As we embark on 13 weeks of theology in Transforming Truths, I wanted to give some encouragement and tips about teaching theology. We like the know-be-do (or head-heart-hands) model for transformational learning. Generally, we understand that model as know –be–do, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way. What’s significant is that we are speaking into all three domains as opposed to giving a particular domain priority. Doing without knowing leads to drudgery and doing without being leads to legalism. Being without knowing leads to subjectivism and being without doing leads to selfishness. Knowing without being leads to Phariseeism and knowing without doing leads to hypocrisy. We must always keep these domains in tension with one another. When teaching theology, however, it is generally the case that know will come first. Here’s the biblical truth about God from the Bible; because of this knowledge about God, you should understand yourself a certain way; because you are that certain way, you should live out the life appropriately.
My two major questions with theology are what’s at stake and so what. If we answer those questions or lead our people to their own discovery of answers to those questions, then we will be doing something great. I ask what’s at stake because it emphasizes critical reflection and a submissive focus. For instance: what’s at stake if I were to give up the Incarnation? Couldn’t God the Father just have anointed some particular person to be Messiah and redeem the world that way (e.g., adoptionism, http://www.theopedia.com/adoptionism)? We’d be giving up Jesus’ divine nature which wreaks havoc on God being the justifier (Romans 3:26), we’d be giving up the eternality of Christ (John 1:1ff.), we’d give up the fallen nature of humanity (Romans 5:12-14), Jesus would not be worthy of worship (Matthew 2:11, John 20:28, Revelation 5:1-14), etc. In short, we’d have to forego much of the Bible’s explicit teaching about the nature of Christ. And without understanding that nature, how can we fully understand what price was paid for our redemption?
Likewise, I ask so what to hit the practical realities of the doctrine. What does it matter that God is a Trinity or not? Well, if God is not at His core relational, then what sense does it make for us to be relational with our communities as a necessary reflection of the divine nature? And if God isn’t Trinitarian, then was God really satisfied in His existence before creation? Perhaps such a God would actually need a creation in order to relate to it. And in that case, would God be at His core, loving? How can God truly express love if nothing else exists? And if God loved only self, then is that worthy of worship? It is hard to see how if there is no plurality and other persons within the Godhead.
Lastly, I like to think of theology as a set of dials on an incredible machine. As soon as you turn one dial, all the others self-adjust to different settings than you had prior. Thus, if we push an attribute too far or separate one aspect of God too far from the others, then we are corrupting the God revealed in the Bible. For example, if we push God’s power and will too far, then we might end with a God who is less than morally good. Isn’t it a power to sin? Isn’t it a power to deceive? Yet, we rightly conclude that God can do neither of those things. We let God’s character determine the capacity of God’s power, claiming something like: God can do all those things that are logically possible and in accord with His divine nature and character. We must be respectful, careful, and most of all, biblical, as we tinker with the divine attributes.
In the end this stuff matters a great deal. Are you willing to die for a God who can deceive? Who can reject His promise to save those who confess and believe (Romans 10:9)? When tragedy strikes your family and life, will you stand firm in the goodness of God as evidenced by the resurrection? Let’s do the heavy lifting now so that we are prepared on that day. And let’s develop in our people a robust theology so that they are ready, at a moment’s notice, to be the church wherever they are and whoever they’re with through sound defense of the faith, a faithful Gospel, and confident testimony!