Theological Investigation for the Complete Klutz – 2
In the last post, I said I would present some basic principles of theological study for the lay person. It is my hope that those of you who are not pastors or seminary students will be able to use these principles to deepen your regular Bible studies. A word of encouragement: everyone who is a pastor or seminary student started out as a “complete klutz.” To this day I shudder to think of some of the things I believed ignorantly or accepted unquestioningly as a very young Christian. It was after being introduced to some of these basic principles that I began to truly mature as a believer. So with no further ado, let’s get started.
1. Forget everything you know or think you know. No one is immune to the “know-it-all” syndrome. It is only when you are willing to set aside everything you have learned and approach an issue fresh that you will really learn. You wouldn’t approach a car engine thinking you know everything about car engines when all you really know is how to check the oil, would you? You must admit your ignorance on the subject, even if it is a subject you have read or been taught about in the past. Many pastors and seminary students (myself included) forget this on a regular basis, so you are in good company.
2. Set aside any bias you may have toward the subject as much as possible. This is the hardest thing to do. It is extremely difficult for me to do, and I’ve gotten twice as much training in it! I’ve been theologically trained as well as trained in counseling methods, and I still have to remind myself to set aside any ideas I may have formed before studying an issue or sitting with a counselee. Bias is the enemy of learning. If you approach an issue with your mind already made up, you won’t learn anything about the issue. It is impossible to completely free yourself from bias, but you can free yourself to the point where you can be fairly objective. It doesn’t hurt to pray for that objectivity first! And with that being said…
3. Make the Bible the final answer on the issue. I think this is even more difficult to do, especially if you have failed to do #1 and #2. The Bible will challenge you. The Bible will offend you. The Bible will demand your belief and obedience. If you have not committed to make the Bible the last word on a subject, you will never have a stable faith. You will be blown about like a leaf on the wind, never able to rest on the truth. But if you are willing to trust God’s Word, and not the word of some book, blog, personality, or preacher, then whatever you study will have exponentially increased in value. When you judge every book, blog, personality, or preacher against the standard of the Bible, you will learn 10 times as much as you normally would.
As an example, let’s take limited atonement. Calvinists accept it. I don’t. I find it hard to reconcile with both Scripture and my conscience. But see, Calvinists are flat-out convinced that the Bible teaches this doctrine. And they are willing to conform to what the Bible says no matter how the doctrine seems to offend their sensibilities or the sensibilities of others. That is the exact attitude you must have if you are going to study doctrine. Will you follow what the Bible reveals even if it makes no sense to you or anyone else?
4. Rely on the Holy Spirit to make things clear to you. This point flows out of the third. If you commit to letting the Bible be the last word, the Holy Spirit will make clear to you those things you do not understand. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into truth. God keeps his promises. Job, when absolutely nothing in his life made any sense, declared boldly that he would trust the Lord even though he felt the Lord had been unfair. That must be your attitude. Willingness to rely on the Lord’s guidance will bring much greater fruit in your studies. And our last but not least item for today…
5. Pray. I can’t stress the importance of prayer in study. Pray the Lord’s prayer, but with study in mind. Pray that God will be glorified in your study. Pray that what he wants you to learn will be revealed. Ask him to remove any stumbling blocks of sin or temptation in your life that would hinder your study. Pray that he would prevent you from being a stumbling block to others as they study.
These are 5 basic principles that I have used for years. I learned some of them on my own, others through formal study in college and seminary. They are principles anyone can use. If all you do are these five, your study will be deeply enriched, your learning will increase exponentially, and your maturity can deepen.
Tomorrow, I’m going to provide some more basic principles for laypeople. I should probably say these principles are a little more advanced, but they are still very basic. As a layperson or new Christian becomes more serious in his or her study, what we will discuss tomorrow will become invaluable.