praise the Lord.
Praise the name of the Lord;     praise him, you servants of the Lord,
you who minister in the house of the Lord,
    in the courts of the house of our God.
Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;
    sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.
 For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own,

    Israel to be his treasured possession.”

David’s call is an emphatic imperative: “Praise the Lord”. And the call stretches not just to the Priests who minister in the house of the Lord, but all the servants of the Lord. It is a command addressed to all. But notice the reasoning David gives for such praise in the following verses:

“I know that the Lord is great,
    that our Lord is greater than all gods.
 The Lord does whatever pleases him,
    in the heavens and on the earth,
    in the seas and all their depths.
 He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth;
    he sends lightning with the rain
    and brings out the wind from his storehouses.”

David here gives a brief description of who God is and what God does, and it is pregnant with theological language. God here is described as a transcendent, supreme God with whom there is no comparison (greater than all gods). He is an omnipotent God whose ability to actualize his desires is not limited by reality, like it is for us (does whatever pleases Him). There is further no space or location that that His hand does not reach (in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and in the deep). Verse 7 shows us that God is not a God like the deists describe, or one who merely interacts with His creation. No, this God is active. He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain. He brings out the wind from His storehouses. This God is a sovereign King who is ever involved in His creation.

But why does David insert such theology in a Psalm that was written to bring people to expressive praise? The answer is simple: Theology fuels praise. The two are linked in a beautiful union and each brings further meaning to the other.

If you strip theology from praise, your praise is worthless. Your song remains nothing more than meaningless emotionalism. It is both uninformed about the person to whom you are singing and unaware of what content, what accolades you are to present to that person. Such “praise” may feel good, sound good, or even be popular--but it is a dangerous waste of time.

On the flip side, if you take away praise from theology you take away the fruit from the tree. Your theology has been truncated as an end itself, an intellectual hobby, something it was never intended to become. Such dryness is an incredibly real threat to the church because it fails to believe with the whole being (mind, heart, and will) the truth it claims to embrace. We can never forget that the ultimate purpose of this precious knowledge of God is that it will work itself out in a life of worship.

And David correctly keeps the two together. His praise is not aimless or uninformed, and his theology is not confined to the head. David even uses similar theological poetry to jumpstart the majority of his great songs throughout the Psalms. We would do well to follow suit.

So let’s not look down on a rigorous study of who God is. Nor let us despise emotional expressions of worship through praise. Rather let’s leave them together and pursue them both, knowing that the better we know God as He truly is, the better our praise will be. For we will have more to sing about than we had before.


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