When it comes to spirituality, you do what you do because you believe what you believe.
Regardless of the importance you consciously place upon it, theology drives and determines your spirituality. For example, you pray the way you do because of your theology. And there are certain ways you do not pray, more because of theology than tradition.
Recognize, therefore, the connection between good theology and good spirituality. Don’t turn to people as models and teachers of spirituality if you could not also turn to them as mentors of theology and doctrine. For their spirituality is also connected to their theology.
It’s very easy to be impressed by someone’s piety and think, “Surely anyone who is so pious, so devoted, and so committed to prayer, couldn’t be very wrong in his theology.” But I have seen more than one person come to reject biblical theology—even regarding the doctrine of salvation—after they became impressed with the spirituality of a particular writer or speaker who eventually led them astray. As Jesus said, “Take heed what you hear” (Mark 4:24).
• If anyone makes experience authoritative over the revelation of God in Scripture—turn away from him.
• If anyone adds another book or experience to the Bible, making it equal in authority to God’s Word—refuse to believe him.
• If anyone teaches that God can be experienced directly, that is, without the mediation of Jesus Christ and the Bible—don’t listen to him.
• If anyone says that there are many paths to God and that Jesus isn’t the only way to Heaven—avoid him.
Each of us needs both sound theology and passionate spirituality, because theology is the fuel for spirituality’s fire. Theology provides the discernment to protect us from unbiblical or unhealthy spiritual practices (such as regularly seeking to experience God without the guidance or influence of Scripture). Theology can protect us from fads in spirituality.
How do you pursue theology? Read and meditate on Scripture. Listen to biblical preaching and avail yourself of the opportunities for Christian education at your church. Read Christian books that teach, not just those that entertain. These include not only books about doctrine, but also biographies of those who were, like Apollos, “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24).
Theology is God’s truth. Don’t try to grow your soul or simplify your spiritual life without it.
Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 59-60.
Also related to this theme: Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014).