It’s popular in some Christian circles these days to downplay the importance of studying theology in favor of focusing purely on Jesus, as if a pursuit of greater theological understanding stands in opposition to a simple relationship with Christ. Pursuit of greater theological understanding is seen as an empty intellectual exercise which undermines a personal “experience” with Jesus.
This is not a new development. In 1993, when asked about the trend to minimize theology in favor of “just Jesus”, Dr. R.C. Sproul gave this answer:
“My first question to people [who believe that] is, ‘Who is Jesus?’ As soon as you start to answer that question, you are into theology. The person who says to me, ‘I’m not interested in theology’ doesn’t realize that what he’s saying is that he’s not interested in God. Because if we have any understanding whatsoever of the character of God, that’s theology. ...to be against theology...is a denial of our own humanity, because we can’t even relate to God unless we know something about Him.” (source: Interview from 1993 on The White Horse Inn)
The great danger here is in reducing Jesus to a private experience to the exclusion of seeing him as an objective, historical truth. To the extent that Christians see Jesus through personal insights gained from private revelation (either from their own minds or through the minds of an extra-biblical prophet), they minimize the historical and objective reality of the Jesus of Scripture and they send the message that the “true Jesus” is anything we need him to be. Said another way, if all of us claim to know the “true Jesus” but we come to widely different conclusions about the meaning of his earthly ministry, some (or perhaps all) of us have missed the point.
Hebrews 1:1-3 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” The apostle John describes Jesus as the pre-existent Word (John 1:1) and the “Word made flesh” (John 1:14). Given this, we need to listen to what Jesus says about himself and what the Word says about him. We should not endeavor to minimize the importance of theology because in so doing, we reduce Jesus to a “feeling” or a self-help tool, rather than seeing him as the lamb of God who takes away our sin (John 1:29), through whom we have reconciliation to the Father (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).