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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.

What The Bible's Shortest Verse Can Teach Us About Grief

Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

The Bible is full of comfort for the hurt and grieving, and it speaks to our grief in a hundred different ways. For some, their comfort is in the nature of God as a loving father. For others, comfort is found in a familiar passage like Psalm 23, a chapter on the Lord as a shepherd tenderly caring for and protecting his sheep. For their comfort, some lean on a sturdy confidence in God’s providence, while others in God’s promises such as Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good for those who Love God and are called according to his purpose.

While there is certainly much comfort found in all those places and more, when it comes to offering hope to the hurting, there are two powerful words in the Bible that are often overlooked. Tucked away in the miraculous story of Lazarus’s resurrection, John 11:35—the Bible’s shortest verse, but perhaps one of the longest on implication—stands ready to flood our souls with truth about the Lord’s sympathy and compassion: “Jesus wept.”

Lazarus had been dead for four days. His sisters, Mary and Martha, both greeted Jesus with the same mixture of emotions, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They believed Jesus could have healed him, but they despaired that he was too late. Many of the Jews had come to console them, and they mourned with Mary and Martha. And as Jesus looked on their sadness, as he watched them grieve the most intense loss we feel in this life—the death of a loved one—he was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” As they went to the tomb where Lazarus was laid, Jesus wept. (John 11:17-35)

Sometimes Jesus has an odd way of giving us what he knows we need. But in the meantime, Jesus simply wept with this friends.

The son of God. The second person of the Trinity. “The radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3), in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). This Jesus, who knew how it all would turn out, still wept with his friends. Jesus knew Lazarus would be resurrected. He knew that sheer joy and celebration were just around the corner. In fact, he stayed away an extra two days when he heard Lazarus was ill, so that the disciples, Mary and Martha, and the onlooking Jews would see the glory of God and believe (John 11:5-6, 14-15, 40). Jesus loved this family and knew that witnessing Lazarus’s resurrection would deepen their faith more than seeing him healed. Sometimes Jesus has an odd way of giving us what he knows we need. But in the meantime, Jesus simply wept with this friends.

It’s an incredible comfort to know Jesus sympathizes with our pain, that he’s compassionate and meets us in our grief. It’s no small thing to read that Jesus wept with these people he loved. He knows death is not eternal. He knows resurrection is coming. He knows life and glory are just around the corner, but in the moment, suffering and death and tremendous grief were real — and Jesus mourned their effect. 

In Jesus’ tears we see how he loved Lazarus (John 11:36). His example teaches us there’s a way to mourn while staying confident in God. In Jesus we see what it looks like to not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). And as Jesus mourns the sadness of death before he resurrects Lazarus, so we mourn the reality of suffering and death before the final Resurrection, when Jesus will “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

 

REFLECTION

Have you ever heard it said that intense grief indicates a lack of faith? How does Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus’s death indicate otherwise?

Jesus didn't go to Lazarus immediately when he heard he was sick, which led to Mary and Martha’s suffering when he died. What comfort can be gained by observing Jesus’ reason for this (that they would see the glory of God and believe)?

When you’ve experienced grief (maybe that’s right now), what comforts you? Is there any hope in knowing Jesus sympathizes, cares, and mourns with you even though he knows how he’ll use this to deepen your faith?

For further reflection, read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.

"Everything Happens For A Reason" May Not Be Helpful -- But Don't Stop Believing It

I recently read an article encouraging Christians to stop saying “everything happens for a reason.” The argument? Everything doesn’t actually happen for a reason.

According to the author, some of life’s occurrences are random — but they “can ultimately be redeemed and used by God for a purpose (Romans 8:28).” There’s a distinction between some of life’s events happening with purpose, and some happening randomly but with qualities God can redeem after for his purposes. “These two things are quite different if you begin to unpack their meaning and understanding.”

But there are a few problems with this. First and foremost, the Bible doesn’t support it. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers (Genesis 37). Job lost everything he owned, his children, and his health (Job 1-2). Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, was sick and died—causing confusion and pain for friends and family—since Jesus wouldn't go to heal him (John 11). Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, “a messenger of Satan to harass him” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Jesus, an innocent man, was murdered publicly and with the approval of all the involved religious and political leaders (Acts 4:27-28).

God doesn’t spin the world, take his hands off, and wait for opportunities to step in and clean up a mess.

Can we all agree these are horrible events? Of course we can. And while not a single one of us would like to find ourselves in a similar situation, often times we do (except for being crucified for the sin of the world). We lose jobs. We lose loved ones to cancer and car wrecks and house fires. We go through divorce and abuse. These are all situations of intense pain and suffering.

And yet the Bible is clear. God is not random. He doesn’t spin the world, take his hands off, and wait for opportunities to step in and clean up a mess. He is sovereign. He is wise. And his ways—though they may include hard times and pain—are higher than our ways and always work together for our good (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 8:28).

