The Start of Something Thoughtful

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Today I start a new series called Theology Thursday. Every Thursday I’ll take a look at a different theological topic and write about it from the perspective of a conservative Calvinist. You can throw out your thoughts in the comments section and we’ll think through the topic together.

To kick off the series I’ll answer this question – What is theology?

Simply put, theology is the study of what a religion (in this case, Christianity) believes to be true, and/or the body of beliefs held by a religion. The word technically means the study of God (theos – God; logos – knowledge, study), but Christian theology has been broken down into many categories depending on what specific topic you are studying and therefore I think a broader definition is the easier one with which to work.

The second part of that definition is very important. If theology is the body of beliefs about God, everyone is a theologian. It is not something we can leave to the scholars and pastors. When someone makes a statement about God, they are making a theological statement.

Jesus is God – theology.

There is no god – theology.

We are all part of god – theology.

Whether their statement is right or wrong, orthodox or heretical, well-thought-out or simply shot from the hip, the things someone says about God are their theology. Even statements like “I don’t do theology” or “Theology is divisive” are theology because they are reflecting what someone believes about the importance of knowing the truth about God and our relation to Him.

What you believe about God is of incredible importance and carries huge consequences. It is worth taking the time to figure out what you believe, studying to find out if what you believe is right or wrong, and then learning more. It won’t be easy, but it will be infinitely rewarding.

For a post on the objections raised against learning theology, go here.

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The Thief on the Cross isn’t the Universal Out

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

(Luke 23:39-43 ESV)

iStock_000016225378Small-300x199This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. The thief was a person like any of us, dying a death he deserved for the crime he had committed, and in the midst of all of it Jesus had mercy on him. When he closed his eyes in death in this world he opened them in Paradise in the next. Powerful, heavy stuff that deserves to be preached often.

However, it is disturbing to me how often this story is used as an out for obedience to the clear commands for Christians found in the Bible.

So many people seem to view this man as the universal out, the story they can pull up to justify why they don’t do follow such New Testament commands as baptism, church attendance, communion, monetary giving, sin killing, and many, many more.

“Well, the thief on the cross didn’t do that and he still went to heaven, so I don’t have to do that, either.”

All I have to say to that is this : Grow up.

No, the thief wasn’t baptized. He didn’t attend church with other Christians. He didn’t take communion or give money to the church. He didn’t see fruits of sanctification, evangelize to the lost, learn theology, encourage others in their Christian walk, etc.

He didn’t have time.

You do.

Unless you are a brand-new Christian reading this post on your death bed, you have time for these things. (If you are on your deathbed, please switch to reading the Bible. I won’t mind.)

You have time to find a church, get plugged in, give sacrificially, read your Bible, learn theology, fellowship with other Christians, sing and pray to God, and take communion. You have time to be baptized as a physical and public sign of your faith. You have time to make war with your sin and time to tell others about Jesus.

It is true that you don’t need to do any of these things to be saved. Salvation comes by faith in Christ through His grace and cannot be earned. 

If you don’t do any of these things, don’t want to do them, and feel no guilt for not doing them, though, you may have a problem.

Instead of figuring out how to use the Bible’s stories of God’s incredible grace and mercy to excuse your behavior, grow up. Find a church. Read your Bible. Get baptized. Tell others about the One who brought you from death to life. Not because you are checking things off a to-do list for salvation, but because you are willing to do anything that Jesus, your most precious treasure, has commanded and enabled you to do.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

(Philippians 2:12-16 ESV, emphasis mine)

On Theology

Recently I sat in a church classroom and listened to a seminary-trained pastor strongly imply that learning theology makes people proud Pharisees, while people who know little to nothing about theology are closer to an “authentic” relationship with God. They may sound wrong, and do things wrong, and hold wrong beliefs, but at least they are not full of pride.

I thought my head was going to explode.

I do think that people can be Christians without having done any study of theology. That’s where many people start their walk with Jesus. However, I don’t think that is the proper place for people to end their walk with Jesus (unless the beginning and end are really close together). Here are three arguments people make against learning theology and why I don’t believe they are valid. I am also including a list of books that I have found to be greatly helpful at the end of the post.

1. Theology is unnecessary to know Jesus

Maybe it is unnecessary to have studied theology to become a Christian, as I said above. The longer you are a Christian, though, the more you should know about the God you worship. Many different versions of Jesus are being preached today—the Jesus of orthodox Christianity, the Jesus of the prosperity gospel, the Jesus of liberal theology, etc. How do you know which one (or ones) is/are right? How do you know what Jesus was and is really like? Further, how do you know what Jesus wants?

2. Theology is divisive

Yes, it can be—and necessarily so. A Christian should not be in fellowship with false teachers (Ro. 16:17). Many people try to make a church split over theology sound as stupid as a church split over what color the carpet should be, but that simply shows how little value they place on knowing what God has told us. Theology does not always divide, and mature Christians should be able to work and worship alongside other Christians who hold valid theological positions different from their own. However, we should be able to recognize and root-out heresy within our ranks.

3. Theology makes you proud

I will concede that theology can make you proud. So can not knowing theology. I’ve heard pastors who are proud of the fact that they have no formal theological training; I’ve heard laymen who are full of pride because they have never let someone else teach them about God. I will also argue that a good understanding of theology shouldn’t make you proud. Indeed, as you study who you are and what God has done through His Son more and more deeply, you will have less cause for pride—not more.

Pastors, teach theology—even the deep stuff. Teach it in your sermons. Teach it in your Bible studies. Make sure your church’s other teachers know enough to teach theology in their Bible studies, small groups, and Sunday school classes. Strive to pastor a church full of mature Christians who know what they believe.

Christians, learn theology. The Bible is the best teacher of theology, so start with dedicated Bible reading. Read the whole book, not just the sections you like. After that, get a good book about theology, either general or on a specific topic, and read it. Then read another. Learn to take the good and leave the bad. Most importantly, let your learning drive you to your knees before God in worship and adoration.

Books I have enjoyed:

  • Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis
  • Why We’re Not Emergent – Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck (I know the Emergent Church thing is kind of over, but the information in this book is still really relevant and interesting)
  • Raised with Christ – Adrian Warnock
  • Scandalous – D. A. Carson
  • The God Who is There – D. A. Carson
  • Redemption – Mike Wilkerson
  • Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
  • The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus – Gary Habermas and Michael Licona
  • The Work of Christ – R. C. Sproul
  • By Grace Alone – Sinclair Ferguson

Originally posted at The Anon Church blog. Reposted here in its entirety.