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Category Archives: Theological Essay

CARTOON MONDAY! Sound theology!

One of my all-time favorite cartoons comes from Peanuts.  

Questions:
1. How might we judge whether a theology is sound — or not?
2. How can you prove from the Scriptures that every believer is to be a theologian?

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2012 in Theological Essay, theology

 

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JOHN PIPER SLAMMING PROSPERITY THEOLOGY!

Friends:

I believe one of the greatest challenges to Evangelical orthodoxy and biblical faith is something called PROSPERITY THEOLOGY!

Here’s a short video from Pastor John Piper which you might find interesting:

Questions:

1.  How does a poor theology of suffering support the Prosperity Gospel?

2.  What books or sermons have influenced you in this area of theology?

 
3 Comments

Posted by on April 15, 2012 in Theological Essay

 

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An Approach to Doing Theology (Part 8)

We’ve been discussing EIGHT STEPS to a strong theological method, developed by my friend, Dr. Bob Ferris.  This is our LAST INSTALLMENT on this topic — so cheer up!  We’ll tackle other topics after this entry!

I am thoroughly enjoying the course I am teaching this semester at Columbia International University Seminary and School of Ministry (we have to wear XXL shirts to get all our embroidered logo on!).  The course, “Theological Methods and Issues,” is providing a great opportunity for my high-quality students to do in-depth research on a wide variety of topics.

Today we heard papers on the topics of the Great Commission, Spiritual Growth, and the Christian’s Response to Birth Control!

In our previous blogs, we’ve noticed the following seven steps in a strong theological method:

 is 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.

The FOURTH STEP in our THEOLOGICAL METHOD is SURVEYING THE HISTORICAL OPTIONS.  Because the Holy Spirit too has a history, we can benefit from the work of theologians of past generations.

The FIFTH STEP in our theological method involves EXAMINING THE BIBLICAL DATA.  If “doing theology” does not fundamentally rest on examining the Scriptures carefully, then we are only engaged in human speculation and conjecture.  And there is enough of that already!

Our SIXTH STEP involves FORMULATING AN EVANGELICAL POSITION.  This basically means that we will go beyond mere biblical exegesis in order to grasp the whole counsel of God on the topic at hand.

The SEVENTH STEP in our theological method is CONFRONTING SPECIAL PROBLEMS.This step is where we ask if there are cultural or cultic challenges to the Evangelical position which we must address.  We need to be aware of not only our own culture, but also the culture to which we are ministering.  For example, a research paper on “The Biblical Picture of Marriage” would need to take into account cultural views in an African context (if the paper is meant for that particular audience).  Historical and contemporary heresies are “special problems,” for heresy is often described as “a new, fresh look at the Bible!”

Our final step is COMMUNICATING THE TRUTH IN CULTURAL CONTEXT.The fact is that the theologian’s task is not just understanding, but obedience.  Jesus said in John 7:17- “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”  There is a direct connection between choosing to do God’s will and understanding truth!

Dorothy Sayers once said, “It is not true at all that dogma is hopelessly irrelevant to the life and thought of the average man.  What is true is that ministers of the Christian religion often assert that it is, present it for consideration as though it were, and, in fact, by their faulty exposition of it make it so.”

What difference does this doctrine or this theological truth make?  Here the theologian needs some insight into human nature so that he or she can communicate the ethical ramifications of the truth discovered.

As the following cartoon illustrates, we are not to cave into our contemporary cultural worldview, adapting God’s Word to men.  We are to adapt men to God’s Word!

Questions:

1.  What theological topic would you like to tackle, seeking to implement these eight steps?

2.  How can I be of help to you in that process?

 

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An Approach to Doing Theology (Part 7)

We’ve been discussing the issue, “How ought we to ‘do’ theology?”  The topic is extremely relevant to me, for this semester one of the courses I am teaching is entitled “Theological Methods and Issues.”  My upper-level seminary students are following an eight-step method articulated by my friend Dr. Bob Ferris.

We’ve noticed the following STEPS:

 is 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.

The FOURTH STEP in our THEOLOGICAL METHOD is SURVEYING THE HISTORICAL OPTIONS.  Because the Holy Spirit too has a history, we can benefit from the work of theologians of past generations.

