Formation of Biblical Doctrine – Part 16 min read
Preconditions to Studying
When establishing a method of theology, one needs to understand first and foremost that there is no such thing as “theological instant coffee.” In other words, there is no fail-proof method that guarantees 100% correct doctrine in one step. There is no place for presumption when studying doctrine. This does not mean we cannot confidently assert a doctrine. This does not mean truth is relative. Rather, it is an honest acknowledgement that fallen man will always be just that: fallible.
However, while man is fallible, God is not. When believers approach doctrine, they do have an anchor and a center of consistency: God Himself. Thus, the first precondition to studying theology is neither education in philosophy or history, nor a survey of theological methods; rather, it is sensitivity to the things of God which brings light to the believer. There is really no problem in admitting our limitations, as long as the focus is redirected to God and His Word. With this, there are three non-negotiable preconditions to Bible study.
- An Acknowledgement of the Spirit’s Centrality. From beginning to end, it is the Spirit of God that reveals the things of God. Full dependence upon His leading fully supersedes the most well-formulated method of theology. There is no substitute for this.
- Preparation of the Heart to Receive the Things of God. In theology, God is not looking for PhD’s, nor is He looking for seminary education. He is looking for committed hearts. “To this man will I look, even to him that is humble and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at My Word.” (Isaiah 66:2). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge [and wisdom].” (Prv. 1:7, 9:10). Do you want to have good doctrine? Fear the Lord and tremble at His Word.
- The Illumination of the Spirit. It is our part to acknowledge the Spirit’s centrality and to tremble at God’s Word. It is God’s part to actually reveal the truth to us. Unless God is active in the midst of every study, those studies will only yield confusion. We must never take for granted the grace that opens our minds to Scripture.
Although God is our only source of confidence, method and tact are still essential when studying. God Himself demands this: “Strive diligently to present yourself approved to God, a workman that has no need to be ashamed, rightly/skillfully handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15). In contrast to the false teachers who maligned Scripture and had no substance to their teaching, Timothy was called to be thoroughly Biblical – handling the Word rightly since the false teachers handled it wrongfully, and handling the Word skillfully since the false teachers made a mockery of reasonable teaching. So then, as we develop a method for studying doctrine, this will be our premise: Scripture must be handled rightly and skillfully. Our motives will not be philosophical nor merely academic. Rather, we will strive to be thoroughly Biblical and thoroughly reasonable.
In all of this, there is one factor we must never forget: to the Christian, Scripture is life. Paul commanded Timothy, “Meditate upon these things; give yourself wholly to them; that your advancing may appear to all. Take heed unto yourself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this you will both save yourself and them that hear you.” (1 Tim. 4:15-16). The phrase “give yourself wholly” is really one word in Greek (isthi), and it just means “be.” Why is this significant? Because it tells us that the very sphere of Timothy’s life, as a teacher, was doctrine: he was to “be [fully] in it.” Timothy’s call was really fourfold: (1) He was to constantly revolve Scripture in his mind (2) He was to live in the context of doctrine (3) He was to constantly and carefully attend to the doctrine (4) He was to abide in Scripture. To be a theologian on any level, Scripture must be life. Whole commitment cannot be negotiated when it comes to doctrine. The Christian’s method matters nothing if he has not first decided to make the Scriptures the sphere of his life.
The Goals We Aim For
While we need a foundation for our method, we also need focus. What are the main priorities of a Bible student? What is he looking for when all is said and done?
Spiritual Transformation. “…that you might charge some that they teach no other doctrine… Now the goal of the charge [both of Timothy and generically of the gospel] is love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith without hypocrisy.” (1 Tim. 1:5). Doctrine is the basis of action. The idea of “less doctrine, more love” is erroneous when the doctrine is focused correctly. From this text we find that doctrine affects each of the believer’s spheres of life: (1) In his relational sphere, love from a pure heart is increased, (2) In his internal sphere, a good conscience is procured, (3) In his God-ward sphere, genuine faith is established. While one may believe that doctrine is essential for action, however, he must never forget the converse: action is essential to doctrine. If we are not becoming more godly on account of our studies, our focus has been misplaced.
A Higher View of God. God is both the substance and the goal of good theology. What we learn of Him redounds unto greater glory for Him. Was this not the case with Paul in Romans 11? It was his appreciation of God’s sovereignty that prompted him to say, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! … For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever.“ For us then, in terms of knowledge, the Bible student wants a higher view of Who God is. Because God is the highest by nature, the more accurate our view of God, the higher our view will be of Him. In terms of obedience, the Bible student wants a higher devotion to what God demands. In terms of relationship, the Bible student wants a higher form of communion with the God he worships. By studying Scripture, the Christian seeks the lofty Christian life – a life lived in a greater context than the “here and now,” a life lived with a true view of God. We want lofty thoughts of God; we want lofty service; and we want lofty communion. This is our aim in theology.
Accounting for All the Truth. Scripture always demands completeness when handling the Scriptures. The Lord said man lives by “every word” from God’s mouth. Elsewhere we read of “the faith once for all delivered unto the saints”: it is a singular and complete body. Paul, in Acts 20, speaks of his efforts to declare “the whole counsel of God.” It is presumption and arrogance to divide the revelation of God into “essentials” and “nonessentials.” It is all of God; thus it is all necessary. Realizing this, when we study, we must be comprehensive in our studies, covering a wide range of Biblical topics, knowing that the entirety is of God. But on the other hand, we must also seek depth and attention in them, knowing that the most intricate detail is also of God.
Similarly, in defending the one body of truth, our aim is to keep that body of truth pure from error. Thus there can be no tolerance for a clear contradiction of Biblical truth: by contradicting Scripture, the error contradicts God. Our motto as Bible students must be “The entirety of the doctrine, and only the doctrine.” We must account for all the truth and only the truth.
….. [To Be Continued, Lord-Willing]…..