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Assumptions

Assumptions

Everyone has assumptions. In fact, we live most of our lives based on assumptions. We usually don’t think about things like breathing, food, water, shelter, electricity, law and order, gravity, or basic communication with each other, we just assume it. We don’t prove that we need to breathe before we take each breath, we just do it. The only time we question our assumptions is when they’re not working – we flip the light switch, but the light doesn’t come on; the shelves at the grocery store are bare; or, a storm has just blown away our home.

In considering what we believe about the Bible and theology, we also have some assumptions. These are things we don’t attempt to prove, because it seems obvious to us. That’s not to say that everyone agrees with us about what we assume, but everyone does assume some sort of foundational beliefs for living. And usually we don’t question these things until something isn’t working right (at least to our way of thinking).

Christians have always believed that God exists. One reason for this is from the light of nature and another reason is from the Bible. Life itself seems to indicate the presence of an almighty power that has created all things and guides all things. When we read the first few verses of Genesis, we see that belief echoed – “In the beginning God created…” Scripture itself assumes God’s existence. This assumption is so strong, that it’s taken as an obvious fact, which, if you don’t believe, you’re thought to be a fool (Psalm 14).

Since the belief in God is assumed, we also assume the truth of His word. We believe that God can reveal, and has revealed, Himself in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament. It’s assumed that God is powerful enough to make His will known to us, in spite of our failings and shortcomings. So, even though all men are sinful, God can still communicate truth through men, because He has the power to do it.

Because this truth accurately comes from God, it can safely be trusted as a rule for our lives and a final standard of authority. This authority doesn’t change, because God Himself doesn’t change. And this is what changeable people need – a firm, authoritative foundation from which they can build their lives and make sense of the world around them.

We also assume that God is our Creator. We are not the product of mindless evolutionary processes, but created in the image of God for a purpose and with meaning. This is why people matter. This is why everyone is concerned with justice. Those who doubt God’s existence must somehow explain the reality of purpose, meaning, and value in a universe with no God and no justice. Most, if not all, people live with these assumptions whether they believe in God or not.

Therefore, instead of questioning God’s existence or questioning His word, we accept it and assume it. And if things don’t seem to go our way or make sense, rather than doubting God or His word, we doubt ourselves and our understanding of God and seek further understanding of His will.

For information on how this plays out in apologetics, see the article on Presuppositionalism.

Why Study Theology?

Why Study Theology?

Everyone should study theology because everyone has some belief about God. Even the atheist cannot deny God’s existence without reference to some sort of belief in God. And since the idea of God always deals with questions of creation, existence, law, ethics, morals, sin, the nature and purpose of mankind, and, ultimately, what happens after we die, then it is important that we know what we believe about God.

The Christian particularly needs to study theology because Jesus has commanded that we go into all the world teaching and making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). And there’s no way one to teach without first knowing the subject matter. One reason for this is that all teachers know that the best way to learn your subject matter is to teach it – we learn as we teach. Or, we learn as we talk about it, not necessarily in a formal teaching setting. But the idea is that of communicating these idea about God to others and in the process, we learn, too.

Studying theology and doctrine has a very practical benefit to us. It helps us overcome wrong ideas and helps us make better decisions as a result. You can’t do better if you don’t know better. And in the Word of God we have the help of the One Who know everything. The Bible teaches us that we shouldn’t lie and we see the negative effects of lying all around us. We actually have laws on the books that match up with the Ten Commandments and we ignore those at our own peril!

Or take the Biblical view of monetary debt. How many heartaches and heartbreaks would couples and individuals be spared if they only stayed within their means? But why did they spend more than they made? Could it be because they weren’t patient? Or, maybe they were coveting something and really wanted it, even though others warned them about it? A Biblical doctrine of contentment or a Scriptural view of work would certainly have had an effect if only heeded.

Theology also helps us grow and mature. As we live and deal with the various joys and disappointments in life, Biblical doctrine helps us to keep the right perspective. It helps us to learn from our own and others’ mistakes. We learn to avoid certain things and practices because of what Scripture teaches, but also because we’ve experienced the truth of Scripture first-hand.

