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There Are Only Two Kinds Of People: Good Theologians And Bad Ones

“No Christian can avoid theology. Every Christian is a theologian.” -R.C. Sproul

Have you ever thought of yourself that way? As a theologian? For many, the word theologian will conjure up images of old men wearing robes, studying the Bible for hours or days on end, gathering for debates and using words the rest of us can’t even pronounce. But is that an appropriate mental image; should we only associate theologians with the academic or scholarly? 

Properly defined, the word theology means “the study of God.” The prefix, theo- comes from the Greek word theos, which means “god.” The suffix, -ology, comes from the word logos, which means “idea” or “word.” It’s also where we get our English word logic. Since it means the “logic” of something, we use it to designate the idea of—or the study of—particular things; biology is the study of life (from the Greek word bios), anthropology is the study of humans (from the Greek word anthropos). Theology is the idea of—or the study of—God.

You are a theologian!

And since every person has ideas about God, every person has a theology. Every person formulates ideas and what they think God is like—or not like—based on things they’ve read or heard or experienced. In short, everyone is a theologian. You are a theologian!

But what about the old men in the robes? Although they don't have to be old, and they don't have to wear robes, there are (what we’ll call) “professional” theologians — people who make a career out of studying the Bible, writing books about God, lecturing at the academic level, et cetera. Maybe they are also in the pastorate, but through their writing and teaching they exert a great deal of influence over others and what they believe about God. Most people—most Christians—will never become a theologian of that sort. But does that lessen any Christian’s responsibility to be a good theologian?

Being a good theologian is about applying ourselves to an active study of God, and letting the Bible—God’s own revelation—shape our beliefs about him.

While it’s true that we are all theologians (since we all have beliefs about God), not everyone has correct (biblical) beliefs; not everyone is a good theologian! Sometimes we have incorrect beliefs about God because we’ve been misled by false teaching, sometimes we’ve just been lazy, or maybe other times we’ve simply failed to think deeply about something we heard or read, and compare it to the Bible's teaching. But being a good theologian is about applying ourselves to an active study of God, and letting the Bible—God’s own revelation—shape our beliefs about him. 

Being a good theologian can be hard work sometimes. But so is anything that’s worthwhile. Marriage can be hard. For that matter, all relationships can be hard. Getting a promotion, earning a Ph.D., making sacrifices to serve others — all hard things, but they’re all worth it. And it’s worth it to be a good theologian, because it means knowing God as he’s revealed in Jesus, and in the Bible.

That’s our aim, to know him as much as we are able. And that’s what happens as you study him — you get to know him better. You gain a greater understanding, appreciation, and awe for who God is and what he’s done. You learn how to spot false teaching, and you grow in your knowledge of his words. And who knows when, but it will come in handy one day when you get asked the question, "How can I [understand], unless someone guides me" (Acts 8:31)!

REFLECTION

Would you agree with the statement, “There are only two kinds of people in the world: good theologians and bad theologians”? Why or why not?

Have you ever considered yourself a theologian? Have you ever considered where most of your beliefs about God came from? Passed down from family? Friends at work? Popular books or television? The Bible?

How does it benefit those around you as you learn and grow and become a better theologian?

For further reflection, read Acts 8:26-35.

God Communicates With Us -- And He Does It Through A Book

If you don’t like reading, fake it till you make it.

When I was in middle school and high school, I didn't read anything. To Kill A Mockingbird. The Scarlet Letter. Beowulf. Nothing. We were assigned all these classic novels that (now) I wish I had read. Somehow I got by, but not only was my laziness sinful, it was practically unhelpful as I got to college and had to read something. Winging it wasn't going to work anymore. So I forced myself and I did it — but I didn't enjoy it. I got bored. It made me tired. I knew I was being coerced into reading so I could get a decent grade. Whatever the excuse, I still hated reading.

Then sometime between undergrad and graduate school, I discovered a joy for reading. It was like someone flipped a switch. Reading was no longer a chore, but it was becoming a hobby. Maybe I was growing up. Maybe it was because I got to pick the books. Maybe it was friends who challenged me. In truth, it was probably a combination of all those. Or maybe the Holy Spirit simply worked a seismic miracle!

I’m grateful that God changed my feelings about reading; how else would I commune with him?

Since then, I’ve amassed a library of almost 1,000 books; many I’ve read, and many I still need to. So I am definitely not the me of fifteen years ago, the me that hated to read. And I’m unspeakably grateful that God changed my feelings about reading — because how else would I commune with him; how else would I know what he’s done and what he’s like?

God wants us to read; he has not left us to ourselves to figure him out. As with many of the world’s religions and philosophies, we’re not left to feel and guess and grope at notions of why the universe exists, or what part we play in it. God communicates with us — and he does it through a book. History’s meta-narrative, the grand overarching story of creation-fall-redemption, including the good news of God’s own son coming into the world, comes to us in a book.

