Home > Theology > Theological Investigation for the Complete Klutz – 3

Theological Investigation for the Complete Klutz – 3

Welcome back. Before I get into our chosen topic of study, namely the question of whether or not babies go to heaven when they die, I had decided first to try and head off the usual knee-jerk and emotional responses a subject such as this typically brings. In our last post on that subject, I posted 5 principles of theological investigation that everyone can learn to use. To recap, here they are:

  1. Forget everything you know or think you know.
  2. Set aside any bias you may have toward the subject as much as possible.
  3. Make the Bible the final answer on the issue.
  4. Rely on the Holy Spirit to make things clear to you.
  5. Pray.

These principles are very, very basic. Every Christian should learn and practice them. I strongly believe that if I had been taught these principles early in my Christian life, I would be much more mature a believer than I am today.

I said that this time around I would provide some more basic principles, a little more advanced than these foundational ones. These are introductory principles of theological research, some of which most Christians actually learn to do on their own. This post is about the tools one needs to do strong work. Let’s dive right in.

1. Invest in a good concordance. The average Christian who has been in your average Christian bookstore knows all about Strong’s Concordance. I’ve got one on my bookshelf. I actually have 3 or 4 copies of it, given to me by various family members. It’s a great concordance, but it has one limitation – it is a KJV-based concordance. Young’s Analytical Concordance is more up to date, but it’s okay. There are many new concordances out there for newer, more modern versions such as the NIV, Kohlenberger’s NIV and NRSV concordances come to mind. The people who edit Strong’s have actually put out new versions of Strong’s that follow these modern translations. If you, like me, are more technically inclined, you can use an online program such as Biblegateway.com to do your word and verse searches; or you can invest in a good, top-notch Bible software program like Bibleworks. Bibleworks is my dream Christmas present, but the expense of it (it will run you at least $350) prohibits my possession of it. You can expect to pay as much as $50 for a concordance, but there are lots of discounts to be had in the bookstores and online retailers like Christian Book Distributors (CBD).

Why a concordance? It will save you a lot of time flipping pages and verse-hunting. Strong’s has actually saved my sanity a few times during sermon prep. I notice that many Christians are like me; that is, we know the verses but we cannot remember the “address” to save our lives. Or we know what the verse teaches but can’t remember what it actually says at the moment.

A concordance will also be a giant help to you should you need to do a word study to determine how the Bible uses a word or phrase. You have no idea how helpful that kind of information is when you learn to look for it and apply it to your studies.

2. Invest in a good Bible dictionary. This one is actually a little optional in my mind. But many Christians struggle with the meaning of biblical terms such as propitiation, justification, sanctification, predestination and many others. You could go out and get an unabridged Webster’s dictionary or a Collegiate Dictionary (which I really, really need to do myself), but these dictionaries will only add to the confusion. A Bible dictionary cuts out the fat and gives you the definitions that are actually related to what the biblical words mean. This allows you to focus on the concepts you are studying instead of wading through a morass of vocabulary.

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary has long been the standard Bible dictionary, but more recently the Word-Study dictionary series have become popular. William Mounce, author of the famed Basics of Biblical Greek textbook (which is fast becoming the standard text), last year published Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. I’m sure Mounce will also become a standard text as well. There are lots of other good ones, such as Unger’s, the Holman Illustrated (for you diehard Baptists out there), and other notables.

Those of you who are more hardcore about it, and have a little extra money, may want to invest in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. TDNT or “Kittel”, as it is also known, has long been considered the finest New Testament dictionary of all time. One of my friends got the set from his uncle as a graduation present. The problem is, it really, really helps if you know Greek, so unless you’re willing to take a class or sweat out “baby Greek” on your own, you’d be better off saving your money and using it on other things. They have a set of these for the Old Testament too, but you’ve got the same issues of cost and needing to know Hebrew.

