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theology

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.

Bullseye, Mr Tozer

I like books. I enjoy reading too, but that's not what I'm talking about. I like the books, themselves. I like books per se. So I have a lot of books, and they're organized by genre. History. Theology. Biography. Ministry. Commentary. Et cetera.

Then I have this half-shelf that I simply refer to as "favorites." These are not really my favorite books, but more like the ones I believe would be of great benefit for any... or every Christian to read. I recently finished reading The Pursuit of God by AW Tozer. It sits on that shelf of "favorites" -- and these are some of my favorite quotes. Enjoy.

There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives. (p.8)
The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts. (p.10)
We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety; this is especially true when those treasures are loved relatives and friends. But we need have no such fears. Out Lord came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe which we commit to Him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed. 
Our gifts and talents should also be turned over to Him. They should be recognized for what they are, God's loan to us, and should never be considered in any sense our own. We have no more right to claim credit for special abilities than for blue eyes or strong muscles. (p.28)
The greatest fact of the tabernacle was that Jehovah was there; a Presence was waiting within the veil. Similarly the Presence of God is the central fact of Christianity. At the heart of the Christian message is God Himself waiting for His redeemed children to push in to conscious awareness of His Presence. (p.37)
What God in His sovereignty may yet do on a world-scale I do not claim to know: but what He will do for the plain man or woman who seeks His face I believe I do know and can tell others. Let any man turn to God in earnest, let him begin to exercise himself unto godliness, let him seek to develop his powers of spiritual receptivity by trust and obedience and humility, and the results will exceed anything he may have hoped in his leaner and weaker days. (p.71)

*All quotes taken from this publication of The Pursuit of God:
Martino Fine Books (2009-11-12)
ISBN 10: 1578988519 / ISBN 13: 9781578988518

Does The Heaven Promise Deliver?

Heaven is no easy topic to write about--yet there is no lack of people who've taken up the task. As Scot McKnight points out in his new book The Heaven Promise, a browse through the local Christian bookstore or a quick Google search reveals that heaven is an "intense human interest story." And how much more now with the recent surge of heaven tourism books...well, at least the ones that aren't rescinded because the author admits to making up the story.

So who better than a seminary professor who teaches New Testament to write a book about heaven with the subtitle, Engaging the Bible's Truth About Life to Come? Except for the Bible obviously, that's the only book about heaven I'm interested in--one that engages what the Bible says about it! And The Heaven Promise promised to be that book:
"In what follows I want to sketch the most important ideas about heaven that come from the Bible." (page 8)
"God gave us our imaginations, but the surest place for understanding Heaven is not our imaginations or stories of afterlife experiences, but the Bible itself." (page 135)
"At the heart of my own argument is the belief that Christians need to form their beliefs about Heaven on the basis of the Bible." (page 165)

Unfortunately though, The Heaven Promise didn't deliver--which is unfortunate, because I liked much of the book. Well, I liked much of the first half. It's basically divided into two halves; the first to look at the promises of heaven, and the second to answer some FAQ's about heaven. Especially interesting to me in the first half are discussions of:
The two dominant views of heaven--theocentric and kingdom-centric (pages 11-14);
The difference between lowercase-h heaven, and uppercase-H Heaven (page 45);
Heaven as a place of deep, ecstatic joy and pleasure (pages 76-79).

To be fair, I agreed with much of what the author said, but I disagreed with much, too. And it's where I disagreed that I have the problem--not because I disagreed per se, but because I expected to be persuaded; I expected to engage the Bible's truth about Heaven. However, the second half of the book, especially, interacts very little with Scripture--at least in any meaningful way. In the section of the book with the potential to be the only part a casual reader may look at, this was where Scripture really needed to dominate the discussion. The FAQ's. The questions about pets. And people who've never heard of Jesus. And purgatory. And children who die. The questions people are asking. The questions were supposed to be answered by "engaging the Bible's truth."

Instead, many of the questions were answered with "it gets speculative at this point," "we don't know how God," "I cannot see how," "I am not confident the Bible allows us to answer this question with absolute confidence," and there was one especially entertaining string of if-then statements about marriage and families in Heaven.

Despite its challenges and failing to actually interact with much of the Bible on the topic of Heaven, I would recommend this book for the purpose of light study. For the person studying Heaven and wanting some interesting (and even encouraging) popular-level thoughts about it, this book would work. For the person searching for biblical answers about Heaven, I wouldn't recommend it--which is not fun to say since that was the author's aim.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

Don't Skip To The End This Christmas

Whether it's a book, a movie, or in the case of Christmas presents for little kids in the house, an instruction manual--we all are tempted to do the same thing: skip to the end. But when we give in to that ever-present temptation to cheat, it's never as satisfying as when we'd invested the time and arrived at the end the way in which we were intended. Not only do we rob its creator of the time and effort they put into producing the work, but we rob ourselves of the journey. For books and movies, that means we know the story, and all (or most of) our questions are answered. For instruction manuals, it means we have a toy that's properly built, works, and with minimal frustration, Daddy can get in bed at a decent hour on Christmas Eve.

