Archives For theology

Ed Stetzer writes that every pastor, every church planter and every missionary must use a theological grid and a missiological grid, noting that “church leaders must think both theologically and missiologically.”

Stetzer concludes his first article in the following way, emphasizing the truth that theology matters:

When leading a church through pastoring, planting, or being a missionary, theology matters. What we believe has implications for how we behave. If the gospel is not properly understood, it cannot be persistently proclaimed. If the teachers of the church are not well-engaged, a biblical church will not be present.

Pastors, planters, and missionaries need to be grounded in the theology of the gospel. There is no long-term relevance outside of the eternal things of God. Furthermore, they need to worth from a theological grid as to what church is, what evangelism is, how discipleship matters, and more.

However . . . the right theology must be communicated in a way that makes sense to those we are trying to reach. We need a theological grid, but being a church leader also requires a missiological grid as well.

But theology must also be communicated with and into a certain context. Biblical truth does not change, but its application to contexts does. And it is not necessarily a balance of part of one and part of another. The order is also important. What this means is that the priority is with doctrine/theology which is then applied in various contexts. Stetzer summarizes by stating that theology and missiology

should not be pitted against each other, as if theology and missiology were in conflict with one another. Theology drives missiology and missiology directs theology.

Our theology should serve as the foundation and motivating factor for our missiology, while our missiology should serve to guide how our theology is relayed to the world around us.

A few questions to ponder:

  • How do you understand theology and its importance?
  • How do you understand missiology and its importance?
  • How do you understand the relation between the two?

The Biblically Sanctified Imagination

Greg Strand – October 16, 2013 Leave a comment

In Kevin Vanhoozer’s conclusion to his lecture, “In bright shadow: C. S. Lewis on the Imagination for Theology and Discipleship,” he refers to an illustration that highlights how a biblically sanctified imagination enables us to see truths we would not normally see or understand. (For this illustration Vanhoozer acknowledges his indebtedness to Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999) p. 176.)

Vanhoozer writes,

Two stonemasons were hard at work. When asked what they are doing, the first said: “I am cutting this stone in a perfectly square shape.” The other answered: “I am building a cathedral.” Both answers are correct, but it takes imagination to see that you are building a cathedral, not simply making blocks of granite. Two pastors were hard at work. When asked what they are doing, the first said: “I am planning programs, preparing sermons, and managing conflict.” The other answered: “I am building a temple.” It takes a biblically trained imagination to see one’s congregation as a living temple, with each member a living stone (1 Pet. 2:5) being worked – chiseled, fitted, and polished – in order to be joined together with Christ, the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). It takes the eschatological imagination to look at a sinner and see a saint.

Is the Scripture foundational to your life? Do the truths of Scripture form and shape your life? Do they form and shape your imagination such that what you do, how you do it and for whom you do it are all transformed? This is a life marked by the indwelling Holy Spirit enabling one to live by God’s grace and for God’s glory.

So, are you planning programs, preparing sermons and managing conflict? Or are you building a temple?

Theology and Doxology: Dance Partners

Greg Strand – October 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Gerrit Scott Dawson writes of the organic connection between “theology and doxology.”  One is foundational to the other, yet the other is grounded in the one. If theology does not lead to doxology, I am not convinced that theology is truly understood or embraced. If doxology is not grounded in theology, I am not convinced that it is a response that is reflective of true worship.

Dawson writes of their connection:

The knowledge of God and the praise of God, theology and doxology, belong together. They are dance partners in the fulfillment of our chief end: to glorify and enjoy God forever.

Theology that doesn’t make us sing has failed in its mission, no matter how correct it may be. Worship that doesn’t take us deeper into Christ has also failed, no matter how glorious the music or how applicable the sermon. Praising God properly means deepening our knowledge of this God we adore. Our hearts should be set aflame when we really explore how the Father sent His Son into the world to save us, and then joined us to that Savior by sending His Holy Spirit into our hearts. Great theology stirs the heart. Excellent worship grows our knowledge.

May we, by God’s grace, engage in this wonderful dance now and forever.

The Importance of Theology/Doctrine

Greg Strand – September 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Having taught yesterday in our adult and youth Christian Living Class about the importance of theology/doctrine for the Christian and the church, I appreciated these words from Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark:

X + Y = Z. IF YOU know the value of one of the letters, you know something. If you know the value of two, you can probably figure out the whole thing. If you don’t know the value of any, you don’t know much.

Preachers tend to forget this. “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior and be saved from your sins,” or something like that, has meaning and power and relevance only if the congregation has some notion of what, humanly speaking, sin is, or being saved is, or who Jesus is, or what accepting him involves. If preachers make no attempt to flesh out these words in terms of everyday human experience (maybe even their own) but simply repeat with variations the same old formulas week after week, then the congregation might just as well spend Sunday morning at home with the funnies.

