Tag Archives: prolegomena
Theology, the study of God and the things of God, has been my life. I have taught it and fought it (in its aberrant forms) for over forty years. I’ve been privileged to work with hundreds of eager students dying to know what terms like “the hypostatic union”, “impeccability”, “ex nihilo”, and “interpolation” really mean. I’ve written “papers” (which is academic speak for a scholarly presentation on a theological topic in front of other theologians who are conferencing somewhere) and published a bunch of books (some even by real publishers) which attempt to make the doctrines of the Bible understandable and some which challenge contemporary hereticks (the original spelling of that word).
But, in a real sense, I’ve never asked, “What was Jesus’ theology? What did He believe and teach?” [Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that we do a kind of red-letter-approach to theology — that is, that only Jesus’ words are authoritative. No. All Scripture is inspired by God. He delegated authority to the Apostles. I’m only experimenting with the question “What theological declarations did the Lord Jesus make?”]
I’d like to think that what I’ve taught over those four decades is consistent with what Jesus taught, but I’ve never stopped to carefully ask the question, “What did He believe?” These posts will be my attempt at precisely that question. And I’m going to do something strange. I’m going to take the ten categories of systematic theology (such as Prolegomena, Bibliology, Ecclesiology, etc.) and comment on some of what the Lord Jesus said about each of those divisions of theology.
I know. I know. Systematic theology is a modern category. Well, not entirely. If systematic theology refers to the logical ordering of the data of Scripture, I’m not sure we can simply wash our hands of it and dismiss it as a “Western” approach to truth. [Biblical theology, in my opinion, is looking at the same data of Scripture from a chronological perspective — how are doctrines progressively revealed throughout biblical history? I don’t see either approach as superior to the other. Just different.]
So, I hope you’ll stay with me for these posts. I promise there won’t be more than a dozen of them. And I promise I’ll try to be practical and clear in presenting the theology of Jesus as I find it in the Word. Let’s begin!
The first category in a systematic theology approach is the area known as prolegomena. This word literally means “the things you talk about before . . .” In other words, before we talk about the doctrine of sin or the doctrine of final things, we need to discuss some preliminary or introductory matters. And there are a lot of questions that a good prolegomena will cover. Such as, what is faith? What does it mean to”believe”? Can we trust our human reason? What the relationship between theology and philosophy? What are our sources of belief? Are all doctrines first level issues? That is, are there essentials which all Christians everywhere must believe and are there also distinctives on which genuine believers can differ (yet no side be guilty of heresy)?
It is likely that I will be able to cover only one or two issues in each of these sections. Regarding prolegomena, I want to emphasize that the Lord Jesus never expressed merely an opinion. What He “believed” was the truth. “Believe”, as a verb, can have a variety of meanings. It can express a hope (“I believe it won’t rain today.”). It can refer to a conviction, a settled truth (“I believe in God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth . . .”). [How the Lord Jesus used the word “believe” throughout the gospel of John is a fascinating study]. As God manifest in the flesh, Jesus never expressed a subjective viewpoint open to correction or refutation. He declared the truth as only the Way, the Truth, and the Life could do!
He was not a “man of his times,” a dismissive description by liberals of Jesus as holding to out-dated ideas of God’s justice. His beliefs were not formed by error-prone traditions or fallible schools of thought. As the Word, He came to fully explain the Father and He was, literally, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
And for Jesus belief was of first level importance. Everything in life depended on what one believed. He stated, for example, in John 8:24- “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” The last thing a person wants to do is die in their sins, right?
Belief was so important to the Lord Jesus that He let His friend Lazarus die. In John 11 we read Jesus saying, “’Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’” (vv. 14-15). Jesus was glad that He was not there so His friend could die so that the disciples could believe?! In His conversation with Martha, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (vv. 25-26). As the stone is being removed from Lazarus’ tomb, Martha says, “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” (v. 39). Jesus’ response is: “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (v. 40).
