Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Why I study theology

First let me start by saying if you have a problem with certain passages of the Bible, and think they don't apply to you, stop reading this now. And if you only read the Bible to use it as a moral compass and don't like passages that bring about deep theological meanings and implications, turn back now. And if you don't want to be challenged to take your faith seriously to the point of groaning study and diligence, hit that little X up in the corner.

Now with that word of caution out of the way I am going to give a defense as to why every Christian should study theology and doctrine. Agnosticism within the Christian faith is a growing problem, and the men and women of God's church need to kick it into high gear instead of sliding into neutral. For those of you who aren't familiar with Agnosticism, I will provide a definition:

"the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable"

Now one might say, how can a Christian be Agnostic? Well, to put it quite simply, they don't believe in the extensive study of God (theology) nor do they think systems of belief (doctrine) are worth anything because it is all "probably unknowable". The key issue here is that most Christians are not Agnostic by choice, but they have been influenced into apathetic and lazy mindsets about the Bible by fellow Christians. Preachers that don't take stances on deep theological issues because "we will never know in this life who is right and who is wrong", are doing a poor job of sheparding the flock.

Let us look to the Scriptures...

In Titus we have Paul's charge to Titus and the people of the church. Much to the Agnostic Christian's surprise, Paul places a lot of emphasis on sound doctrine and refuting those who teach false doctrine:

(Paul is addressing the leaders or "overseers", but this still applies to a Christian's duty to study and defend the faith)
Titus 1:9
9He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

The reason this applies to all Christians to know the message and the doctrine so that they can "refute those who oppose it", is because it says "the trustworthy message as it has been taught". The words "been taught" are crucial. If you are a Christian and you have "been taught" the "trustworthy message" of the gospel, your duty far exceeds simply sharing the gospel with the people around you. The wording also leads us to see the urgency and seriousness of Paul's charge. "Hold firmly" bears with it a high level of importance, and is followed by what should be done as a result: "encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." Now let us go further into the text...

The words following verse 9 are also important. They say "For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers". This tells us that enemies of the truth of God's Word were in an abundance; ie: see the word "many". If you live in America, just look around you; enemies of God's Word are slowly becoming the majority. What does Paul say we should do about it? Verse 11 says "They must be silenced," Why? "because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain." It doesn't take a psychologist or a social analyst to see the rampant deconstruction and crumbling structure within the home of our Western culture...

From divorce rates, to rebellious children, to husbands that look at porn, to wives that cheat; we can see the results of what Paul warned us about. Houses have been ruined by things being taught that shouldn't be taught. Things like this quote I just read by Donald Miller, "At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don't think there is any better worship than wonder" What he says is quite comforting to anyone who sees study of theology as a wasted effort. However, those of us that pursue a deeper understanding by sharpening our swords through the diligent study of theology and doctrine, are quite insulted and prone to scoff at such "we are still okay, nobody knows who is right, lets all just be happy" ideology. Silly answers?! Mapped out rules that we want God to follow?! Since I have rently read his book, "Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality", I'm quite sure the point he is trying to make. Biblical theology matters very little to Donald Miller judging from his book. He focuses on loving people and serving those that are around us. At times his book removes the importance of study while elevating making people feel good. Well, I hate to disrupt the fluffy feel good message but... We are at war. The culture war over abortion, gay rights, and evolution has become so heated in the public square that Christians need to firmly stand their ground. The study of theology and doctrine is the only way to properly equip ourselves for the defense of God's Word. Donald Miller's, dare I say, belittling of theological systems and doctrinal systems flies in the face of the seriousness of Paul's charge to Titus.

The Agnosticism that is being spread within the Church is probably the single greatest reason people don't take their Christian faith seriously. Yet the Agnostic Christians have the nerve to mock those who study theology with generalizations about "over intellectualizing the Bible" or "being too logical" or "having to place God inside a box". Were the Apostalic Fathers fools who over intellectualized the Bible? Or were they bold men of God that defended their faith against early pagan philosophy and heresy by studying sound theology and doctrine? They didn't do it as a reaction to the pagans, they did it because it was their duty. They saw plainly the urgent necessity for solid biblical doctrine, theology, and philosophy; and equipped themselves accordingly.

In the book Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey, she talks about how Christians in America privatize their faith and neglect applying/bringing it to their secular jobs or environments. At the very core of this problem lies the poisonous venom of Agnosticism. People that shrug their shoulders and say "there is no way to know who is right" probably don't stand up for their Christian beliefs in their workplace. How can we assume this? Quite simply by observing that if among Christian circles they lack the motivation to study and defend sound doctrine, what reason would they have to defend any faith at all in a non-Christian environment? Wouldn't they also be hesitant due to the fact that they probably would do a shoddy job defending their faith due to their lack of study? We can easily deduct from this simple observation that most if not all people who look at the Christian faith with such apathy will not going to defend their faith when it is challenged. I am not, however, discrediting or taking away from Christians who are young in their faith that share Christ with everyone they meet. I am addressing those that refuse to study theology and doctrine as some strange form of intellectual rebellion.

So what are we dealing with here? Simply put: An infection in the church. The Agnostic secular worldview has breached the walls of our crumbling defenses and has now set up camp behind the pulpit. I've heard such criticisms as "what God must think when His children sit around and debate and discuss rather than win souls". Unfair and non-conclusive assertions about God's disposition toward study and defense of sound doctrine come from the apathetic privatized Christianity that Agnosticism has created.

Here is the reality check:

We are the future leaders of the church. That sentence alone should inspire you or scare you. I am scared for the future of the church because more people ascribe to this Agnostic approach to Christianity every day. However, I am also inspired to take my studies here at College more seriously than I have in the past. Hopefully some of you are inspired and motivated by this refreshing look at our duty as Christians to study. "But where do I start?" Start with your Pastor, I don't think I'm being presumptuous to say that he probably graduated from a Bible College (unless your pastor is Joel Osteen, the college drop out.) Ask him for books or studies that he would recommend. "But how do I study?" If you have any formal education, studying the Bible shouldn't prove to be too difficult if you start small. Find a book that is a study on a specific book of the Bible and go through it with your spouse, friend, boy/girlfriend, fiancé, or be really bold, and *gasp* do it on your own! "But why?" I'll answer this with another passage of Scripture...

2 Timothy 2:15
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Some translations don't say "study", some say "strive" or "be diligent". So before you assume that is the crux of the passage and think it is therefore nullified by different translations, I direct you to the last part of the verse. "Rightly dividing the word of truth"; it is our aim, our mark, and our duty. God's Word is not simply a morning devotional for daily inspiration(not mocking, but it is definitely more than just those two things). It is the very Words of God, it is God breathed, it is the only way to truly know God; and we should take very serious the charge to study it, defend it, and know it.

In closing, don't take this entry as an assault or an attack if you think that is what I'm setting out to do. You will be wonderfully surprised at how rewarding and refreshing it is to study the Bible on a doctrinal and theological level.

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