Written down and compiled over nearly two millennia, by around forty authors from three continents, the Bible is the most unique book the world has ever and will ever see. And we as 21st-century American Christians have more access to it than any other people in the world, or in the history of the world. The Bible reveals God’s plan, his character and nature; it is full of history and poetry and wisdom. But what if I don't like reading? Do it anyway! A general disdain for reading will not set itself aside for the Bible. So fake it till you make it. Force yourself to sit down and read. God will take that time and use it; he’ll teach you and you’ll grow in your knowledge of him. He’s big enough to meet you there in spite of your reluctance.

While the Bible is the only book without error, God has blessed the church with so many other resources that can be a tremendous aid to our growth.

As you begin to enjoy (or at least tolerate) reading, you’ll see that, while the Bible is the only book without error, God has still blessed the church with so many other resources that can be a tremendous aid to our growth. Again, because of the internet especially, Christians today have access to articles, books, e-books, blogs, and sermon manuscripts that they couldn't have imagined even twenty years ago — and many of them at no cost to the reader! 

With so many good resources at our fingertips, all it takes to learn and grow is a commitment to read. After all, Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). And if we apply that to the amount of information we have available to us, we have a huge responsibility to fight through the excuses and take advantage of it!
 

REFLECTION

What stops you from reading more? Time? Interest? Something else?

Reading from a variety of sources is not bad, but why should we be careful about what we take in, other than the Bible?

Think about your typical day. Where could you make a little extra time for a habit of reading? And don’t say you don't have any!

For further reflection, read Psalm 119:9-24.

Is It True That Grass Is Green And The Sky Is Blue?

What is truth?

That was the question Pilate (I believe rhetorically) asked Jesus on the morning he was crucified. While Pilate was trying to ascertain guilt enough to warrant a death sentence, Jesus said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate answered with a question of his own, a question philosophers had been asking long before this day of Jesus’ trial — and people have been asking in every generation since. “What is truth?”

Is 2+2=4 true? Is it true that grass is green and the sky is blue? Is it true that I sound like Dr. Seuss, even though I’m not trying to?

The truth is, yes 2+2=4 — every time, in every culture, everywhere, on every day of the week. That truth is objectively true based on fixed laws of math; there is never a situation where you will not get 4 if you add 2 plus 2. And the green grass and blue sky? Yes, sometimes, and no, not really. Grass is green, unless it’s dead — then it’s brown. And it’s true the sky looks blue because we see blue light from the sun scattered through our atmosphere most of the time, but at dawn and dusk we see more red and orange light — so technically the sky doesn’t have a color because it depends on the time of day, light, and angle of viewing the sun. Our statement then, the grass is green and the sky is blue, is true upon conditions. It can be true, but it can also be not true. Head spinning yet?

One more. “There is no such thing as absolute truth — truth that’s true for everyone all the time.” Is that true? Of course not; in order for that statement to be true, it must be true for everyone all the time! No such thing as absolute truth? It sounds absurd, but people assert it, and as far as doubting truth goes, many believe seventeenth century French philosopher René Descartes to be the founding father.

Personal truth as the only truth, has inevitably grown out of Descartes’ foundational proposition cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” After all, that’s the only truth any person can be 100% sure of—his own existence. Right? Stay with me for one more minute. Because if that’s the case and I can’t be absolutely certain that anything else is objectively true, it follows that I am the maker of my own reality and the only truth for me is what I perceive to be real based on my experiences.

But do you see the problem? The wrong I Am is at the foundation.

Truth is a person; Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

When Moses asked God his name, God answered, “I Am” (Exodus 3:14). He is the only one who measures truth by his very existence, because he is Truth. And when we start the search for truth with ourselves instead of its author, we end up with nonsense like, “what’s true for you doesn’t have to be true for me.” There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what truth is, but why wouldn't there be for people who don’t know Jesus? Truth is a person; Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). When we don't recognize Jesus as the truth, everything else becomes distorted.

Pilate wondered, “What is truth,” with Truth standing right in front of him (John 18:38). The answer to his question, the thing he was after, was right in front of his face — and he missed it. Today, let’s not miss it. Look into the face of Jesus and find the Truth.

Pilate wondered, “What is truth,” with Truth standing right in front of him — and he missed it. Look into the face of Jesus and don’t miss the Truth!

 

REFLECTION

What kind of problems are created if everyone is able to define their own “truth”?

What “truths” have you created, that need to be measured against what Jesus said or taught?

For further reflection, read John 8:31-38. How can/does the truth set you free?

Becoming Like The Holy Spirit -- By Pointing To Jesus

"It is to your advantage that I go away..."

Can you imagine the disciples’ thoughts as Jesus spoke these words? How could it be to their advantage for him to go away? For a couple of years now they’d seen a man do the impossible. Heal the sick, walk on water, even raise people from the dead. He spoke like no one else ever had. This man, Jesus, claimed to be divine—and he had the miracles to prove it. 

What could possibly be gained if Jesus was not with them? His followers needed him to establish a new kingdom, to overthrow Rome and restore Israel. They needed him to teach them about the law and the prophets, to continue unfolding the Torah in ways that revealed its true intent. They needed him to be with them; he was their teacher, their rabbi, their Messiah.

Jesus did what was best for his people.

