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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.

Thankfulness Is Not Natural -- But Christians Are Supernatural

Put on a new self.

The idea of universal truth has come under attack in our culture. It’s a serious debate, whether something can be 100% true all the time. But we know universal truth exists, and it can be proved by this one simple experiment: serve a slice of chocolate cake to two siblings, giving one a (possibly even unnoticeably) bigger slice than the other, then sit back and watch what happens.

“That’s not fair. His piece is bigger than mine!”

This is who we are in our natural selves. Sin makes us selfish. Sin makes us ungrateful.

Every time. Without fail. Universally true for every piece of cake ever distributed to a child under the age of ten. If you're a parent, you can recall this scene happening a thousand different ways with your own children. If you don't have kids, just know that your parents could recall this scene happening a thousand different ways with you. And no parent’s “You should be thankful for what you got” response has ever sunk in and caused a child to not feel slighted by the smaller piece of cake.

This is who we are in our natural selves. Sin makes us selfish. Sin makes us ungrateful. But Christians are called to the super-natural. Gratefulness is not natural to the sinful heart; it can’t simply be conjured up because someone tells us to be thankful. But Someone does tell us—commands us—to be thankful, and now every Christian has a duty to live a life of gratitude.

In Colossians 3, the apostle Paul exhorts believers in Christ to put on a new self, a self that is not natural, not like the world, and not like the old self we were before coming to Jesus (3:5-14). His encouragement is grounded in our union with Christ. (3:1-3)

Since we’ve been empowered to live not according to our own nature, but Christ’s, Paul exhorts us to thankfulness as a mark of the new self.

Union with Christ not only gives us the what to be thankful for — it also gives us the power to live that way. Being united to Christ actually empowers us to be thankful, to live a life that reflects Jesus’ own nature and attitudes. And since we’ve been empowered to live not according to our own nature, but Christ’s, Paul exhorts us to thankfulness as a mark of the new self. In verses 15-17, there are three references to thankfulness.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

Like love, thankfulness is both something we feel and something we do. With the power of the Holy Spirit, it is something that can (and should!) become a distinguishing characteristic of God’s people. Gratefulness is not natural, therefore it doesn't come easy—but it is commanded. And it’s what sets Christians apart from the world. Believer, you are different because you have put on a new self, a self united with Christ, and you are not bound by the natural; no matter the circumstances, you have been empowered to live a supernatural life of thankfulness!

 

REFLECTION

Is a life of thankfulness realistic, especially with all of life’s trials and adversities?

Paul’s exhortation to the life of gratitude is grounded in our union with Christ. Why is it important to understand thankfulness springs from our position in Christ, not life’s circumstances?

Is your life marked by thankfulness? Does your new self look more like Christ or your old self?

For further reflection, read Colossians 3:1-17.

Baptism: A One-Time Event And A Constant Reminder

Buried with Christ in death; raised to walk in newness of life.

Many of us have either had this familiar mantra spoken directly to us, or have been around church (especially Baptist churches) long enough to hear it spoken over others. But unfortunately, time and familiarity can erode the effect such a powerful truth can have on our hearts.

As children we’re wired to remember everything; our minds are like sponges that soak in every detail — but somewhere along the way that sponge begins to leak. The information begins to seep out, and all of a sudden one day we can’t remember what we ate for lunch the day before. (I had two chicken sandwiches, by the way, so I’m not quite there yet.)

That’s why God built reminders into our faith — so that our minds don’t grow dull with the memory of his work in our lives, and our affections never get bored of sensing his glory.

However, the good thing for all of us is that it’s not important to remember what you ate yesterday. But it is of utmost value to remember spiritual truths and realities, especially when they have personal and practical implications. And God knows that our minds easily forget. That’s why he’s built reminders into our faith — so that our minds don’t grow dull with the memory of his work in our lives, and our affections never get bored of sensing his glory.

Baptism is one such reminder, but how? Getting baptized is the first step of a Christian’s obedience. In the New Testament and much of the history of the church, baptism immediately followed (or even initially proclaimed) a new believer’s faith. But unlike communion, which is regularly practiced, baptism is a one-time event. So how is baptism given to us as a constant reminder of the truth of Romans 6:3-4? That all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death, and just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we too are raised to walk in newness of life.

In our own baptism we proclaim to everyone, “That’s happened to me!” There’s usually excitement and celebration and a shot of spiritual adrenaline that accompanies our baptism. But over time that energy fades. We always remember our own baptism, but many of us don't get excited about it anymore. It doesn’t have to be that way though.