The blood atonement. The communion of saints. The Holy Ghost. If people’s understanding of theological phrases goes little deeper than their dictionary or catechetical definitions, then to believe in them has just about as much effect on their lives as to believe that Columbus discovered America in 1492 or that E = mc2.

 

Wesley Hill will be one of our keynote, plenary speakers at our upcoming EFCA Theology Conference. Hill graduated from Wheaton College, served as a pastoral apprentice at Bethlehem Baptist, Minneapolis, MN, recently completed a Ph.D. in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and presently serves as an assistant professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry (an evangelical seminary in the Anglican tradition) in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. 

A couple of years ago he wrote a testimonial: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010). According to his testimony, as long as he remembers he has experienced a powerful and abiding attraction to members of the same-sex. He cannot point to an experience that triggered this experience. He became a believer in Christ and had never turned back from that commitment. He also agrees with the Bible that homosexuality is a sin. Here is how he explains his commitment (p. 61):

In the end, what keeps me on the path I’ve chosen is not so much individual proof texts from Scripture or the sheer weight of the church’s traditional teaching against homosexual practice. Instead, it is, I think, those texts and traditions and teachings as I see them from within the true story of what God has done in Jesus Christ – and the whole perspective on life and the world that flows from that story, as expressed definitively in Scripture. Like a piece from a jigsaw puzzle finally locked into its rightful place, the Bible and the church’s no to homosexual behavior make sense to me – it has the ring of truth . . . when I look at it as one piece within the larger Christian narrative. I abstain from homosexual behavior because of the power of that scriptural story.

Hill recently reviewed Justin Lee’s Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate in Christianity Today 56/9 (October 2012), 75. Lee also identifies as a “gay Christian,” but for him Christ’s ethic to love gives him the freedom to be in a loving relationship with someone of the same sex. On this basis, Lee places this discussion in the category of “disputable matters,” and therefore those who affirm monogamous gay relationships and those who affirm that gay Christians ought to remain celibate must learn to treat one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord who disagree over matters of indifference or conscience. In the concluding section of the review, “A Place for Transformation,” Hill disagrees.

Full disclosure:  I am a celibate gay Christian. Like Lee, I grew up Southern Baptist. Like him, I discovered during puberty that I was exclusively attracted to others of my own sex. But unlike Lee, I don’t find any wiggle room in Scripture: Marriage is intended for one man and one woman (Gen. 2; Matt. 19; Eph. 5), and anyone living outside that marital state is called to celibacy (I Cor. 7).

Lee’s book leaves people like me – his fellow gay Christians who, nonetheless, disagree sharply with him on sexual ethics – in a difficult position. On the one hand, we share his hope that the church may be a place of welcome and grace for LGBTQ people. However, we don’t view our celibacy as simply one option among an array of valid choices which believers are free to sort out as they please. Rather, we see celibacy as obedience to the clear, if bracing, mandate of Scripture. And we’ve found the church to be a place of transformation, a place to be, in T.S. Eliot’s words, “renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.”

It’s tempting, with Lee, to think that Jesus’ ethic of love abrogates some of the more obscure or challenging biblical norms. Yet the sweep of the canon of Scripture suggests that we follow Jesus rightly when we see the apostles’ teaching and commands as flowing from Jesus’ love for us, not impeding it. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus told his disciples (John 14:15, ESV). Conforming our lives to Scripture’s difficult ethical teaching is precisely the way we demonstrate that we’ve made our home in Jesus’ love. And that’s a path that Lee’s book, for all its commendable honesty and salutary insight, chooses not to explore.

Notice that Hill refers to himself as a “gay Christian.” In Hill’s “Review of The End of Sexual Identity,” TGC Reviews (April 25, 2011),  he explains why he uses this expression of himself.

For myself, using the term “gay” has enabled me to attain a greater depth of honesty—with myself and with others. It has given me a way to achieve greater accuracy in naming the persistent, exclusive nature of my desires where a term like “same-sex attraction” seems too weak. Furthermore, claiming the “gay” label has allowed me to begin to discern a vocation. To borrow Paul’s language in 2 Corinthians 12:7, when I acknowledged that my “thorn in the flesh” didn’t seem like something that would be easily removed, that recognition enabled me to encounter God’s power in the midst of pain. My unique thorn, I realized, may be the precise point at which I am called to receive and reflect his grace and embody the “perfection” of his strength.

I do not totally understand and I am not completely comfortable with the reference to being a “gay Christian,” in that I don’t self-identify as a “heterosexual Christian.” But Hill has his reasons and he roots them in the gospel and his understanding of weakness, thorns, and God’s grace. Based on his foundational biblical commitments to the Lord, His Word and personal holiness, I am not as inclined to quibble about his reference. I am excited to learn from him, along with the other excellent speakers, at the Theology Conference.