Joseph was used to save Israel and preserve God’s people during a great famine (Genesis 50:20). Job experienced God’s faithfulness and blessing on the other side of heavy suffering (Job 42). Jesus let Lazarus die on purpose so that the power of God would be displayed in his resurrection and people would believe (John 11:14-15). Paul’s thorn kept him humble and taught him about the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). The death of Jesus was the most heinous act of evil ever committed — but it brought salvation to the world (Romans 5:6-11).

While it may sound like a help to believe suffering does not intentionally come to us from God, the biblical truth is that it does — and the real comfort is in knowing God has a plan for your pain, to grow you, to make you more like Jesus, to use you as his ambassador.

It’s a mystery why and how God allows pain and suffering, and how he intends to use it for good. Yes, God is love. Yes, he is good. But yes, he is still sovereign over his creation, absolutely sovereign over all of it (Isaiah 46:8-11). While it may sound like a help to believe suffering does not intentionally come to us from God, the biblical truth is that it does — and the real comfort is in knowing God has a plan for your pain, to grow you, to make you more like Jesus, to use you as his ambassador. The only real comfort is in knowing God is not out of control and in every situation there is a definite purpose.

At the same time we can all agree it typically doesn’t comfort hurting people to hear aphorisms like "everything happens for a reason.” Most of the time it can be insensitive, and therefore I agree it shouldn't be used lightly on people in the midst of their pain. So get rid of the bathwater, sure, but let’s get the baby out first.

Don’t fall for a fake comfort. Everything does happen for a reason. Jesus said not even a bird falls from the sky apart from God (Matthew 10:29-31). Your circumstances are not random and meaningless. It’s precisely because everything happens for a reason that you can trust God to fulfill his purpose and bring you safely through it. It may just take a little faith.

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.

When A Yoke Is More Than A Farming Tool

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  -Jesus

For years I've read these words and imagined two animals attached at the neck or shoulders by an apparatus--a yoke. I see them in a field, plowing or doing some hard work. In other words, I picture the header image above. And you do, too. Not because of the header image, but because that's what we've been taught--that Jesus's yoke is like this. That, just like these two animals, he wants us to yoke ourselves to him. That he wants our lives connected to his in such a way that he is the one working in us and through us. That we can't bear the heavy weight of the Law and sinlessness, but he can. This is widely how it's preached from the pulpit, printed in commentaries, and encouraged by devotionals.

And none of those applications are wrong, but what if they're... incomplete? What if there's another meaning of 'yoke' that gives a much richer, fuller significance to Jesus's words? What if we can have a deeper sense of Jesus's yoke by abandoning the agricultural image?

Remember, Jesus Was A Jewish Rabbi

Years ago, I heard someone teach a pretty hot take on the 'yoke' in this passage. It was one I'd never heard before, and it was profound! So profound, in fact, that I looked for it elsewhere--in books and commentaries, and online in the sermons of some of my favorite preachers. To my disappointment, I couldn't find anyone else teaching it. So I put it in the back of my mind, always remembering it, wanting it to be true, but resigning myself to thinking that, at best, it's an interesting thought. Last week as I began reading Andrew Murray's Abide in Christ, and meditating on the ideas of working, resting, and abiding--I recalled that teaching on yokes:

Rabbis during Jesus’ time selected students...who followed their rabbi in order to learn his interpretations of the Torah and to model his obedience to God’s law. A rabbi’s [disciples] were said to take on the “yoke of Torah,” which meant they committed themselves to obeying Torah as the rabbi interpreted and taught it. -Ray Vander Laan, “Life and Ministry of the Messiah: Study Guide”

To double-check this teaching that I needed to be true now more than ever (as it relates to abiding in Christ, and coming to him for rest), I reached out to a Jewish friend of mine at Chosen People Ministries. I simply emailed him and asked if a yoke is a rabbi's set of teachings about the Torah. "Yes, that is absolutely true!" But it's not only teachings and interpretations; it includes practices and behavior as well.

As the master of master teachers, Jesus certainly knew (perhaps even also intended) the farm analogy of a yoke--but remember, Jesus is a Jewish rabbi! We think about yokes as tools for work, but Jesus was speaking about rest. In other words, Rabbi Jesus has a way that he interprets and teaches the Torah. This rabbi has practices and behaviors that he wants us to model. This rabbi has a yoke--and it's easy! It's not like the yokes of the other rabbis. And if we'll take it and learn from him, we'll find rest. So what is Jesus's yoke? Reread his invitation without the oxen plowing the field: "Take my yoke (my teachings, interpretations, behaviors, and practices) upon you, and learn from me...and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." 

Love God, Love People

Jesus's yoke is not about working, but about resting. Abiding in him by faith. Learning from his teachings, following his example of loving and serving people. Jesus not only interpreted the Torah, but fulfilled it! And summed it up in one--the greatest--command: Love God, and love people.

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

That is Jesus's yoke! Love God, and love people. Forget the farm animals. Take that yoke upon yourself, and you will find rest.