The FIFTH STEP in our theological method involves EXAMINING THE BIBLICAL DATA.  If “doing theology” does not fundamentally rest on examining the Scriptures carefully, then we are only engaged in human speculation and conjecture.  And there is enough of that already!

Our SIXTH STEP involves FORMULATING AN EVANGELICAL POSITION.  This basically means that we will go beyond mere biblical exegesis in order to grasp the whole counsel of God on the topic at hand.

The SEVENTH STEP in our theological method is CONFRONTING SPECIAL PROBLEMS.This step is where we ask if there are cultural or cultic challenges to the Evangelical position which we must address.  We need to be aware of not only our own culture, but also the culture to which we are ministering.  For example, a research paper on “The Biblical Picture of Marriage” would need to take into account cultural views in an African context (if the paper is meant for that particular audience).  Historical and contemporary heresies are “special problems,” for heresy is often described as “a new, fresh look at the Bible!”  Spencer Burke’s A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity comes to mind here!  [I've listed some of Burke's quotes after our study questions.  You won't believe some of the things he says!]

Questions:

1.  Why are Evangelicals not more aware of cultural or cultic challenges to orthodoxy?  

2.  I’ve often told my students who have been believers for a while to occasionally read books that they know “will boil their blood before they get past the preface.”  What boiling books have you read or are reading?

QUOTES BY BURKE IN A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity:

“But I believe we need heretics today.  What’s more, I believe heresy can be a positive rather than a negative force in our spiritual journey.  Of course, it can be argued that there is no orthodoxy today – no one way to practice religion anymore, and hence heresy no longer exists.” (xxiii).

“What is grace?  For me, it is a subversive and scandalous twist in human history – an unexpected and revolutionary turn of events that offered a new way of relating to the sacred and each other.  Religion declares that we are separated from God, that we are ‘outsiders.’  Grace tells us the opposite; we are already in unless we want to be out.  This is the real scandal of Jesus. . . . He’s in the business of grace, and grace tells us there is nothing we need to do to find relationship with the divine.  The relationship is already there; we only need to nurture it.” (61).

“It’s not conditional on recognizing or renouncing sin, and it comes to us whether or not we ask for it.  We don’t have to do something to receive it, nor do we even have to respond to it in some way.  It simply comes.” (63).

John 14:6 “. . . I don’t believe it can be used to argue that Christianity is the only true religion.” (107).

“Jesus doesn’t ask for universal agreement to a set of propositions about himself.  He simply invites us to follow him.” (137).

“Faith is many things, but it is not a requirement.  It is faithfulness, the giving of oneself, trust in God, and belief that something greater than the material world exists for all of us.  Any other interpretation of faith diminishes the gift of grace and places hurdles between God and humanity.  In reality, nothing stands between us and God’s grace.” (184-185).

“I’m not sure I believe in God exclusively as a person anymore either.” (195).  “I now incorporate a panentheist view, which basically means that God is ‘in all,’ alongside my creedal view of God as Father, Son, and Spirit.  For the record, panentheism is not the same as pantheism, the view that God and the universe are one and the same.  Rather, panentheism is like saying God is the ocean and we are the fish in it.” (195).

“As the theologian Brian McLaren rightly notes, ‘More significant than any doctrine of hell itself is the view of God to which one’s doctrine of hell contributes.’  The God I connect with does not assign humans to hell.” (199).  “And yet I do think it’s possible to reject God’s grace.” (199).

“The truth is that none of us deserve grace, and nothing we do will earn grace.  It is ours simply because God has invited us to the party.  We’re in unless we choose to be out.  That is how grace works.  We don’t opt in to it – we can only opt out.” (202).

“I no longer believe that evangelism means the arguing of propositional ideas about God but rather that it is the telling of one’s story.  There’s a big difference between sitting down with someone and talking about one’s life experiences and sitting down with someone and offering them a set of concepts about God on which their eternal destiny is said to depend.” (207).

 

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An Approach to Doing Theology (Part 6)

We’ve been discussing the issue, “How ought we to ‘do’ theology?”  The topic is extremely relevant to me, for this semester one of the courses I am teaching is entitled “Theological Methods and Issues.”