Probably the main reason to study theology, though, is this is how we learn about God and ourselves. We can’t know God without learning about ourselves, and we can’t learn about ourselves without knowing about God. This is how John Calvin begins his Institutes – “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” He later states, “we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves.” It is theology from God’s Word that helps us do that.

What is Systematic Theology?

What is Systematic Theology?

For 17 years, I taught the Bible Doctrine course at Zion Christian Academy in Columbia, Tennessee. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am now not able to do this. Since I have no students to teach for the first time since the year 2000, I’ve decided to write (or at least try to write) what I would have said in class and post it on my blog. This is intended for students around 16 to 18 years of age, and is based mostly on Wayne Grudem’s book, Bible Doctrine. Outlines of this course can be found at www.bibledoctrine.club.

What is Systematic Theology? Why is it important? These two questions form the basis for our study of Bible Doctrine. When starting any study, it’s necessary to define your terms. This is especially true when it comes to the study of Scripture. The lack of definition (or worse, the avoidance of definition) will always lead to a lack of clarity, which will always lead to a lack of understanding, which will always lead to defective practice.

We see this illustrated in Proverbs 4:7 – “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” If wisdom is the application of knowledge, then it follows that the more clear our knowledge or understanding, the better our practice should be.

We also see this in Hosea 4:6 – “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee…” Here our standing with God is conditioned on our knowledge, or lack thereof. But it’s not just ignorance that is condemned, but the attitude, as well.

So if attitudes and actions are the results of how we think about God and His Word, then it is most important to have a strong understanding of what that Word is and what it means.

Systematic Theology is any study that answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us about any particular topic?” Notice what this doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean we scour the Bible looking to find out if Donald Trump or Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ. It doesn’t mean that we try to live by the rules of the Old Testament today without reference to the New Testament. But it does mean that we take all of Scripture seriously and let it speak to us. There is a balance in our study, consistent with Christian beliefs throughout history.

Accuracy and precision are very important in studying the Bible. The details matter. We should not think of the way we study Scripture as less important than the way we study anything else. When I was being treated for oral cancer of the tongue, precision was very important in the surgery and the radiation that followed. One wrong move could have disastrous results. The same is true in theology. One wrong assumption, one wrong definition, one misunderstanding could have disastrous, eternal results.

So always beware of those who downplay precision and clarity and those who say that it doesn’t really matter as long as you believe. But, believe what? When you start to answer that question, you have just stepped into the world of systematic theology, because you’re now giving a definition and explanation of what you believe and we can watch your life to see if you’re serious about it or just giving lip service.

Not all doctrine is the same. There are some beliefs that are more important than others. Major doctrine is that set of beliefs that have to do with our eternal salvation. Belief in God is major, the person of Christ is major, the doctrine of sin is major, and heaven and hell are major. Minor beliefs are important, but not necessarily of eternal significance. Whether music is used in worship is minor, mode or subject of baptism is minor, and form of church government is minor. And where these things are made major, you will always have division, which Scripture say we should avoid (1 Corinthians 1:11-17).

A systematic study also means that it’s organized. We’re not opening the Bible at random to get our word from God today. All of Scripture is God’s Word, and God Himself organized it into books. The books of Moses are different from the Psalms, and the Prophets are different from the Apostles. If we ignore God’s own divisions, how can we learn what God is teaching? Organization simply means order and many of us need the discipline of an orderly, organized study of God’s Word, not just focusing on our favorite parts, but all parts in their place.

The purpose in all of this is the practical outcome we get from an organized, detailed, defined study of Scripture. As we think about God and His character and His creation, we are transformed in our attitudes and actions. If people truly meditated upon the seriousness of their sin against God and each other, and the ultimate outcome of that sin, they would certainly try to alter their courses. But when people ignore those things, we get the world that we presently live in with murder, theft, lying, assault, etc. Most people are looking for joy, happiness, and peace, but few find it because they’re looking in the wrong places and we can easily see the results of that. Jesus Christ says, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” – and that is a tangible, practical effect that comes from a systematic study of theology.