An Approach to Doing Theology (Part 3)

27 Mar

How ought we to “do” theology in today’s world?  What should be the steps that we can follow to insure that we take both issues and the Bible seriously?

This semester I’m teaching a course entitled “Theological Methods and Issues.”  This upper-level seminary course has thirteen students who are presenting two papers each on topics they have chosen.

We have already looked at STEP #1 entitled STATING THE TOPIC. We are to clearly identify the underlying issue, then state the topic which we are addressing.

STEP #2 involves FRAMING THE QUESTION which leads to a process of inquiry.

The THIRD STEP in our THEOLOGICAL METHOD is IDENTIFYING THE IMPORTANCE. This is a reminder to us that theology is not a mental intramural sport!  We are dealing with what GOD SAYS about a certain topic — and we dare not trifle with His Word!  Because theology speaks to our deepest needs, we need to listen to what God says.

Sometimes we believers can get too emeshed in theological minutia, forgetting the importance of the topic at hand.

The following cartoon illustrates this danger:

When we make every theological issue a 1st level doctrine, then there is no room for disagreement between believers.  If all issues are equally clear in Scripture — and they aren’t — then someone who holds a different view from mine must be a false teacher!

Are some doctrines more important than others?  Of course!  The deity of Christ is far more important than the issue “Have miraculous gifts ceased?”  In IDENTIFYING THE IMPORTANCE of the issue we must allow Scripture to set the agenda, to show us the vitalness of that doctrine, and to frame our response to it.


1.  Why do we believers tend to make all doctrinal issues non-negotiables?  How have we lost the ability to charitably disagree with one another on distinctives issues (= issues on which Christians can hold different perspectives)?

2.  What are some reasons we don’t see theological issues as important as they are?


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4 responses to “An Approach to Doing Theology (Part 3)

  1. Nathan Tumey

    March 28, 2012 at 5:55 am

    Larry, you speak a lot about Hell in your posts. In your opinion, where does this doctrine fit into the “negotiable” and “non-negotiable” continuum? I’ve always felt that this was a “negotiable” doctrine – as many Christians throughout the ages have struggled with it and come to various conclusions. (from universalism, annihilationism, eternal conscious punishment, purgatory, or various places inbetween) I have viewed the debate over Hell much like the debate over “free will” vrs “predestination” and “old earth creationism” vrs “young earth creationism”. Certainly these issues are important, but at some point equally intelligent Christians can amicably agree to disagree.

    However, based on your recent writings (and book reviews), I am under the impression that you place your stated views about Hell (eternal conscious punishment) as closer to a “non-negotiable” doctrine. Is this correct or am I mis-reading your posts?

    • larrydixon

      March 29, 2012 at 6:20 am

      Thanks for your comments, Nathan. You’re reading me accurately, I believe. If the Good News of the Gospel is one and not many, I believe the Bad News of the Gospel is one and not many. The preponderance of the Scriptures supports eternal conscious punishment, I believe, even though I wish it were not so. If one takes the Scriptures seriously, there is overwhelming evidence against universalism, post-mortem conversion, and, I believe, annihilationism. I’d be interested in your take on Baker’s book if you get a chance to read it. Blessings. Larry

  2. Jim Virtue

    March 28, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks so much for this discussion. I’m excited to see where this goes because the things you’re discussing were the bane of my going into full time ministry. I’ve often said that I came into Northeastern Bible College as a Sophomore transfer with all the answers and left a graduate with a whole lot of questions. That’s a good thing if you’re trying to get to the heart of a matter and find the truth. It’s a bad thing if you’re interviewing with elders who, with all good intentions, want to know what you believe about a certain area of eschatology that they hold dear. I WAS that man with the “silly grin” in the above cartoon. I WAS asked that question. I looked them all in the eye and said, “You know, I could sit here and tell all of you exactly what you want to hear, I know how to defend the position of this church, but I’m not sure that it’s true and quite frankly I don’t care. I think maybe you should find someone else.” I got up, walked out…and I must admit, it was liberating. However, I struggled with the question, what church is going to hire a guy who can’t be dogmatic on issues that they find essential? How can I, in good conscious teach on a matter, when in a year or two I might be convinced otherwise? This in turn left me with a myriad of other questions that led me to a career in sales and a heavy hearted, tormented,guilt ridden life for having walked away from what I believed God called me to do; not to mention the squandering of an excellent education. So much more to a story that I won’t bore you with….suffice it to say that the Lord is good, He is faithful and He who began a good work in me is completing it. We see the providence of God in retrospect, conforming us to the image of Christ. That’s what concerns God and any application of Theology to any other end is secondary to that truth. That is where Theology begins, and that is what I believe John was getting at when he wrote “we are from God. Anyone who knows God hears us, anyone who does not know God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1John 4:6).

  3. larrydixon

    March 28, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Thank you for your honest comments. You’ve raised some critical issues, especially being dogmatic where we are expected to be. I admire your courage for speaking the truth to those elders. We must be dogmatic on the areas where Scripture is dogmatic. However, in our churches we have made almost all theological issues places where we must be dogmatic. And that is sad, isn’t it? Jim, have you heard of “Halftime”? It’s a movement to encourage Christian professional men move from success in their business lives to significance in spiritual matters. I deeply appreciate your contribution to my blog, Jim. Let’s keep talking. Larry


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