My upper-level seminary students They are following an eight-step method articulated by my friend Dr. Bob Ferris.

We’ve noticed the following STEPS:

 is 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.

The FOURTH STEP in our THEOLOGICAL METHOD is SURVEYING THE HISTORICAL OPTIONS.

Because the Holy Spirit too has a history, we can benefit from the work of theologians of past generations.

The FIFTH STEP in our theological method involves EXAMINING THE BIBLICAL DATA.  If “doing theology” does not fundamentally rest on examining the Scriptures carefully, then we are only engaged in human speculation and conjecture.  And there is enough of that already!

Our SIXTH STEP involves FORMULATING AN EVANGELICAL POSITION.  This basically means that we will go beyond mere biblical exegesis in order to grasp the whole counsel of God on the topic at hand.  Perhaps the words “go beyond’ give the wrong impression. We don’t mean that we will ignore all the work we’ve done to collect the biblical data, but that we will now seek to state our position in a way that directly addresses the question which is being asked.

What we are attempting to do here is put the sometimes complex truths of the Word of God in language that can be easily understood.  On this issue of understandable language, C.S. Lewis was a master of doing just that.  He once stated:  “You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential. It is also the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning.” (p. 98,God in the Dock).

On this issue of technical language, you might want to read my essay on what I call “Theologese.”  It’s basically a humorous attempt at defending theological language.  [copied below the questions]

Questions:

1.  Might there be more than one “Evangelical position” on a theological topic?  How do we determine what is an Essential (upon which all must agree) and what is a Distinctive (an area in which Christians can disagree)?

2.  What role do other sources of our beliefs (tradition, reason, experience) play in this sixth step?

“Theologese: A Defense of the Language of Theology”

Larry Dixon, Ph.D. Columbia International University Seminary & School of Ministry

Doctrine is often thought to be irrelevant to everyday life, sometimes because the language of doctrine is perceived as indecipherable and confusing. But, it must be pointed out, technical language is a part of everyday life. Whether one is getting his car repaired or playing a game of chess, technical language is used by those who care about their area of knowledge. This objection to the technical language used in the study of doctrine deserves an extended response.

I discovered that when I was in the market for a CD player, I became very interested in the words used to hawk one brand over the other. In fact, I even enjoyed my time of comparison-shopping. But first I had to learn to navigate my way through the verbal sea of CD language.

There were a number of questions I had to answer before laying down my hard-earned plastic to purchase what was to me new technology. Did I want “Introscan”? With or without “Cue and Review”? Was a “30 Track Memory” going to be enough, or more memory than I find myself (a number of years over 30) possessing these days? “Bitstream” sounds impressive — would I regret buying a model without it?

I’m sure I mixed up the ads for CD players with those for other technical equipment. If the CD player comes with a hard disk drive, how exactly does one go about softening it up? If it comes with “double azimuth,” will that mean that a single person can’t listen to it? If the model I buy has a “Video Accelerator Card,” what do I do if I don’t want the music to play that fast? “Mash 1 bit technology” sounds like the CD player is broken before I even get it home to take it out of the box. I know that I need “8X oversampling,” but don’t ask me what the value of “X” is, or exactly what it will do for me.

What I really wanted in a CD player were practical features, such as: Do they make a model which will hopefully melt my son’s “Blind Melon” CD’s? Will a “Graphic equalizer” edit out the embarassing lyrics of my daughter’s friends’ CD’s which she might naively borrow? None of the advertisements answered my real question, a very practical one, which was “How often do I have to replace the needle — and why doesn’t the manufacturer tell you whether it is a diamond stylus or one made out of Philippino bamboo?”

I finally bought a CD player, and let my son do the technical things with it, like turn it on. After all, he’s earned the right to push the buttons — he’s the one who programs our VCR.

The fact is, when we put our minds to it, we are able to learn the language necessary to make a reasonable decision. Interest and effort frequently provide sufficient motivation to learn the lingo. And terms are not always terminal; I actually enjoy explaining the features of my CD player to others.