So why did Jesus have to go away? Because it was to their advantage — and ours. Jesus did what was best for his people. Bodily remaining with some of his followers would have been great, we can be sure. But sending the Helper so his ministry could continue in all of his followers everywhere, was best.

By going away, the Son would send the Holy Spirit to declare the truth about the world. That without believing in Jesus, the guilt of sin remains. That Jesus was righteous because he ascended back to the Father. That the ruler of this world is judged, his reign temporary, and one day sin’s power will have no hold on us. The Holy Spirit came to be a guide for all believers, to lead God’s people into truth, and to glorify Jesus by declaring what belongs to him. (John 16:8-14)

Maybe it’s almost appropriate that the Holy Spirit is often overlooked as the third person of the Trinity. Even while being divine himself, the ministry of the Holy Spirit is unique because it’s not about him—it’s about Jesus! The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to help us keep the commands of Jesus (John 14:15-17), to bring to remembrance the things Jesus taught (John 14:26), and to convict the world about its relationship to Jesus (John 16:8-11).

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is unique because it’s not about him—it’s about Jesus!

So why is it to our advantage that Jesus went away? Because he sent us another in his place to help us, comfort us, and point us back to him. And now Jesus can be present with all believers everywhere through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who, in a sense, does what we all should do: glorify God by declaring the truth according to God’s word, and pointing to the work of Jesus

 

REFLECTION

Why is it important to note the Holy Spirit’s role of pointing away from himself, illuminating the word and work of Jesus instead? What happens if we begin to focus an unbalanced amount of attention on the work of the Spirit?

Are you seeking the help of the Helper to experience Jesus’ presence in your life? What could be different with more of the Spirit’s work of revealing Jesus to you?

 

For further reflection, read John 16:4-15.

The Bible May Be Deep -- But We Have To Get In The Water

The Bible is too hard to understand.

Sound familiar? Even if you’ve never said it, chances are, you’ve heard it. And the truth is, the Bible can be a hard book to understand. It’s really a compilation of sixty-six books, all telling different parts of the same story. Some of the books are history, telling us what happened in the past; some of the books are prophecy, telling us what will happen in the future. Some of the books are poetry, some are letters written to churches 2,000 years ago. No wonder people say it’s hard to understand!

Most importantly, though, the Bible is the word of God. It was inspired by God himself, and the Holy Spirit guided its writing, compilation, and preservation. The Bible is also sufficient to teach us everything we need to know about God, about our relationship to him, and what we can do about it (which is really what God did about it).

But along with the inspiration and sufficiency of the Bible, we have a lesser known belief in the perspicuity (understandability) of the Bible. Because we believe the Bible was inspired by God and tells us everything that’s essential to our spiritual condition, the Bible can be clearly understood by any person of average intelligence. In other words, you don't need any special training to grasp the essential truths of the Bible.

But since the Bible is inspired, sufficient, and understandable — we have to get in the water.

Think of the ocean. A child can play in the shallowest parts on the beach, while any adult can swim out and play and surf and swim and enjoy the waves. Still farther out, with the right equipment an experienced diver can descend to parts unseen by most people, while the deepest parts will likely never be reached. Just because we’re not trained or prepared for deep sea diving doesn’t mean we can’t play in the water.

Likewise, just because there are deep parts of the Bible doesn’t mean we can’t still read and understand and grow. We may have to ease into it. We may have to work hard. We may need the right equipment to go deeper. But since the Bible is inspired, sufficient, and understandable — we have to get in the water. 

If you’re not a good swimmer, you need practice and some training. If you’re not a good Bible reader, or the Bible is hard to understand, maybe you simply need some direction and the right equipment. Several years ago I stumbled onto a strategy for Bible reading that has helped me wring out passages like never before. Coined by Matt Rogers, these Seven Arrows for Bible Reading* could help you better understand your Bible.

seven arrows.jpg

Answer a few, or answer them all. Either way, you will get more out of your reading when you read with a purpose. In order, the arrows ask you to look for seven things when you read the Bible:

  • What does the passage say? Try to summarize the main idea of the passage in one sentence.
  • What does the passage mean to its original audience? Try to figure out the author’s intent based on context and culture. (This question will likely require the help of a study Bible or other tools.)
  • What does this passage teach me about God? Try to discern what the text reveals about the nature and character of God.
  • What does this passage teach me about man? Try to recognize what the passage teaches about humanity (and man’s need for the gospel).
  • What does this passage demand of me? This question begins to apply the reading. Try to observe the ways the text calls you to action.
  • How does the passage change the way I relate to other people? This question applies the reading to relationships. Try to determine how the text shapes your daily interactions with those around you.
  • How does the passage prompt me to pray? Try to pick out specific ways to pray based on what you’ve read.

If you don't read the Bible regularly—or even if you do!—see if these questions don’t help you understand more of what you’re reading. The word of God is meant to be understood; God wants you to know him. So try it out! Wade out into the ocean. Start playing in the waves. Before you know it, you’ll be deeper than you ever expected!

For further reflection, try out the arrows on 2 Timothy 3:12-17.

 

*For more information, check out Seven Arrows, by Matt Rogers, available on Amazon.