But every Christmas--a holiday dedicated to the incarnation of God, the Word becoming flesh, the birth of the God-man--we do it. We skip straight to the end. We cheat. We rob God of the story he cared so much to write. And we rob ourselves of having our questions answered because we know the whole story. Maybe you've said it. I've probably said it.

"Jesus came to die." Well, yes and no.

It's become an incredible pet peeve of mine during the Christmas holidays. Here is a holiday dedicated to celebrating the birth of Christ. His birth, the beginning of his earthly life. And we barely have him out of his swaddling cloths before we're talking about his death. Did Jesus come to die? Yes, but what an incomplete statement! Had he only come to die, why not show up on Good Friday, get on the cross, and get on with it? Because he also came to live!

Here is a holiday dedicated to celebrating the birth of Christ. And we barely have him out of his swaddling cloths before we’re talking about his death.

There is no separating Jesus's perfectly obedient life from his sacrificial death. Had Jesus not lived a perfect life, obeying God down to every jot and tittle of the Law, he could not have died a death that would satisfy God's demand for holiness. In other words, Jesus came to live without sin, so that his death would achieve all that it's intended to--salvation, but also righteousness. The apostle Paul says it this way, "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5.18-19)

So this Christmas don't cheat yourself out of the rest of the story; without the middle part the ending doesn't make sense. Don't pass over the manger to get right to the cross. Stop and appreciate the miracle of incarnation. Wonder over what it means for the Word to become flesh. Read Luke 2.1-21, and reflect on the Christ child who was born, who would grow up, be tempted, get hungry, cry, laugh, hurt, and live--but live without sin. This Christmas celebrate Jesus's life and his active obedience. Jesus came to live; he came to obtain a righteousness that could be imputed to us when we had only sin to impute to him. (2 Corinthians 5.21)

So this Christmas don't skip straight to Good Friday. Celebrate his birth, life, and obedience on our behalf. Stop and celebrate Christmas!

Make More Worshipers, Not Just More People

This week we continued our study of family discipleship (I'm not even calling it "parenting" anymore) by considering God's command (or blessing) in Genesis 1.28, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it...." Most notably we identified the importance of bearing children not simply to populate the world, but to populate the world with worshipers of God. 

And since marriage is designed by God to teach what God is like, and (think back to Ephesians 5) the nature of the relationship between Christ and the church, no marriage--no matter how many physical children it produces--is excused from making spiritual children. The Apostle Paul uses the language of motherhood and fatherhood in his letters to teach us the importance of investing in the next generation of disciples--though he, himself, had no physical children. 

So since we have a spiritual responsibility to make disciples of the next generation--and that with our own children first--it's important to understand the family as God's primary learning community. No other institution can replace the family as the first place children learn about God--no, not even the church!

"And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work he had done for Israel." Judges 2.10

In Judges 2.6-15 we have a grim description of what happened to the Israelites within one generation (one generation!) of entering the promised land. One group of people entered a land of blessing, by God's miraculous work--and their children grew up and turned away from the Lord, worshiping the idols of the peoples around them. 

They failed to adequately teach and remind their children of the Lord's commands, and train them to remember what He had done for them. They failed at living out Deuteronomy 6.4-12.

But how does Deuteronomy 6 help us parent? 

It's one-size-fits-all, but it's not the same for everyone
The command for parents to make disciples at home first, is universal. In Deuteronomy 6 we find the call to parents to teach, train, and raise children to worship God--and to do it by way of immersing them in talk and recognition of the Lord, His teaching, and His works. The mandate is for everyone, but it looks very different from family to family.

It happens slowly, and the parents change first
This is not an overnight fix. There are no six-steps to follow. Without giving us a list of do's and don'ts for good parenting, Deuteronomy 6 tells us how to target our children's hearts, minds, and souls--where their actions really come from. If we talk all the time about God's goodness and how He's blessed us, it's hard for our children to learn bitterness. When we have a problem, if we always first turn to God in prayer, it's hard for our children to come to believe that God can't be trusted. When God hears those prayers and answers, if we celebrate His goodness, it's hard for our children to come to believe that God is not intimately involved in our lives. And finally, when we act, react, think, and talk in godly and intentional ways, our children will begin to imitate us. It's what they do; it's the way God designed it to work!

Next we'll look at a serious, rubber-meets-the-road method families can employ to intentionally seek the heart transformation and head knowledge that equip children for lifelong discipleship!