The Usefulness of Technical Language

There are a number of benefits of technical language. The first is that it can aid communication. Imagine the following, admittedly improbable, scenario: A surgeon is in the middle of an operation, and, with perspiration beading up on his forehead, he says, “Nurse, quick! I need one of those metal things that works like a backwards scissors, because this patient’s tube thing is shooting out that red stuff pretty fast!” As the nurse ransacks the supply carts to find what the surgeon needs, the patient bleeds to death. Leaving the operating room, the doctor is met by the grieving — and very angry — nurse who demands, “Doctor, why in the world didn’t you simply bark out the order for a hemostat?”

Technical terminology is a kind of verbal shorthand that allows effective communication between parties who have the same understanding of the subject. But scholarly disciplines such as theology and medicine are not unique in their use of such language.

Occasionally, the highly sensitive side-line microphones used in the broadcasting of NFL football games pick up the quarterback’s instructions being given to the rest of the team in the huddle. Talk about technical language! “Slant-z-outlet six/eight, draw sneak — on three — break!” If I were in that huddle, I would grab the left half-back next to me, shake him, and have just enough time to panic and ask, “Huh? Whadda he say? Where do I go?” Time is at a premium in play-making, and communication needs to be precise. Those who belong in that huddle have spent long hours memorizing the plays. Such verbal shorthand communicates quickly and effectively. Those who don’t know the jargon have no business being on the playing field. In Christianity, however, every follower of Christ is on the team — and in the stadium. But being barely in the stadium isn’t enough; the plays need to be learned so that the Christian can leave the sidelines and get in the game!

For a number of summers I have shed my professor’s jacket and tie for a completely different outfit. I served as a registered volunteer baseball umpire in Canada. Having grown up in North Carolina, I love the game of baseball and joined the umpiring ranks several years ago. There’s a correlation between theologizing and umpiring, for the expression “You’re outta here!” can be used equally well with heretics in the church or unsuccessful third-strike bunters at the plate.

I will not become wealthy umping baseball games during the summer. At $10 a game, I will be lucky if I can pay off my expensive uniform in about seven years (umpire’s mask: $60; chest protector: $55; plastic ball/strike counter: $5; shin guards: $45; miscellaneous, uh, protective equipment: $8; etc.).

Are you aware of the technical language in the game of baseball? (I mean words that are more than four letters long). A “foul tip” is not the same as a “foul ball.” A “balk” is an illegal act by the pitcher attempting to purposely deceive a base-runner. Other terms include “appeal on half-swing,” “double touch on a fair ball,” “interference of B-R to interfere with double play,” “minimal presence” (I’m sure this is true of some of my theology students), and my all-time favorite expression, the infamous “infield fly rule.” This rule is not a statement about a superior class of flying bugs, but rather an attempt to prevent the defensive team from purposely dropping a pop fly in the infield to initiate a double-play. But listen to the official rule-book:

An infield fly is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare `Infield Fly’ for the benefit of the runner. If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare `Infield Fly, If Fair.’ The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of

the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul. When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05 (L.). The infield fly rule takes precedence.

Clear? I personally think the infield fly rule was actually dreamed up by an infielder who always dropped infield flies to make it appear that he was doing so intentionally.

The fact is all of us learn the technical language necessary for coping with a variety of issues — and adventures. Let’s say that you are visiting the Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico. As the guide leads you around a sharp and fairly dim underground bend, she suddenly shouts, “There’s a stalactite around this corner.

Watch out!” The question is, do you duck – or do you jump? Knowing that a stalactite is a projecting downward formation of calcite from the roof of a cavern and that a stalagmite is a projecting upward formation of calcite from the floor of a cavern, you have enough sense to duck as you go around the bend. As others in the tour party get smacked on the head, you pat yourself on the back because you learned your high school teacher’s memory device that a stalactite is a formation which holds tight to the ceiling, while a stalagmite juts mightily up from the floor!

By the way, language which aids communication doesn’t have to be elaborate to be effective. Imagine that you are in a crowded theater. The play has just begun when all of a sudden a man in the third row stands to his feet, turns to face the audience, and cries out, “My olfactory organ is registering a vaporous essence which indicates the presence of noxious, pyrogenic activity in the approximate vicinity of this domicile!” Some would tell him to sit down and be quiet, some would not know how to react, and others would exit the theatre as quickly as they could. It would have been far better for him to have simply stood to his feet and shouted “FIRE!”

