Over the past few years—due to teaching assignments, writing projects, and personal interest—I’ve done a fair amount of reading and reflection on the Genesis creation narrative. One the major questions with which professing evangelicals are currently wrestling is how we should understand the Genesis account as it pertains specifically to the existence of Adam and Eve. Specifically: Are Adam and Eve historical people, created de novo by God, or does the creation account provide merely theological truths without venturing to make material claims? Continue reading “Toward a Christian Philosophy of History”
Theology can be a snare if we don’t pursue it properly. Below are nine exhortations for how we should approach the work of theology.
(1) Revere the nature of Scripture and beware of mere abstraction
When we study theology we must recognize that all true and useful theology flows from a proper understanding of Scripture. In order to properly understand Scripture, however, we must approach it according to what it is. That is, we must take it on its own terms and its own nature or else we will run the risk of misinterpreting and misapplying the Bible. For example, Scripture contains—particularly in the New Testament—a significant amount of epistles that deal specifically with theological and doctrinal issues. But the Bible is not a theology textbook, per se. There are multiple genres in Scripture: historical narrative, poetry, proverbial sayings, and stories, both true and fictional (e.g., parables). And even the heavily doctrinal portions of Scripture were written as letters to churches, not theological treatises. Continue reading “9 Exhortations for Doing Theology”
I completed Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson excellent (and encouraging) volume The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision about six months ago. If you are a pastor, I strongly recommend that you acquire and read this book. Below are my favorite quotes.
Pastors are the Theologians of the Church: Despite assumptions to the contrary, the pastoral office remains the burden of the church’s theological leadership, regardless of the vocational context of professional theologians and scholars. Or to say it again, the burden of maintaining the theological and ethical integrity of the people of God is inevitably linked to an office within the church, not to a group of people with intellectual gifting. Insofar as pastors bear the day-to-day burden of teaching and leading God’s people, they simply are the theological leaders of the church. As goes the pastoral community, so goes the church (57). Continue reading “9 Quotes from ‘The Pastor-Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision’ by Hiestand and Wilson”
As a pastor, I make theological reading a priority. The truth contained in these books informs my teaching and writing, undergirds and permeates my counseling, and enables me to discern harmful doctrinal trends that may be influencing my people and the greater church.
Earlier this year I read The Holy Trinity by Robert Letham and Inerrancy and the Gospels Vern Poythress. These were followed by Ladd’s The Blessed Hope, Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views, edited by Stanley Porter and Beth Stovall and The Pastor-Theologian by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson. I am currently reading Sam Storms’ treatise on amillennialism, Kingdom Come and just finished Steve Wellum’s excellent book in the Five Solas series, Christ Alone. I also recently finished Barrett’s book in the same series, God’s Word Alone as well as Trueman’s Grace Alone. Peter Gentry’s little book Reading and Understanding the Biblical Prophets was helpful, and I am looking forward to tackling Matt Waymeyer’s response to amillennialism, Amillennialism and the Age to Come in the near future (no pun intended). Continue reading “The Importance of Devotional Reading for Pastors and Theologians”
A few years ago I made my way through John Frame’s excellent book on theological method, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. It was helpful in many ways. In particular is Frame’s section on “cognitive rest” and how genuine growth in our knowledge of God comes by way of spiritual maturity and growth in sanctification. Here is an important excerpt:
Many doctrinal misunderstandings in the church are doubtless due to this spiritual-ethical immaturity. We need to pay more attention to this fact when we get into “theological disputes.” Sometimes, we throw arguments back and forth, over and over again, desperately trying to convince one another. But often there is in one of the disputers—or both!—the kind of spiritual immaturity that prevents clear perception. We all know how it works in practice. Lacking sufficient love for one another, we seek to interpret the other person’s views in the worst possible sense (We forget the tremendous importance of love—even as an epistemological concept; cf. I Cor. 8:1-3; I Tim 1:5ff; I John 2:4; 3:18; 4:7ff). Lacking sufficient humility, too, we over estimate the extent of our own knowledge (155). Continue reading “Spiritual Maturity and Doctrinal Debate”
Nuance is a word Christian lay people and theologians alike should cherish. A nuance is defined as a “subtle distinction or variation.” In theology, nuances usually develop from a need to better clarify a particular teaching and often carry significant doctrinal weight. For example, take the doctrine of justification. We would be correct in stating this doctrine as, “God’s legal declaration of fully righteous those who have trusted in Jesus Christ.” A nuance to this doctrine would be that it comes through faith alone by grace alone. Further nuance would be that it is one time declaration that cannot be reversed and that it is not dependent upon one’s sanctification or practical righteousness.
As you can see, nuance is added to explanations of doctrine when they are challenged or questioned on certain fronts. If one says that justification can be lost, we need to explain that it is a one time declaration that cannot be reversed. If someone teaches that we are able to earn justification by our own righteousness, we must clarify by asserting that it comes through faith alone by grace alone. If one worries that their besetting sins somehow affect or alter their justification, we reaffirm that justification is based only on Christ’s perfect life and work on the cross, not our accumulation or lack of righteousness.
One phenomenon we see throughout the history of the church is the addition of nuance to doctrinal explanations. Fundamental doctrines such as the deity of Christ, the Trinity, salvation, and sanctification—to name only a few—have been explained in greater detail with each passing century. As false teachers crept into the church and attacked particular teachings, or as Christians sought to better understand their faith, it was necessary to defend and uphold those doctrines in the areas where they were being attacked, and teach them to Christians with greater precision.
Nevertheless, it might be easy to consider voluminous works by Christian theologians with disdain (why waste so much time explaining doctrine?) or mere indifference (just give me Jesus, I don’t need theology). I have been guilty of this. But their work is not in vain (and not worthy of disdain or indifference). Nuance is a necessity of doing theology and essential for understanding Christianity in the day and age that God has placed us. God is in the details, and we miss out on rich food for our souls when we don’t expend some energy attempting to understand our faith in greater and greater depth.
I am currently reading New Testament Exegesis by Gordan Fee for my Greek Exegesis class. As I was perusing the section about the use of commentaries and secondary resources, I found a paragraph that was extremely helpful to me; not only in writing exegetical papers, but for writing in general and for verbal communication as well. Fee gives wise counsel as he writes on page 33,
A student is not bound to reproduce slavishly the interpretations of others, but you are bound to assess critically what you read. Before you can say, ‘I disagree,’ you must be able to say, ‘I understand.’ It is axiomatic that before you level criticism you should be able to state an author’s position in terms that he or she would find acceptable. After that, you may proceed in six directions:
a. Show where the author is misinformed.
b. Show where the author is uniformed.
c. Show where the author is inconsistent.
d. Show where the author’s treatment is incomplete.
e. Show where the author misinterprets through faulty assumptions or procedures.
f. Show where the author makes valuable contributions to the discussion at hand.
This is excellent counsel, especially for writers. It is simply easier to misrepresent someone’s position and to set up straw-men (weak arguments that your opponent isn’t making) in order to appear as though you have the superior argument. It is difficult to work through the principles Fee provides above. But when you follow this kind of approach to theological discussion and dialog, you are not only misleading your readers, you are harming yourself, for you are forging patterns of thinking that will lead to greater and greater confusion and lack of clarity. Do the hard work of thinking well, and you and your readers will be blessed.