As they take away the stone, we read that “Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’” (vv. 41-42).
The conclusion of this amazing account is that “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.” (vv. 45-47). His opponents are alarmed and query, “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (vv. 47-48).
Belief was of paramount importance to the Lord Jesus. It was not just a matter of life or death. It was a matter of eternal life or eternal death.
Take a Bible you don’t mind marking up and read through the gospel of John. Highlight or underline every reference to “believe” or “faith” in that book. Share one of your conclusions in the Comment section below. (to be continued)
We have been thinking through a few issues of an introductory nature that need to be discussed before we get into the specific subject areas of God, the Bible, Christ, the Holy Spirit, etc. [For those of you who like technical words, this area of study is called PROLEGOMENA, literally, “things you discuss first.”]
There are many of these preliminary matters to be considered. This morning we want to consider the issue of philosophy. “Philosophy” is the love of wisdom. How does philosophy relate to theology (the study of God and the things of God)?
The Apostle Paul says in Colossians 2:8- “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Philosophy can quite easily become theology’s enemy, especially if it elevates the thinking of fallen man above the infallible Word of God.
But notice that Paul warns against “hollow and deceptive” philosophy, not philosophy in general. If one’s philosophy is how one views life, everyone has one, and needs to have the best one possible!
We are not to put down good philosophy, but test it by the word of God. I love the quote from John Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Lyndon Baines Johnson: “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”
I’ll be teaching an undergrad theology course this coming Fall semester and I’m developing five theological Workbooks which my students will fill in. I’m referring to these Workbooks as “retro,” because they are in a lay-flat format and the questions will be answered in the Workbook with pen or pencil.
I thought you might find this first Workbook interesting. The topic, “First Things First,” refers to the introductory issues in theology which must be considered before diving into the doctrine of the Bible, or the doctrine of God, etc.
What I will seek to do over the next few weeks is provide several of the 50 questions which make up this first workbook.
The Workbooks are designed to be used by those who are not students in my class, so they may be purchased here:
SECTION #2: DOCTRINE AND BEHAVIOR!
Many people resist “doctrine” because they don’t know what it is, don’t comprehend its importance, or have experienced it divorced from proper behavior. When my family and I moved to Canada, we got skating and hockey lessons for our son (who was 10 at the time). He did okay, but was a bit small for his age. So the coach often just told him to go skate into the opposing team’s players! Someone has defined hockey as a form of disorderly conduct in which the score is kept! That’s kind of true in the Christian life, isn’t it? Let’s think about the relationship between doctrine and behavior.
7. The term “doctrine” (didaskalia) is used in the following Scriptures: I Timothy 1:10; 4:16; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9 and 2:1. Write out five specific truths you learn from those five texts:
8. Listen to my message entitled “Doctrine: What Is It Good For?” found on our website or on my blog at http://tinyurl.com/7be3u3a. Take a few notes below on the acrostic D-O-C-T-R-I-N-E discussed in the message . . .
9. Why do you think many believers in Jesus don’t grow? Carefully look over the following text from Hebrews 5 and write out several conclusions you draw from this passage to answer that question:
10. Let’s invest some time in thinking about the relationship between BELIEF and BEHAVIOR. We often believe far more than we behave, don’t we? Please unit-read the book of Jonah and check this box when you have done so:
11. Complete the following chart, writing out Jonah’s orthodox (= “correct”) statements and his heterodox (“other than orthodox”) behavior:
12. Someone has said that we Christians “owe it to the world to be supernaturally joyful!” What verses in Scripture teach that our beliefs, our theology, ought to bring us JOY? How do you know when your theological joy is gone?
13. Analyze the passage below (from Heb. 12) and answer the questions given on the issue of good theology and the Christian life:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
(a) What are the imperatives (commands) in this passage? List them below:
(a) How is the Lord Jesus our example in running the race of faith?
(b) How does considering His endurance help you in living out what you say you believe?