The modern evangelical movement is plagued by a flippant, irresponsible attitude towards God's Word. Sadly, many Christians today are either ignorant of biblical truth or simply apathetic, resulting in an entire population of Christians who are immature in their faith and easy prey for false teachers who flourish in domains where the Bible is not prioritized.
The current state of the church reveals a need to equip believers in sound theology. Only by grounding ourselves in the truth of Scripture are we able to glorify God by fulfilling our mission as the "pillar and buttress of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). In this article, we endeavor to advance this goal by exploring theological method, trusting that together we will recognize the centrality of theology to the entire Christian life and commit ourselves to the persistent study of God's Word.
The theologian seeks to understand, organize, and articulate the truth about God. The task of theological method is to establish the sources, mechanics, and attitudes necessary for the study of theology. A truly effective method aims at glorifying God by increasing our knowledge of Him so as to be conformed into Christ's image:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds... (Rom 12:2; emphasis added).
[You have put on the new self], which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator (Col 3:10; emphasis added).
We see from these passages that the primary means by which we are conformed to the image of Christ is by renewing our minds through knowledge. Thus, as we pursue theology, we simultaneously become better representatives of Christ who are able to faithfully address the culture, defend the faith, strengthen the church, grow in personal holiness, and glorify God.
As mentioned before, theology seeks to understand, organize, and articulate the truth about God. As such, it is important to identify the source(s) from which we derive theology. We recognize that God reveals Himself using various means such as creation and human conscience, so that His existence, glory, attributes, and nature are able to be clearly perceived (Rom 1:19-20).
However, such means are ultimately incapable of producing an extensive knowledge of God, let alone a saving knowledge. For this reason, God's special revelation in Scripture is necessary as the only inspired, inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative witness to His mind, nature, and work:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Sound theology originates from Scripture alone, the clearest expression of God's revelation.
Now we offer some basic tools that we use in studying theology. First, we must derive theology by applying the basic principles of Bible study. Only by drawing out God's intended meaning in Scripture may we arrive at correct theology. To do this, we exegete Scripture according to a literary-grammatical-historical hermeneutic, we make deductions and inferences by using logic and reason, and we perform a 'safety check' by applying the analogy of the faith (that is, God's Word does not contradict itself) to verify that our every belief is consistent with all of Scripture.
Second, we should pursue theology by seeking the help and support of others. Most are familiar with the saying, "If it's new, then it's probably not true," a wise principle that holds true for theology. Seeking support for our beliefs from other Christians is an integral part of theology. After all, God has endowed all believers with the Holy Spirit, and we would be foolish to hastily embrace a view that has received no confirmation from the Church throughout its history.
Third, we should pursue theology within the community of the local church. The church body keeps us from separating theology from ministry and service. The shelter and support of the local church is also important for protecting ourselves against error, sharpening our theology, and fostering a knowledge that grows alongside personal godliness.
Finally, our pursuit of theology should be characterized by humility and faith. As finite creatures, we each depend upon the Holy Spirit to illuminate His Word for our understanding, which means that we should undertake theology prayerfully. As the Holy Spirit continues to open our eyes to the truth, we are to humbly embrace it by faith, never questioning His Word. Even when we do not understand everything that God says in Scripture, we still hold fast to our conviction of its complete truthfulness and authority.
Far from being a mere theoretical discipline meant only for scholars and academics, theology has profound impact on the church. Often Christians are tempted to isolate theology from ministry, or vice versa. However, theology and ministry are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, we cannot be effective servants in the church apart from theology, nor can we be effective theologians apart from using that knowledge for the upbuilding of others.
While each of us are at different stages in our understanding of the Bible, we must nonetheless continue striving towards an increased understanding of God's Word, an ongoing commitment that demands personal diligence, humility, and faith. In so doing, we become more obedient servants of Christ and His Church, ultimately bringing glory to God. Theology matters!