3. Invest in a good systematic theology book. You’re not going to get away with skipping this one. If you don’t have a structured, coherent, biblical theological system, your beliefs are going to be all over the map. Right around the time I went to college, I was a hodgepodge of Baptist, Pentecostal/Charismatic, Fundamentalist, and Methodist theology. By the time I arrived at Southern, I’d largely shed the the extra (non-Baptist) stuff, and I still did not have a firm theological foundation. There was no structure to what I believed. Russell Moore – who at the time was not yet a Ph.D – required us to read The Baptist Faith and Message for an introductory class I took my first semester at Southern, and reading the BFM knocked my socks off. It was coherent. It was logical. And it was biblical. I wanted that! The two tools I will recommend went a long way towards bringing structure to my faith.

Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology have become the standards for both seminary students and the average Christian. Grudem tends to be more biblical and to the point, whereas Erickson is more explanatory and philosophical. For the layperson, I’d suggest Grudem’s book, since it’s easier to handle and less “talkative” than Erickson. If you want more explanation, you can pull out Erickson and read his treatment. That’s what I do. Most systematic theology classes at Southern offer the student a choice of which text to use. I used both, since I had both. I have deep appreciation for both texts. You won’t need any other book, unless you start studying the systematics of past theologians. You can procure both pretty cheaply at CBD.

I think I’ll do one more and then stop before this post gets too long.

4. Invest in a good commentary. This one should be a no-brainer. Most Christians who are serious about their Bible study will do this without being told. I did – I asked for one not long after I became a Christian. That was what started the flood of Christian books given to me as gifts by various family members. Commentaries are, generally speaking, explanations of the biblical texts by theologians. The purpose is to explain what the text of the Bible means with the goal of understanding what the biblical writer was trying to teach. Good commentaries will do this as well as in some cases apply the principles to the modern reader.

In the interest of saving people money, I’m going to suggest a one-volume commentary for the layperson. Every Christian bookstore has a copy of Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. This is a good place to start. It was my first commentary as well. It’s only problem is (as with Strong’s) that it is a KJV-based commentary. That’s no surprise, since Henry lived in the late 1600s. Henry’s commentary focuses on explanation, which makes it a great benefit to young Christians.

Another good one is the MacArthur Bible Commentary. This commentary is very similar to John MacArthur’s multivolume commentary set – nontechnical, clear and concise. While I would actually prefer the multivolume set for more depth (I’ve started collecting it somewhat), you can’t beat this one if you’re just starting out. It’s meant to be used with the other resources MacArthur has published, so you could easily create an entire reference library from the MacArthur study tools alone.

Other good ones include the Holman Commentary and the Baker Commentary.

If you absolutely must have a multi-volume set, get MacArthur’s set (not yet complete) or the Expositor’s Bible Commentary set. I want to collect the MacArthur set as well as the Pillar New Testament series. But keep in mind multi-volume sets are an expensive proposition, and unless you can get a deal like I did on Calvin’s Commentaries (which I got for almost $100), you’re going to be collecting these things over a long period of time. So stick with the one-volumes unless you’ve got the money to burn.

That brings us to a pause. Learn to use these tools in addition to the five principles I gave, and you will see your study deepen even more. These basic tools should adorn your bookshelf, so that when you have a question or are confused, you simply need to reach for them. They will help you understand the subject more deeply, as well as help you develop questions for further study or to ask your pastor.

Join us next time as we begin our foray into infant salvation!

Categories: Theology
  1. Dan
    August 20, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    You have a really good point on the concordances. They only work on the one translation they were written for! That makes it a real pain in print. If you get a program like Logos Bible Software you can have a concordance for every Bible version you have!

    I followed some of the links to the resources you listed and found way more than $350.00 worth of print books. I know it is hard to throw down $350.00+ all at once, but if you do the math it really is cheaper in the long run to invest in electronic libraries.

    The Logos Bible Software Scholar’s Library has about $6,000.00 worth of books in it but costs around $472 on sale.

  2. August 20, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    While what you say is true, it might be a little more open of you to let people know you are advertising for Logos. Advertising is not looked upon favorably on this blog. One pass given here, and only one.

  3. georgios
    February 18, 2008 at 3:20 am

    Please take a look at the following addresses:

    http://www.romanity.org/index.htm
    http://www.myriobiblos.gr/
    http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/general/history3.aspx

    I wonder, have you got any idea of what the Orthodox Church is?

  1. November 17, 2007 at 8:11 am

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