Scott D. Crawford Clay, Alabama
The study of Theology, and specifically Christian Theology, is a quest we should concern ourselves intimately. On the most basic level Christians have a thirst to seek and understand the God we serve. This is the most fundamental understanding of what Theology is: the organized study (logos) of God (theos).1 Theology takes on the task of examining the existence and nature of the divine, and often extension is made in Theology to consider the entire range of man’s relationship to God. This is why the study of Theology is important. When we acknowledge God as supreme in our lives this demands that we seek to understand – as much as possible – who God is and how He relates to us. We take the time to learn from others what the Scriptures say in an effort to know the truths that are essential to a Christian’s faithful walk in this life, yet too often we don’t take the time to study those same Scriptures ourselves. We take the greatest weapon we have against the deceits of the Devil out of our own hands and leave it rusting in the corner. It is reported that Thomas Aquinas said, “(Theologia) a Deo decetur, Deum docet, ad Deum ducit,” which can be translated and paraphrased in this manner: “Theology is taught by God, and what God teaches us leads to God.”2
A simple but necessary truth must be noted – what we can understand about God, God’s relationship to creation and the created, man’s place within the scheme of redemption, and the way mankind should relate to mankind, can only be sought and found from the Scriptures. The words of God are perfect and much to be desired (Psa. 19:7-11), they are a light to our path (Psa. 119:105), they are inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16, 17), and they are alive in such a way that the Word of God can touch the very heart and soul of a man (Heb. 4:12). The fancies, fantasies, and fabrications of mankind can never present a true and accurate picture of God and our relationship with Him. Amen.
To study the characteristics of God is to engage in Theology.
Up to this point one might be thinking about the statement of Zophar to his friend Job, “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7); or when Elihu proclaims the majesty of God and reminds Job that, “Behold, God is great, and we do not know Him” (Job 36:26a).3 These verses express the truth that God is well beyond us in any way that can be described in either logical or emotional terms. God tells us expressly that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:8, 9); yet, we can find glimpses of God and who He is thru the study of His revealed word. When we look into the Scriptures we find that there is a uniqueness to God (1 Chr. 17:20; Psa. 89:6; Isa. 40:18, 25; 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 4:5), and that there are none greater than He or that can compare to Him. We can look into the Scriptures and find that God is not only our creator, but also cannot be contained in anything we can create ourselves (Gen. 1:1; Deut. 10:4; Isa. 42:5; Mal. 2:10; Matt. 19:4; Acts 17:24). After Solomon built the first Temple of God, during the prayer of dedication, the wisest man ever to live said, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!” (1 Ki. 8:27) We look into the Scriptures and see that there is an eternal nature to God (Exo. 3:14, 15; Isa. 44:6; 48:12; Rev. 1:8, 17; 2:8; 22:13), a quality our finite understanding cannot fully understand, and yet find comfort in the truth that God is never far from any of us (Deut. 4:7; Psa. 34:18; 46:1; Jer. 23:23; Acts 17:27). This is only a sample of what we may discover about the Lord of Heaven and Earth when we look into the Scriptures. God has revealed Himself in the pages of Scripture and we are able to learn about Him, and by that learning come to a deeper and more intimate understanding of the God we love.
There are also characteristics that we can learn about God when we look at the person of the Messiah. After Jesus and the apostles finished what we call the Last Supper (Matt. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 13), but before the events in the Garden of Gethsemane, there is recorded in John 14:8 a statement made by Phillip, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” The response by Jesus is succinct and to the point, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” (John 14:9b) This is why Paul can with confidence say that Jesus is the very image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15), and that is why we can look at the person that Jesus is recorded to be to see more of the God we serve (John 1:18). We can look at the compassion that Jesus displayed (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; Mark 6:34; 8:2), even extending that compassion to children when the disciples were trying to shoo them away (Matt. 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16); from that we begin to see the compassion of God. How can we ever doubt the compassion of God when John 3:16 explicitly tells us that God “so loved the world” that He sent us Jesus? We can see in Jesus omniscience (Matt. 9:4; 12:25; Luke 6:8; 9:47; John 2:25) which is also a quality attributed to God (2 Chr. 6:30; Job 42:2; Psa. 11:4; 44:21; 139:2; Prov. 15:11; 21:2; Jer. 17:10; Ezek. 11:5). We can look at Jesus our Lord and see how He exercised His divine power: when He controls the elements of this world (Matt. 21:19; Mark 4:39; John 2:9); when He heals the sick (Matt. 12:13; Mark 8:25; Luke 13:12; John 4:50); when He controls the forces of darkness (Matt. 8:31; Mark 7:29; Luke 9:42); and He even controls the very spirit of man (Matt. 9:25; Luke 7:15; John 11:44). Jesus is able to do these miracles for the reason He so simply stated, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). All the power, majesty, honor, and worship given to the Lord God are also bestowed on the person of Jesus Christ (Matt. 2:2; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 1; Rev. 4:13, 14; 19:16). By seeing and appreciating who Jesus is and what He could and did accomplish, we also begin to develop a profounder understanding of the Lord of Glory.
To study man’s relationship with God is to engage in Theology.
