Historical Theology: A Modern-Day Necessity (Post #1)

“At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of ‘Christians’ in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial.”

Written over seven decades ago, these words by C.S. Lewis from his work The Screwtape Letters has accurately captured a problem in our modern-day society. We live in a culture in which the culture dictates Christian truth. As Christians, this should be frightening, when we no longer live by the decrees of God, but instead by the decrees of man.

The issue is not simply a matter of bringing the church out of the world, but one of bringing the world out of the church. What has happened is that the teaching within the church has been so watered down, that those within the church do not even recognize the differences between Christian thinking and secular thinking.

In an October article by Christianity Today the headline read, “New Poll Finds Evangelical’s Favorite Heresies.” Citing various statistics, the article points out just how little people know about their own Christian faith. In fact, poignantly on display is not just how little one knows about their own faith, but how their beliefs are actually in direct conflict with the teachings of God in the Bible, such as:

  1. 6% of professing evangelicals believe the Book of Mormon is revelation from God (a whopping 18% say they are unsure)
  2. 22% of professing evangelicals believe that God the Father is more divine than Jesus Christ
  3. 18 % of professing evangelicals believe that Jesus Christ was the first creature to be created by God (while 11% say they are unsure)
  4. 51% of professing evangelicals say the Holy Spirit is a force, not a being[1]

These statistics came from Ligonier Ministries research, which they recently released in a report called, “The State of Theology” (You can read about that study by clicking here).

A Need for Theology

The stats should not be surprising. In fact, we have allowed, if not encouraged weak teaching from our pulpits so much, we should expect these kinds of results. The word ‘theology’ has become a bad word in the church. We avoid it because it is seen as something only for the understanding of those who devote their hours, both waking and sleeping, to studying doctrine. However, theology is simply the study of the Bible and its teachings. In fact, it is something that every believer should be engaging in, otherwise how could one offer up a defense of their faith (1 Peter 3:15). Not understanding one’s own beliefs leave individuals and churches unstable, subject to fall to any false teaching because they have no real understanding of what the Bible teaches. But it is theology that we must be learning. What is also interesting, is the study of the theology often leads in to our understanding of history, because we need to understand the historical context of the Bible, but also because we often learn more about how certain aspects of theology have been taught, understood, and debated. With the death of the apostle John, there no longer was any direct witness to the events of Christ. As such, the people no longer had access to firsthand accounts and teachings. Therefore, the people had to defend the doctrines themselves, especially in the midst of persecution and false rumors.

Theology is key to the Christian life, not simply for the sake of head knowledge, but because out of theology comes the application of the Bible, which is the application of God’s very own word. I would outline the following reasons for understanding theology, specifically historical theology:

  1. Theology teaches us about God (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit)
  2. Theology teaches us about us (man’s state apart from God and with God)
  3. Theology teaches us the Bible
  4. Theology teaches us doctrine
  5. Theology teaches us about the Christian life
  6. Theology teaches us history

Not only does theology teach us though, theology should have impact on our life and gives us perspective. Therefore, learning theology should have impact us in the following ways:

  • Theology leads to sound doctrine; sound doctrine leads to sound doxology.
  • Theology leads to an ability to defend the faith.
  • Theology leads to a proper Christian worldview (which directly impacts numbers four through six).
  • Theology leads to an understanding of history.
  • Theology leads to an understanding of Christian history.
  • Theology leads to an understanding of the future (and how decisions now impact that future).
  • Theology leads to a Christlike lifestyle.

Understanding theology should be a key aspect to our personal Christian growth.

Will You Join Me in Learning More?

Awhile ago, I read through The Story of Christian Theology by Roger Olson and I have decided to read through it again, trying to learn more from it. Because I am convicted by the need to understand theology and the historical circumstances around some of our doctrine, I have decided to do a weekly post as I go through this reading. I have no idea how long this will take me, or if I will even stop once I have completed this particular book. Likewise, some of the postings maybe longer, while others may be shorter. My goal is to explore the theological aspects of Christianity from a historical lens to see how they were defined, debated, and defended.  My hope is that all of us will learn as we go. Grow in our understanding of our faith, and as a result that we will be further conformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

I would love to have you join me during this time each week. My goal is to post every Thursday and read a chapter a week (unless the content of a particular chapter is heavier and requires more time for discussion). It is not necessary for you to join in the reading as well, but if you choose, you can find the book here at Amazon, both in Kindle and Hardcopy.

Story of Theology

[1] Kevin Emmert, “New Poll Finds Evangelical’s Favorite Heresies,” Christianity Today, October 28, 2014 from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/october-web-only/new-poll-finds-evangelicals-favorite-heresies.html.

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