More than a little has been preached and written and shared about getting baptized if you never have been. But Christian, when was the last time you were exhorted to celebrate others being baptized and let it call to your remembrance your own baptism and its significance? In regular practice, the baptism of others should call back to our minds the reality that each of us has also participated in that same death and resurrection, that same cleansing from our sin, and all the joy and excitement that come with it. As we look on we should reflect on our own faith, and let the initial gratitude and zeal for God come rushing back.

This is why my faith is not just about me and God, and your faith is not just about you and God. Faith is a personal thing, but it’s not meant to be private. I need to be reminded of the joy I felt the day I got baptized. We all do, and every time we witness a baptism let’s remember our own, join in the celebration, and be reminded that we were dead and now we’re alive!  

 

REFLECTION

What do you remember about your own baptism? When you think about it, does it energize you?

If the power of baptism is not in the water or the act of being dunked, but in the truth it represents — why is it so important for Christians to participate in the actual event of being baptized?

If you’ve never been baptized, what’s stopping you?

If you have, what aspect of your faith can you celebrate as you remember your own public profession? Freedom from sin? New life? Eternal security? Something else?

For further reflection, read Romans 6:1-14.

The Church Is Full Of Messed Up People -- And We Should Love It

Have you ever wondered if the perfect church is out there?

Maybe you’ve tried a few different ones looking for it. Like a beautiful mythical creature, somewhere hides this unicorn church that always does everything right, believes everything right, and all the people are friendly, holy, and happy. Maybe you think you’ve found it. If you think you have, just wait; you simply haven't been there long enough — like more than five minutes.

Because the truth is, there is no perfect church. The church is a people. And as long as people sin, people make a mess of things — including the gathering together of the body of Christ. Some churches are better at loving and serving people. Some are better at putting together a well-ordered worship service. Some are better at singing or preaching or serving their community — but no church is perfect because people are not perfect.

The poster-child for messed-up churches is the church in Corinth. Reading though the Apostle Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians reveals that their church was riddled with division, sexual immorality, lawsuits against each other, idolatry, false teaching, and all kinds of sin.

And yet, in 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul describes the church as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Despite all their sin and every vile thing they were doing, Paul addressed them as a people made holy—set apart—in Christ. He affirmed that as the church, they were “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus.” They were saints, too, along with the Galatians, the Colossians, and even the Philippians, Paul’s favorite church. The Corinthian church, with all its problems, was identified with all other believers in the Lord, and in no way was it seen as inferior or second-rate because of the many issues in the church. Paul rebuked them for many of the things they were doing, and he had strong words for them — but he also boasted about them (2 Cor 9:2) and wrote to them, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor 12:15). 

As far as the east is from the west, the Corinthians were from the perfect church — but they were saints. They were sanctified in Christ, and Paul loved them dearly. Today the Church (and every local church that comprises it) is no different. Division. Immorality. False teaching. Idolatry. No church is perfect. In fact, most churches are just plain messed up — and still, we should love it.

And while often the church is not pretty either, still we’re encouraged to love our brothers and sisters through their mess because Jesus loves the church.

We don't love the sin. We don't love the heartache and the strife and the brokenness. But we love the church. Because the church is a people. We love the church because Jesus loves the church. He died for the church and one day he’ll return for the church. It’s a great mystery but the church is the body of Christ, so don't ever believe anyone if they tell you they love Jesus, but not the church. If you think that’s possible, try it out sometime. Tell someone close to you that you love them as a person, but you don't love their body. See what kind of response you get. Hint: it won’t be pretty.

And while often the church is not pretty either, still we’re encouraged to love our brothers and sisters through their mess because Jesus loves the church. He gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). Paul loved the church, and if he could have great pride even in the church at Corinth (2 Cor 7:4), we can have pride in the Church as well, flawed and imperfect as it may be. So stop looking for a perfect church. Let’s look at a perfect Christ, roll up our sleeves, and love the imperfect church.

 

REFLECTION

Why do we lament and stress about messiness in our churches? We know everyone sins—including ourselves. Why are we surprised by it?

The sin of the Corinthian church is well-documented. Considering all their sin, how can Paul speak so highly of them at times?

What comfort is there in reading of Paul’s affection for such a messed up church as the one in Corinth? What comfort is there in Paul’s calling them sanctified, and saints together with other believers?

What is one practical way to “love the church”? (Remember, church is a people.)

For further reflection, read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.