Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Theology

Revelation - Theology - Doctrine - Dogma - Religion - Relationship


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God's revelation to mankind must only be the beginning. God, in His grace, has made Himself known to us but, once we realize this, we must choose to respond by drawing close to our Creator. To do this we must begin by learning who He is. It is important to always remember that theology is much more than just a study of God the way one might study something in a laboratory. Theology is more like our dedicated pursuit of more intimate knowledge of a dear friend or of a spouse. This is where our theology begins.

But what exactly is theology?  J.I. Packer defined it this way:
Theology is the study of revealed truth about the works, ways, and will of God studied by a mind and a heart that is determined to know, trust, love, worship, obey, serve, and glorify the triun God of the Bible.
Again, we see here in Packer's definition that theology is more than simple study. To be worthwhile it must be firmly grounded in dedication to, and full relationship with, our holy and sovereign God and Father. Theology is not something that is to be left to high-minded academics who keep themselves locked away in little rooms huddled over dusty books. All Christians are called to be theologians in the sense that God calls all of His children to know Him intimately and we can only come to know Him by dedicating ourselves to knowing what He has chosen to reveal to us through His Word (the Bible) and through His creation (science).  




If sound theology is built upon on a foundation of God's revelation, then strong doctrine sits on a solid foundation of good theology. As we work through our theology to understand, categorize, and organize what God has revealed to us, we naturally begin to document and to compartmentalize our understanding into teachings so that we can explain the good news of God's plan to others. These formalized teachings represent our doctrine.

An example of a specific doctrine would be the doctrine of the trinity. In this doctrine, the church has developed a method of explaining and understanding what God has revealed about Himself throughout His interaction with man as being eternally one yet manifesting as three distinct, separate, equal, and co-eternal individuals: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The word "trinity" does not occur anywhere within God's written revelation to man, yet our theology - our study of what God has revealed to us - clearly describes God as being both one and yet three. From our dedicated study, and with the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit, we develop a formalized doctrine to explain our understanding of what God has revealed.

As finite and limited beings we will never be fully capable of understanding for ourselves, let alone teaching others, the unsearchable depths of an infinite God. We do, however, have a duty to understand and rightly teach what God has chosen to make known to us. 
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. ~Deuteronomy 29:29
There are many doctrines that serve as the basis for our biblical teaching such as the doctrines of salvation, of justification, and of atonement which are all big fancy ways of categorizing and describing God's plan for bringing us back into personal relationship with Him. Many church doctrines arose and were formalized only as a response to false teachings that were being invented and distributed at the time. The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus for example - an understanding not questioned in the early apostolic teachings of the church - was developed as a reaction to 2nd century heretical teachings that Jesus was simply a man or a prophet. There were those that passed off this false view as representing Christian thought. The church was then forced to counter this by formally documenting and proclaiming its teachings on the nature of Jesus as God and so arose the formal doctrine.

It is possible to build doctrine off of what a person says about scripture instead of what scripture actually says. Therefore it is extremely important that all doctrine be tested by its adherence and faithfulness to the Word of God as read out of the Holy Scripture. Any doctrine that presents a view or teaching not directly supported by the Bible must be discarded.

Doctrines that do pass the test of scripture serve as the foundation to yet two more layers of belief: dogma and religion.





My Encyclopedia of the Bible defines dogma as:
Dogma: A doctrine; an ecclesiastical teaching or body of principles to be believed.
There are many such definitions that, in English, appear to be very similar, if not identical to doctrine. The word, however, is not typically used in the same way as doctrine in terms of being simply a teaching but rather it is usually used in common language to describe defined rules or a way of behaving. Somebody that is being dogmatic is thought to be paying strict attention to a set of rules. It is this usage that I choose to focus on in order to maintain clarity. For our purposes dogma is defined as the specific rules for behavior and for belief that we, as people, develop out of our theology and from our specific doctrines.

Our dogma comes about through interpretation of our doctrine. Dogma is three steps removed from Biblical revelation and is always an interpretation of man. It is possible to entirely agree with a man's theology and doctrine and yet disagree with aspects of his dogma. It is also possible - and even common - for a person to focus so much on dogmatic principles that they entirely miss the point of those principles. Like doctrine, dogma must be firmly grounded in Biblical exposition. In addition, dogma must also be explained and supported by sound doctrine.

Dogma becomes important as we move from academic and theoretical understanding of God and begin to apply our understanding of His will for us to the way that we live out our lives. Dogma begins to define the rules and guidelines for our behavior and thus, lays yet another layer of foundation for our religion.





The component farthest removed from God's revelation to man and by far my least favorite of all the aspects of our interaction with God is religion. Religion is our attempt to work out our theology, doctrine, and dogma in the real world either individually or corporately. Put another way, religion is man living out what he thinks God has revealed to him. There is good religion and bad religion depending on the theology, doctrine, and dogma supporting it, but all religion is of man and not of God.

The vast majority of the world's religions are based on an incomplete, incorrect, or imagined revelation of God. These are religions that begin with God's general revelation and, based on the realization that God must exist, invent the image of God that most suits their desires or purposes. Most religions create god in the image of man to order to serve man's purposes. Only through God's word to us do we find that the exact opposite is true.

Even religions that claim to begin with God's special revelation of the Bible can end up going disastrously astray. Remember that religion is only the final working out of our theology, doctrine, and dogma. A slight twist in our theology can send us spinning away from God and into pure fantasy. There are many false teachers that are guilty of twisting the Bible's truths, inventing their own religions, and passing it off as Christianity.

The vast majority of people in the United States that call themselves Christian are simply following religious practices that they do not understand and doing so without any relationship with God or any change in their life. Many are led astray by false teachers that promise worldly riches and health. People are fooled because they either do not search the Word of God for themselves or, if they do study God's word, they do so only to justify their own predetermined conclusions.

Jesus had a lot to say about the religious leaders of His day. These were men that were so into following rules that they missed the point of it all. Jesus called them whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside but inside full of dead men's bones (Matthew 23:27-28). He condemned them for traveling far distances to convert people only to teach them false things and condemn them also to hell (Matthew 23:15). Jesus said:
Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. ’ ~Matthew 15:8-9
It is important for us to live out our relationship with God in the real world, but what God wants is not blind our obedience to human rules but personal relationship that changes us from within.

Theology, doctrine, dogma, and religion are important but they are all worthless if they are not founded on, and in every way permeated by, a full and intimate personal relationship with God. At the same time, any personal relationship with some "higher power" is highly suspect if it is not firmly grounded in tested revelation, strong theology, good doctrinal teaching, and solid dogmatic boundaries. In order to be trustworthy our faith must be worked out in the real world showing tangible results both in us individually and in how we interact with others and with the world around us.

  

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. ~Deuteronomy 29:29





A biblical foundation for studies in theology, anthropology, soteriology, and eschatology! Includes Hodge's magnum opus and Torrey's collected essays on Christian thought from Warfield, Moule, Pierson, Morgan, Ryle, and others. Hardcovers.





There is good religion and bad religion, depending on the theology and doctrine supporting it, but all religion is of man and not of God.










Dogma is three steps removed from Biblical revelation and is always an interpretation of man.









These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. ~Matthew 15:8-9









The vast majority of the world's religions are based on an incomplete, incorrect, or imagined revelation of God.










If sound theology is built upon on a foundation of God's revelation, then strong doctrine sits on a solid foundation of good theology.










In order to be real, our faith must show tangible results.







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