Technical language facilitates discussion between those who have mastered certain common words in their area of dialogue. For outsiders, those terms may seem like secret passwords that they do not know. But passwords (if not kept secret) can be learned, and a learned password admits one into what we might call the communication clubhouse, so that real discussion can begin. In theology, the terms are more than passwords; they are frequently a vital part of the discussion itself.

Technical language not only aids discussion, but secondly, it develops precision in dealing with concepts. One writer said that “If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought.” Theological terms (such as the term “Trinity”) have been coined by dedicated scholars not to obscure the truth for the uninitiated, but to encapsulate the truth for those who take it seriously. In a discipline such as doctrine, where the subject matter (God and the things of God) could not be greater, it is logical that exact expressions would develop to aid students of Scripture to grasp its concepts.

Imprecision is occasionally found in laymen who misuse technical language. An older man recently told me that his friend had to enter the hospital for prostrate problems. I did not correct his language (he really meant prostate); but I was reminded that most Christians I know, including myself, have prostrate problems (we find it awfully difficult to prostrate ourselves before the Lord). Our confidence in a medical doctor, however, would be somewhat lessened if he or she used the wrong term to describe that particular condition. Precision in medical language is a prerequisite for those who have the awesome task of practicing the cure of the human body.

But why are our expectations different for those who are charged with the “cure of souls”? The spiritual ills which plague Christians necessitate precise language if theological therapy is going to be effective. Theological exactness is simply one evidence of taking the discipline and its truths seriously.

Audience and Language

When I first began teaching in Bible college, I remember the great statesman of American Evangelicalism, Carl F.H. Henry, coming to our campus to deliver a series of lectures on theology. He began the first of his four addresses to our students and faculty with the words, “Good morning.” I didn’t understand a thing he said after that, and I was the theology professor! As a scholar, Dr. Henry has in his long life left us an impressive legacy of important writing in defense of biblical orthodoxy, but as a communicator to undergraduate Bible college students, he left us at the station!

Dr. Henry’s presentation is an example of an important principle: one’s audience determines one’s language. A truly educated person is one who can put into words understandable by his audience the truths which he wishes to communicate. Norman Cousins is right when he says, “It makes little difference how many university courses or degrees a person may own. If he cannot use words to move an idea from one point to another, his education is incomplete.” It is the communicator’s task to use language which communicates rather than confuses.

I am told about a sign which was posted in a government office which read, “The man who knows what he is talking about can afford to use words everyone understands.” The assumption in that statement is that the speaker is talking to everyone, and sometimes that is simply not the case. A contractor discussing the construction of your new kitchen with the finishing carpenter is going to use language, probably fairly technical, which communicates quickly and effectively. That contractor will likely not use the same language with you, the customer.

Perhaps the best example of someone proficient in the use of audience-sensitive language was C.S. Lewis. He could write childrens’ fiction (The Chronicles of Narnia) which anyone can understand, but he could also engage in vigorous debate over theological, philosophical, and philological issues, demonstrating his expertise as a literary critic. He practiced what he preached, and his challenge to Christians needs to be heeded:

You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning.1

Lewis is right regarding the double benefit of translation. Using language understandable by one’s audience presupposes both an interest in its response and an effort not to confuse.

We have seen that technical language can assist communication and develop precision. It can, thirdly, increase confidence (both in the listener as well as the speaker). Mr. Brown brings in his 1973 Datsun for service. The mechanic looks under the hood, and says, “Mr. Brown, I know exactly what your car’s problem is. You see that thingamabob next to that whatchamacallit? It’s all clogged up with that slippery stuff that comes out of that other doohickey next to it. Barnie,” he calls out to the other mechanic, “what do we call that part, anyway?” Such a discussion would not build your confidence in that mechanic. And if you want to fix your `73 Datsun, or become a mechanic yourself, you’d better be prepared to learn some technical language.

Granted, some technical language (especially that used in advertising) instills not confidence, but cynicism, in an audience. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen about all the television ads I can handle hawking Dristan “with Ammonia-D.”) There is probably a “believability threshold” which determines when technical language ceases to be a help, and becomes a hindrance.

