It was at the age of 56 I sat in a classroom for advanced theology track in Ft. Worth, Texas. With much younger men and women (pastors and would-be counselors) to my right and to my left, I gripped my pen and fixed my mind on every word coming from the front of the room. Despite decades of Bible study and faithful church attendance it wasn’t until learning these ancient truths, theological gaps emerged. But there was something in those particular moments that I was sure of, maybe even convicted of: I needed to carry learning further. And, by the grace of God, I did just that through Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I had known Jesus since childhood, but it wasn’t until poring over these doctrines I began to know and understand with clarity what Christianity is. In this season of formal education, I gained an understanding of how theological views affect all aspects of life. It was a busy time but it was the best of times and with the filling of those theological gaps, my life’s focus changed. God’s purposes in me and with me became clear.
C. S. Lewis penned “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen – not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” We live our theology as we engage with Christian faith and life.
My story is the perspective from which I teach, and with the premise that the study of theology is not reserved for seminary students. Theology is something every single human being should desire to know: “Theology is the study of God, God’s character, God’s actions in relation to the cosmos, and especially God’s relationship to humanity (the character and history of humankind) in its responsive relationship to God within the panorama of the world and history, space and time,” states Dr. Mark Bowald. But theology is not for the knowledge alone. Michael Horton puts it like this, “From what God does in history we are taught certain things about who he is and what it means to be created in his image, fallen, and redeemed, renewed, and glorified in union with Christ. As the father creates his church, in his Son and by his Spirit, we come to realize what this covenant community is and what it means to belong to it; what kind of future is promised to us in Christ, and how we are to live here and now in light of it all. The drama and the doctrine provoke us to praise and worship – doxology – and together these three coordinates give us a new way of living in the world as disciples.”
The words of Greg Allison add yet another layer, “The emphasis of systematic theology is on what God wants us to believe and to know. The basic reason for studying systematic theology, then, is that it enables us to teach ourselves and others what the whole Bible says, thus fulfilling the second part of the Great Commission.”
A common way of approaching theology is to differentiate four main areas of focus. The four types of theology include biblical theology, historical theology, systematic theology, and practical theology. The primary emphasis in my studies and teaching is systematic theology, though pulling from both biblical and historical theology when beneficial. Systematic theology is not a Bible study (although it does require reading a lot of scripture for biblical support). However, I will contend that the study of systematic theology will greatly improve Bible study. Wayne Grudem gives a concise definition of systematic theology that will clarify its connection with the Bible: “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.” Personally, I have engaged the Scriptures with a better overall understanding and it has helped me become a better wife, a better mother and grandmother, as well as a more useful church member. Even more, studying theology has encouraged me to love the Word and soak in the Scriptures daily. Never in my life have I been more overwhelmed with joy than now, to sit with an open Bible and take in the Word of God from a robust theological view.
But make no mistake in what I’m saying here: The more I learn, the less I believe I know. Howard G. Hendricks rightly frames my thoughts on learning and teaching when he says, “If we stop learning today, we stop teaching tomorrow.” I consider myself a lifelong learner and frankly, none of us has arrived when it comes to Bible knowledge.
Since my time of formal education, I’ve observed Christian women who are content with never dipping below surface level in their study of the Word. And even more concerning, many women are seeking something more therapeutic than truth. The therapeutic view says: “You’re not to blame for your flaws and faults. You’re not a sinner, you’re a victim.” There are entire women’s “ministries” and conferences built on these misconceptions of what is Christianity. Sadly, I know where these women are. It was not so many years ago when I went to the conference, bought the book, the t-shirt, and the coffee mug. As sinners, we can all be quick to replace awe of God with awe of self and many times, this posture of misplaced awe is at the forefront when we come to the Scriptures. Paul Tripp writes, “Vertical awe amnesia always ends up putting me at the center. It really does make life all about me. Awe of God means I live knowing that there is a greater story than my little personal story. Awe of God means that there is a grander kingdom than my little kingdom of one…I am not the center of all things.” Praise God that I now understand the process of growing in the Lord and becoming more Christlike requires careful study of the Word of God from a healthy theological view.
None of us can ever be fully pleasing to God if we are not willing to be well taught in His Word.– A.W. Tozer
Thinking and learning are necessary to exalt our worship of the One who has given the Word. God has given us minds for this purpose, and he has given us this Word through which we can know him. We can recapture, refocus, and redirect our thinking. The more we know him, the more we want to live for his glory above our own; the former therapeutic, man-centered view of the Bible shifts to a God-centered view. And with this corrected view, we have the lens from which we view all of life with greater joy.