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Entries in Theological Foundations (4)


Exam Review: Beware of contemporary theologies

My final exam in theological foundations is on Thursday. I am reviewing the 690 pages of text reading as well as the 50 pages of lecture outlines. Thankfully, Dr. Fowler prepared us well by having a weekly quiz, so that I'm not drawing a complete blank as I go back.

One of the chapters we looked at discussed the methodology of theology. Erickson recounted some of the changes in contemporary theology. For example, there are no more theolgical "giants" like there once were. We don't have a lot of Augustines, Aquinases, or Calvins these days. The explosion of information has narrowed the focus of theology so that most theologians are "experts" in one particular area rather than being conversant in a larger range of study.

Erickson gave some warnings about aligning ourselves too closely with contemporary theologies. He pointed out that the love of popularity in other areas has infiltrated theological circles so that we have scholars drawing large audiences before there is any longevity in their teaching. He said:

. . . beware of too close an identification with any current mood in culture. The rapid changes in theologies are but a reflectioon of the rapid changes in culture in general. In times of such rapid changes, it is probably wise not to attempt too close a fit between theology and the world in which it is expressed . . . it is perhaps prudent at the present time to take a step back toward the enduring form of Christian truth, and away from an ultracontemporary statement of it.

. . . the result of unreserved commitment to another person's system of thought is that one becomes a disciple in the worse sense of that term, merely repeating what has been learned from the master. Creative and independent thinking ceases.

I was particularly struck by that second sentiment. I remember hearing D.A. Carson at a conference say that latching on to one or two teachers is a bad thing, but once one has looked at many, he is on the road to learning. We do like our little groups, and I can see how the rise of what is known as "tribalism" in Christian circles has become an issue. I think it's alive and well. The desire for independence in thinking isn't promoted as much.

Onward and upward. I'm hoping to get a lot covered today.


The theological spiral

I had my first class yesterday in Theological Foundations. I am really going to like it. The prof has a very dry wit, which I appreciate. He's also a seasoned teacher; at 70 years of age, he has been doing this for a while. 

Yesterday, in addition to being introduced to one another and the subject matter, we discussed some of the objections to studying theology as well as devising a method for doing theology. Some of the objections were:

"The Bible is enough -- I don't need theology."

"Theology is impractical -- give me something life-related."

"The diversity of opinion among theologians shows that firm conclsions are impossible anyway."

"Doctrine divides, but experience unites."

"Theology is incomprehensible."

I've heard all of those objections, but most frequently the first one. Of course, we discussed the objections to those statements. 

One of the things I most appreciated about our time together yesterday was the reminder for intellectual humility. We really don't know it all, and while truth is not changing, we as humans are, and our reception of it may look different. On our course, notes, there was an interesting passage about the theological spiral. I thought this was interesting in light of Grant Osborne's book The Hermeneutical Spiral. I like the image of a spiral to discuss learning:

The theological spiral continues: we come to doctrinal conclusions based on our reading of the biblical texts, then this doctrinal perspective informs our reading of biblical texts, but at some point we may notice that we are continually explaining away the texts, which then leads to a revised or clarified doctrinal position, and that new perspective informs our reading of the texts . . . . 

Our readings of Scripture are always reforming and growing. It doesn't mean, however, that we never land on a particular position; rather, we are humble enough to entertain the prospect that we don't know it all.

I was also very grateful for the discussion of looking at the historical development of doctrine. We were reminded that we were not the first people to attempt to evaluate doctrine and express theology. One of the things I continue to see is how much I don't know. I am regularly confronted with instances of being asked to think about different implications, and it's good to be challenged.


The sense of gasp

In the introductory lecture in the series "Introduction to Pastoral and Theological Studies," Derek Thomas first provided a list of distinctives of good theology. He narrows this discussion further by talking about what is Reformed theology.

Thomas recognizes that there are misunderstandings about what Reformed really means. There are people in my life who think Reformed means nothing other than infant baptism and particular redemption. Thomas lists the distinctives of Reformed theology:

  1. Authority of Scripture
  2. Sovereignty of God
  3. The Majesty of God
  4. Invincibility of Grace
  5. The Christian Life
  6. Third use of the Law
  7. Relationship Between Kingdom of God and Kingdom of the World
  8. The Church/Preaching

I won't take the time to provide details, but I do want to mention what he said in the context of The Majesty of God. When he defined it, he used words like awe, incomprehensible, answerable to no one. He also used a phrase: "a sense of gasp."

Imagine Isaiah in Isaiah 6, before the throne of God, watching the seraphim, hearing their cry: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is filled with his glory!"

Imagine him as the foundations of the thresholds shook and the voice called out amid the smoke. What is Isaiah's response? "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"

Do you think he might have gasped a little? 

This is why I love to hear theology expounded, and to read it myself: the sense of gasp.  The more I study theology, the more I study Scripture and see God revealed in its pages, and the more I amazed I am. I may not be given a view of God like Isaiah, but I have something he didn't have: the entire revelation of God. Do you ever put down your bible, or a book, or finish a sermon, and feel like Isaiah? Woe is me?

Thomas also quoted Herman Bavinck: "Mystery is the vital element of dogmatics."

This is not mystery that we must unravel, but mystery that is revealed to us. We won't understand everything, but he will reveal what we need to know of his majesty. God is not a pet to be domesticated. He's not a genie meant to serve our every whim. This majesty doesn't make him untouchable, for we have free access to him in Christ. But the majesty of God reminds us who he is and who we are not.


What is good theology?

I'm partaking of a series of lectures by Derek Thomas, through iTunesU. This series is called "Introduction to Pastoral and Theological Studies," and is basically an introduction to Reformed Theology. I thoroughly enjoy Dr. Thomas's teaching. He is an extremely articulate and passionate teacher. You cannot listen to his speaking without seeing a man with a heart for the gospel and for Scripture.

In this lecture, he discusses the importance for good theology. At one point in the lecture, he mentions with disapproval the kind of student who thinks that theology is unnecessary. He believes -- and I agree -- that it is very important. To quote him: "Good theology molds Christian character."

Here are his seven characteritics of good theology:

  1. Accurate; sound; healthy
  2. God-centred - his sovereignty and majesty
  3. Doxological - gives utterance to praise
  4. Eschatological - looks forward
  5. Christological - Christ as prophet, priest, and king
  6. Ecclesiastical - Church-centred, "Ecclesiology matters"
  7. Motivational - Theology is never an end in itself

He also quotes the Puritan William Perkins: "theology is the science of living blessedly forever." William Cunningham, a Scottish theologian defines it as "the knowledge of God and divine things derived from the Scriptures." Notice the return to the Word. It's not theology based on what we think is important about God.

Dr. Thomas also says this, which I loved: theology begins with listening.

And whom to we listen to? God, as revealed in His word.

Theology is so exciting, because it turns our hearts away from ourselves to God.