Fourthly, I would argue that a certain mastery of technical language increases one’s enjoyment of a subject. I am an avid chess player. Notice I did not say a successful one. Bobby Fisher can remain in retirement, but I do enjoy playing. Mostly I have a chess game going on my office computer while I am grading students’ papers. I am surprised that someone has not yet developed a wise-cracking chess program which hurls abuse on novice players like myself who take a whooping twenty seconds to make their chess moves. I am sure my computer thinks I have some dastardly plan up my sleeve whenever I make such a quick move. Because I don’t think very far ahead in chess, I make many silly mistakes, and I usually lose to my computer. Sometimes my only consolation is that I can always turn off the computer before it beeps that annoying beep to inform me that I have been checkmated. On a recent church retreat, I played chess with one of the men who attended. I had my pawn on the fifth rank when he moved out his pawn two spaces, landing beside my pawn in the process. I then initiated the move known as an en passant. That is a perfectly legal move in which one can take his opponent’s pawn by moving behind it (rather than taking it in a diagonal fashion as is customary). The fellow I was playing looked at me as if I didn’t know which pieces went where on the board! He knew that I was a theologian (which probably explained his suspicious look), but I assured him that I had performed a textbook chess move. After I explained en passant, he surrendered his pawn to me (reluctantly, I might add), then proceeded to look for opportunities to subject me to the same move! Needless to say, he never succeeded, although he did unfortunately win the game as I studiously guarded my somewhat beleaguered pawns. I believe he will enjoy chess more since he has learned the manoeuvre known as en passant. By the way, I don’t ever want to play him again. But the point is that terminology can increase one’s enjoyment of an activity or subject.

All of this is meant to say that the objection to doctrine’s terminology is greatly exaggerated. No matter whether one is engaged in scuba-diving, needlepointing, or volleyball, technical language exists and is learned by those who care the most about the particular activity or discipline.

 

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An Approach to Doing Theology (Part 5)

Our last several blogs have been on the issue: How ought we to “do” theology?   As I’ve mentioned before, this semester I’m teaching a course entitled “Theological Methods and Issues.”

Dr. Robert Ferris

My upper-level seminary students are presenting research papers on two topics of their choice.

They are following an eight-step method articulated by my friend Dr. Bob Ferris.

We’ve noticed the following STEPS:

STEP #1 is 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.

The FOURTH STEP in our THEOLOGICAL METHOD is SURVEYING THE HISTORICAL OPTIONS.  What we mean by this step is that most questions we research have had their predecessors.  That is, prior eras have grappled with many of the same issues that plague or confound or challenge us.

For this reason we can benefit from the work of theologians of past generations.  One writer says, “We must remember that the Holy Spirit too has a history.”  What he meant was that God the Holy Spirit has led and illumined God’s people in studying critical issues of the Word.

The FIFTH STEP in our theological method involves EXAMINING THE BIBLICAL DATA.  You might be saying, “Finally!  We’re getting to the Scriptures!”  I appreciate the fact that we all want to start with the Word of God, but the previous steps are helpful in defining and developing an interest in the topic at hand.

If God’s Word is the final and sufficient source of truth for faith and practice, then we must treat it with the utmost respect.  If “doing theology” does not fundamentally rest on examining the Scriptures carefully, then we are only engaged in human speculation and conjecture.  And there is enough of that already!

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “all Scripture is inspired of God and is profitable.”  We must not ignore 75% of God’s Word, Philip Yancey says in his book The Bible Jesus Read, if we want to learn the mind of God on an issue.  He was of course referring to the Old Testament.

The collecting, organizing, and outlining biblical data brings great rewards.  Even though we affirm the principle of progressive revelation, the idea that God did not give us all He wanted us to know about a doctrine at one point, this should not lead us to viewing the “Old” Testament as less inspired than the New, or to some kind of “Red Letter edition” view (the idea that the words by Jesus — printed in red in some Bibles — are more authoritative).  We must see the entire canon of Scripture, all 66 books, as God’s Word and profitable / useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Questions:

1.  What topics have you studied throughout Scripture, gathering the biblical data into logical categories and drawing certain conclusions?

