New Series: Let’s Go to Theology Class!

Beginning September 2, 2019, I will start a weekly blog post, providing a summary of lessons assigned in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

THEOLOGY IS AN ATTEMPT by faith to understand itself, its object, and its place in today’s world. Trevor Hart (1995) calls this exercise faith thinking. Although theology is typically undertaken as part of a higher education endeavor, the activity known as “Christian Theology” should be an inevitable consequence of life as a thinking Christian. Systematic Theology is defined as “an integrating discipline that studies how the church may bear enduring, timely, and truthful witness to God as revealed in Jesus Christ.” Theology today specifically denotes the contemporary effort to speak about God in an orderly way.

Theology is not a formal discipline in Scripture—the topic most related is wisdom. Biblical knowledge of God is (at its very core) relational, involving whole persons within God’s covenant community, and contextual, inviting freedom for discerning obedience. This dovetails nicely with the renewing of our minds through Christ. Responding to divine inspiration, as believers we are to pursue the understanding of God and His will for us (see Romans 12:1-3). The practice of systematic thinking—avoiding obvious contradictions and aspiring to orderly reflection—seems theologically essential given the Gospel’s claim of one God, and the doctrine of salvation through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone.

Systematic Theology affirms the approach of sola scriptura (Scripture alone) as final arbiter of truth. This is the approach Martin Luther used as he prepared the 95 Theses he presented to the Catholic church at the outset of the Reformation. The Bible, not priests or the pope, have ultimate authority over every aspect of Christianity. Given the tendency of man to muddy the waters—adding his own instruction regarding the Christian life—it must be held that Scripture alone provides the information needed to walk in the faith. Indeed, Scripture is God’s special revelationi.e., particular divine self-disclosure by Word and Spirit  (see Hebrews 1:1-4).

Trevor Hart believes that regardless of our intellectual resources, we are called upon to bear faithful witness to the source of our life and hope. Naturally, not all of us are called to be evangelists or apologists in an official capacity. He says, however, “But just as surely as there is a ‘priesthood of all believers’ in God’s church, so too there is a theological prerogative belonging not only to an elite academic priesthood, guardians of the sanctuaries of learning, but to all God’s people” (p. 2). Faith must seek to understand itself. Faith—when it is truly faith rather than a mere intellectual assent to a proposition—will always seek to enter into a fuller and deeper knowledge of that which matters to it most. Such study must have an interrogative rather than doctrinaire attitude.

First Peter 3:15 says, ” Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (RSV). Matthew Henry (1997) says in his commentary on this verse that we are called to sanctify God before others through word and deed. In addition, we are to be able to defend our faith with meekness, thereby explaining the ground and reason for what we believe. This is the very basis of apologetics—discourse that shows and tells why the Gospel deserves respect and, ultimately, allegiance. Because Christianity is the way to life, not just an intellectual system, apologetics deals with goodness and beauty, affections and practices, as well as truth. Indeed, Christianity is more relationship than systematic religion. Aapologetics is anything we can say or do that helps people take Christianity more seriously than they did before.

Granted, apologetics is not theology per se; it is, however, the manner by which we apply systematic theology to the spreading of the Gospel. It is is the mechanism by which we are commanded to “defend” or explain why we believe what we believe. For me, apologetics is God’s call on my life. I intend to study systematic theology and apply what I learn to defending the Gospel, whether in written form or in point/counterpoint exercises with today’s New Atheists. It’s interesting to note that I thoroughly enjoyed performance in forensic competition as a high school senior, especially as a member of the debate team!

The Format

In presenting these synopses, I will adhere to the following basic format.

  • An applicable Bible verse. Bible verse that sets forth what Scripture states regarding the subject.
  • Statement of the Topic. Clear statement of the subject (or thesis) will be provided.
  • Statement of My Response to the Assignment. An abridged version of my answer to the assignment.
  • Application to Daily Walk. Detailed description of how the weekly lesson can be applied to our daily Christian witness.
  • Concluding Remarks. Summary of the lesson in a manner that will clearly state what was learned and the implications of the lesson on today’s church.
  • “See Also.” List of recommended reading or further study will be provided in order that you might be able to expound on the subject and, therefore, apply it to your daily witness.

I look forward to sharing with you what I learn in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology. Hopefully, this will help us all to be better equipped to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, and to do so with all confidence, meekness, and fear.

References

Hart, T. (1997). Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

 

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