The Importance of Theology

It has been a while since my last post because i have been taking a break from school and the craziness of life with three kids! However, I have been reading more again and with it comes more great passages from great authors. I want to get back to the series I was doing on the difference between Law and Gospel, but first here is an excellent excerpt from an author who has influenced me greatly. This section is addressing the importance of doctrine in the life of a believer especially as it is related to teaching in the community of the church. The author is Michael Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California and host of the radio show The White Horse Inn. This is taken from his Systematic Theology textbook.

E. Putting It All Together: God’s New Role For Us In His Play

This movement back and forth between the narrative drama, doctrine, doxology, and discipleship is evident throughout the New Testament epistles. It is also apparent in the Psalms—the hymnal of the Bible, where often we discover the dramatic account of God’s mighty acts despite human sin, provoking the psalmist to grateful praise and then to the response of faith and obedience. This does not mean we always move in a straight line from drama to discipleship. Sometimes something that happens in our experience opens us up to a truth we had never really understood, and sometimes our practice shapes and misshapes our doctrinal convictions. Often, a half-learned doctrine or half-remembered episode in the redemptive drama becomes more fully realized in prayer and praise, especially in moments of crisis or delightful wonder. The traffic moves in all directions, back and forth, in between these coordinates, so that our faith is anchored in the work of the triune God is reaching out to our neighbors in love.

Typically, periods of reformation in both individuals and the church corporately arise from rediscovering this sweeping pattern from biblical drama to doctrine to doxology to discipleship. Periods of decline usually work their way in reverse. First, we begin to question the reliability of the narrative. How can we find our own stories in the unfolding drama of God’s miraculous intervention in history for sinners when our world seems to be governed by nothing more than natural or humanly devised processes and causes? The doctrines may be true, but their historical narrative becomes questionable. Second, the doctrines come under criticism as people recognize that the doctrines depend on the narrative. No one believes that Jesus rose from the dead because of any universal law of nature, reason, or morality. It is not a deliverance of universal religious experience. Therefore, if Christ was not actually raised bodily on the third day, then there is no basis for speculating about a “doctrine of resurrection.” Third, worship loses its rationale. We may still express our inner experience or piety (at least for a while), but eventually this leads to burnout because it is self-referential. Our hearts are stirred byu truth, not by vacuous exercises. Finally, we become disciples more of the culture than of Christ. Instead of being transformed by the renewing of our minds, we become conformed to the pattern of our non-Christian neighbors (Ro 12:1-2). In a last gasp for religious authenticity, the church tries to defend Judeo-Christian morality (discipleship), but it is a desperate attempt. The battle has already been lost at the earlier stages. Without the creeds, the deeds surrender to vague moralism.

The alternative to this growth in the knowledge and grace of Christ is not pious experience or good works but gradual assimilation to the powers of this passing evil age. The biblical drama plots our character “in Adam” by our natural birth in this present evil age. Nevertheless, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1Pe 1:3-5). Once strangers to God’s promises, we are no rewritten into God’ script. We should never lose our astonishment at the good news that in Christ even Gentiles can hear the divine playwright declare,

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1Pe 2:9-10)

The key markers in this plot are not premodernity, modernity, and postmodernity but before and after Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Because Christ has been raised as the firstfruits of the new creation, we are living in “these last days” (2Ti 3:1; Heb 1:2; Jas 5:3; cf. 1Pe 1:5) before “the last day” when Jesus returns in glory and judgment (Jn 6:40; 12:48). The Spirit creates the church at the intersection of “this age” and “the age to come” (Mt 12:32; 24:3; 1 Co 2:6; Gal 1:4). It is therefore this unfolding drama that orients us as new characters who know where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.

Nobody has to be taught the world’s story; we are born with it, as fallen children of Adam. However, we have to be taught out of it by persistent pastors and teachers who know that we prefer by nature to think differently of God and ourselves than the Scriptures require. “But understand this,” Paul warned Timothy, “that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2Ti 3:1-5). It is the constant renewing of the mind by God’s Word that reorients us away from this fading age with its aimless plot, its “empty words” (Eph 5:6) and “philosophy and empty deceit” (Col 2:8), toward the everlasting inheritance in Christ.

This happens first of all in the regular gathering of God’s people—the casting call that transfers us from death to life through preaching and sacrament. We cannot take this new identity for granted, however. We must be renewed in this inheritance constantly, since our default setting is always the script that governs the idolatries of this present age. Furthermore, just as we were created by God as inherently covenantal creatures—in relationship with God and each other, and redemption restores this extroverted identity—theology is done best in community and conversation rather than in lonely isolation. Theology is always done for and by the church. Therefore, I have included discussion questions at the end of each chapter in the hope that they will encourage fruitful and lively interaction on the matters that concern us all.

(Pages 25-27)

Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2011. Print