2.  In this method, how do we keep from proof-texting?


 

An Approach to Doing Theology (Part 4)

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. Dorothy Sayers had much to say about how we have trivialized theology, failing to see the drama of doctrine!

“We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine — ‘dull dogma,’ as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man — and the dogma is the drama. . . . This is the dogma we find so dull — this terrifying drama which God is the victim and the hero. If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore — on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certifying Him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

The FOURTH STEP in our THEOLOGICAL METHOD is SURVEYING THE HISTORICAL OPTIONS.  What we mean by this step is that most questions we research have had their predecessors.  That is, prior eras have grappled with many of the same issues that plague or confound or challenge us.  As my friend Bob Ferris says, ‘Few, if any, questions are novel.”

For this reason we can benefit from the work of theologians of past generations.  One writer says, “We must remember that the Holy Spirit too has a history.”  What he meant was that God the Holy Spirit has led and illumined God’s people in studying critical issues of the Word.

Questions:

1.  Why do we seem to have so little concern for what theologians prior to our present generation have thought?

2.  We can easily become enamored with what some have called “neophilia” (= a love of the new).  What older theologians have you been reading — and on what issues?

 

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An Approach to Doing Theology (Part 3)

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.

Questions:

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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An Approach to Doing Theology (Part 2)

There are PLENTY of examples of poor theological method, many professing to be “Evangelical”!  How ought we to “do” theology?  What should be the STEPS we use in researching theological topics?

One of my favorite courses to teach this semester is entitled “Theological Methods and Issues.”  This upper-level seminary course has thirteen students who are presenting two papers each on topics they have chosen.  [Several of our previous blogs referred to one student's study of "A Theology of Risk"].

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 really involves FRAMING THE QUESTION which leads to a process of inquiry.   If one wanted to study the issue of God’s glory, for example, he or she might state the question as follows:  “What Is Meant by the Term ‘the Glory of God’ in the Pentateuch?”  [One of the toughest challenges in theological research is narrowing the topic down to a manageable size!].

I am greatly helped here by the theology of Calvin . . . and Hobbes.  Here the two of them are discussing a profound theological question:


Questions:

1.  For those of you have read Rob Bell’s Love Wins, how does Bell misuse questions in his dismissal of the doctrine of eternal lostness?

2.  Why don’t more preachers and teachers use Calvin and Hobbes’ cartoons in their preaching and teaching?

 

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An Approach to Doing Theology! (Part 1)

Examples abound of poor theological method.  How are we who profess to be Evangelicals to “do” theology?  What method should we use?  By “method” we mean the steps and process we use for developing a biblical response to a critical issue in theology.

One of my favorite courses to teach this semester is entitled “Theological Methods and Issues.”  This upper-level seminary course has thirteen students, all of whom have already been through our two systematic theology courses.  So they have (hopefully) a solid grounding in the ten areas of Prolegomena (introductory matters), Bibliology (the doctrine of general and special revelation), Theology Proper (a study of God’s existence, attributes, and works), Christology (the Person and work of the Lord Jesus), Anthropology (man in God’s image), Hamartiology (the doctrine of temptation & sin),  Soteriology (the topic of salvation and sanctification), Pneumatology (the Person and ministries of God the Holy Spirit), Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church), and Eschatology (the study of “final things”).  Whew!

The approach my students are following in their two research papers involves eight steps which I’ll begin to briefly describe below.  [I am grateful to Dr. Robert Ferris for his permission to use this material].

 STATING THE TOPIC. Our first responsibility as students of God’s Word (=”theologians”) is that we clearly identify the underlying issue, then state the topic which we are addressing.

For example, I’ve recently reviewed Dr. Sharon Baker’s book Razing Hell.  She comes at the topic of eternal lostness from a particular position that encourages her to read all of the Bible — especially the judgment sections of the Word — through what she calls “the Jesus lens.”  One possible topic sentence, if one were to study this issue, would be “What Is Meant by ‘the Jesus Lens’ in the Book Razing Hell?” (to be continued)

Questions:

1.  Why are we not more explicit in describing our method of pursuing theological issues?

2.  What theological topics would you like to see addressed in this blog?

 

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