When we study the Scriptures, we also begin to define the place of mankind within the scheme of redemption. It is a simple truth repeated in the Scriptures that mankind was created by God (Gen. 1:1; 2:7; Job 33:4; Isa. 42:5; Acts 17:25; Rev. 4:11) and therefore it is the responsibility of mankind everywhere to obey the decrees set forth by the Lord (Jer. 11:6; Matt. 7:24; John 13:17; Rom. 2:13; Jam. 1:22). These decrees, laws, or instructions have been set in place to produce the highest good in our lives (John 10:10; Rom 2:4; Eph. 1:3; 1 Tim. 16:17). Whether a person views the mandates from the Lord as constitution or story line, the truth is those obligations placed on us must be obeyed (John 14:15; 15:14; Gal. 5:6; Jam. 2:17; 1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6) so that we may receive the blessings God has reserved for us (Deut. 7:12; Prov. 19:16; Luke 11:28; Rev. 1:3). The bulk of the instructions given us by the Lord can be summarized in three broad categories: we must become a Christian like the Bible says (Luke 6:46; Acts 4:12; 2 Thess. 1:8), we must worship like the Bible says (John 4:24; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:16; Heb. 10:25), and we must live like the Bible says (Luke 9:23; Acts 2:46; Rom. 12:1, 2; 1 Pet. 2:11, 12). It is by obeying the commands of God recorded for our benefit that God imparts His blessings upon us through grace, a grace that can only be found in Christ Jesus.
When we speak of the blessings found in Christ is to speak of things like justification, sanctification, and adoption. Paul speaks of our justification in Romans 3:21-26 and helps us understand that justification comes from God alone and not by keeping the external trappings of the law (3:21), that the righteousness of God came to us by the faith “of Christ” (3:22),4 that the grounds of our justification is the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ who bore our sins (3:24, 25a), so that God was able to remain just while at the same time justifying those that believe (3:26). When we speak of sanctification we are typically discussing what happens in the life of a Christian when that person is freed from the effects of sin by the act of Jesus offering Himself for our sins. In 1 Corinthians 6:11 Paul reminds them that although they were once among the worst of sinners, they had had themselves washed, sanctified, and justified by the authority that is found in Christ. The writer of Hebrews pointedly reminds us in chapter 10:10, 14, and 29 that it is the blood of Christ and the covenant initiated by that blood that is able to cleanse us from our sinful life. The blessings of justification and sanctification are given to us just as another great blessing: adoption. When we look into the Scriptures we find the sure truth that God is the Father of all those living (Isa. 64:8; Mal. 2:10; Acts 17:26; 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 4:6) How wonderful is the truth that because of the work of Christ we now have the blessing to be called the “sons of God” (Rom. 8:14; 1 John 3:1), “children of God” (Gal. 3:26; 4:6; Eph. 5:1), and “of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). Further, because we are now the children of God (Gal. 4:7), we can also expect to be heirs to the promises of glorification (Rom. 8:17) and eternal life (Titus 3:7).
Again, these are but a few of the blessings we enjoy being in Christ, but when we look into the Scriptures, find where these blessings are declared, and draw the conclusion that those blessings can also apply to us, we are engaging in the study of Theology.
To interact with our brethren is to practice Theology.
The remarkable result of recognizing the characteristics of God and learning the place of the individual in the grand scheme of God’s design is that we are able to adjust ourselves to better relate to our brethren. It is recorded in Matthew 22:34-40 that when the Pharisees had heard that Jesus silenced the questionings of the Sadducees, they sent one that was an expert in the Law to question Him. Out of a list of over 600 possible laws and regulations listed in the Torah, the Jewish books of the Law, the lawyer asks, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” One can almost hear the smug and condescending tone in the question – they were looking for a reason to trap Jesus using His own words.
“37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).
Jesus combined two of the commands listed in the Law (Deut. 6:5 & Lev. 19:18) and expressed the eternal and exalted nature of God in our lives, and described a fundamental truth about the existence of mankind – that we are to place others above ourselves. Jesus practiced Theology. This is also similar to what we also do when we examine the characteristics of the divine and seek to better serve others by emulating those things we see in God (Josh. 24:15; 1 Cor. 11:1). By learning what the Scriptures – and by extension God – has to teach us, we become a light to a dark world (Matt. 5:16; John 15:8; 1 Pet. 2:12) and the fragrance of Christ (2 Cor. 2:15, 16). It is by engaging in the theological study that we come to a better understanding of who God is and who we are so that we may defend the Truth with confidence (1 Pet. 3:15). Even to the point that when we better understand other “Christian Theologies” and non-Christian Theologies, we become better equipped to spread the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:22b) by understanding the beliefs of others in the world.5
There are some very Biblical thoughts that undergird the thesis that Christians should be Theologians. The writer of Hebrews said it this way:
“1 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits” (Heb. 6:1-3).
Christians are a living organism, and as such we should also be a growing organism. In Psalms 1 the man that turns his focus to “law of the Lord” is compared to a “tree planted by the rivers of waters” – a place where there is nourishment and vitality. Peter reminds us that we should crave the pure spiritual milk that is contained in the Scriptures (1 Pet. 2:2), for it is by that milk that we grow; yet, we must also grow and become those that can rightly handle the spiritual meat of the word of God (1 Cor. 3:2; 14:20; Heb. 5:12, 13). When we study Theology we move forward in both our understanding of God and our personal spirituality, becoming a workman “approved by God” (2 Tim. 2:15).
1 Gordon R. Lewis & Bruce A. Demarest, Integrated Theology: Three Volumes in One (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 1:23.
2 Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1948; reprinted 1996), 18.
3 Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
4 Some translations have “by faith in Jesus Christ” at Rom. 3:22 while others have “by faith of Jesus Christ.” For a brief discussion of the translational difference at this point see: James Burton Coffman, “Commentary on Romans 3” Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament (Abilene: Abilene Christian University Press, 1983-1999), <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ro&chapter=003>.
5 Ivan Strenski, “Comparative Study of Religions: a Theological Necessity,” Christian Century 102, no. 5 (1985), ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 20, 2014).