The Eternal Moment

Something lost to the consciousness of modern Christianity is eternality. We can define it for theology, and we can speak of it in regard to God being eternal, but that experiential reality is not awakened in the lives of the majority. The eternal moment is not a moment at all. It is a position. We have been seated with Christ in heavenly places, as ambassadors of heaven, who are in the world but not of the world. The mindset and perception of the believer is to be one of that dimension. Eternality is not something we toy with theologically, but rather something we’re apprehended by, and something that we progressively come deeper and deeper into an awareness of.

Faith itself is something of eternality. Faith is not defined as a belief. We can have a checklist of doctrines that we can “believe”, but do we have the actual substance of those doctrines? There is a substance that we have ingested if we are truly saints indeed. Salvation itself is not something that we believe in, but rather something that has actually happened in our life. In this way, the faith itself is not something that is “static” or “developing” in these rigid sorts of ways. There is a faith once and for all given, with a sacrifice once and for all made, and a today once and for all heralded, by which we might enter a rest once and for all given. With all of these “once and for alls” we might begin to comprehend that we can develop our thoughts and opinions, but the goal should ever and always be to hit closer and closer to what God has actually established.

The eternal moment is a position of eternality with the believer. They are no longer subject to the parameters of time and space, but have stepped out and into a dimension of apostolic and prophetic comprehension. God is eternal, which doesn’t mean outside of time, but rather transcending time. While in the midst of time itself, He is not restricted by the bonds of time that they who dwell on the earth are. As an eternal people, being unified with God Himself, we also are not bound to time, though we are within time and space. We can obviously experience the effects of time, and indeed we know it all too well, but we are a part of something beyond time itself. We are of an eternal people, who are connected to an eternal God, with an eternal purpose, which is the eternal Gospel itself.

Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the earth. There is a continuum, of which we are prophetically a part of, that from the beginning unto the end we are ever and always effecting time and eternity. The way we act, react, and interact now effects both this history of that great cloud of witnesses that has gone on before us (for they are not made perfect without us) and the future set before us. Peter speaks of “hastening the Day”, as if it is up to the people of God as to when Jesus returns. While I categorically reject that we somehow determine when the close of the age shall come, I want you to focus upon the reality of such a statement.

Our witness is not simply to the world, nor to the Jews, but beyond both it is to the principalities and powers of the air. These beings that are unseen are the ones unto which God has made display, disarming them through the cross, and He now calls upon us to make that same display. In this, and especially considering the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, the cross was retroactive. It is isn’t that the people of the Old Testament had to look forward to Jesus in order to be saved, but that time itself was not restricting such an eternal act. The crucifixion of Jesus was something that reverberates through all of time, all ages without end, because it was not a man that died, but an eternal Man. For we who are connected to that eternal Man, who enter into the work of Christ by laying our own lives down, taking up our own cross and following Him, we are also able to touch history and time.

Bearing our own cross, and enduring with patience the sufferings of Christ with Him, loving not our lives even unto the death, we are able to witness that these afflictions are momentary and light. The prophetic and apostolic people of every generation has always been the persecuted and oppressed. It is always the glee of Amalek to attack Israel, and the desire of Saul to pursue David. Yet it is always the glory of God to through death defeat death. This is what works in us an eternal weight of glory, seeing and focusing upon that which is unseen, knowing that it shall not fade or blemish. This is the faith once and for all given, the theology of all of the saints forever. It is the beauty of holiness, seen by those who are spiritual, and loved by those who love not their lives, but rather lay down their life as a ransom for many.

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Chatechetic Vs Developmental Theology

The question has been raised: “Has theology developed over time?” The answer is obvious: yes-no, and no-yes. In theology, we assume that there is, at least slightly, a degree to which our understanding has been obtained through “handed down” traditions. Catechetic theology is theology “passed down” from generations, already having been proven and understood. We should intend on looking back to the greats of the Christian faith through the ages, examining the teachings of the saints throughout the last 2000 years. We could also call this historic theology. With developmental theology, what is being pressed is the issue of further deepening of thought, and not that our understanding goes beyond what is taught in Scripture.

It is true that there is not any new revelation, at least when revelation is defined as the opening up of new understanding beyond the canon. Jesus revealed something beyond the comprehension of the learned in His own day, and the apostles then also taught of something “hidden in former ages”, but now being “revealed through the holy apostles and prophets”. This kind of revelation is not something that is adding to the biblical text, especially when you consider that Paul used the Old Testament to express those revelations. There are ‘static doctrines’. What was hidden was the outworking of those static doctrines – specifically the manifestation of the revelation being revealed.

No longer is the eschaton something being looked forward to by the Old Testament prophets. It has now broken in, and the apostles are explaining the phenomenon by the Old Testament prophecies. It isn’t something altogether outside and apart of the testimony already given. Rather, it was something spoken of, but not actualized. Therefore, even within the first century we see a “development” of theology in a very broad sort of sense.

You would be hard pressed to say that theology doesn’t develop. The very reformation itself demands a progression in theological understanding. But the question behind the question isn’t of understanding, but of doctrine itself. Does our understanding of messiah come from Jesus and the New Testament, or can we arrive at the exact same conclusions through the Old Testament exclusively? Is there a “progressive revelation”, in which all of our doctrines are not fully brought to life until they are unveiled? If so, then where is the demand that the close of the canon is the end of doctrinal revelation? We believe in a bodily resurrection at the return of Jesus bodily. That in itself demands a more full understanding and progression of revelation – even something beyond what the Scripture itself testifies.

What I want to posit is that the faith itself is once and for all. These things that might have further expression with the consummation of the age are not thing without revelation and warrant from the Old Testament. Indeed, even the “church age”, as it is so called, was prophesied in the Old Testament in passages like Micah 5:1-3. The casting aside of Israel for a time, which is the content of Romans 11, is exactingly spoken of in Micah 5:3, and even the return of Israel unto “the rest of his brethren” is declared.

Our theology should be from the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and not a result of cultural and societal quibble. When the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, something had happened. There is a root that is Hebraic in nature that goes back to the Garden of Eden. For the apostles to be filled with the Spirit, it was much like a year of Jubilee. They regained their inheritance. That which went all the way back to the ancient of ancients in God was brought to life. The heritage that these men had been given, but had not been expressed through the last multiple centuries, was awakened in their inner being. Somehow these men were Hebrew, and yet didn’t even realize the Hebrew roots of their own Tanakh. Somehow everything had been robbed – they went from being Hebrew to Babylonians, and from Babylonians to being Greek. Their understanding had been infiltrated by the culture of the world, even from the generation after Joshua.

This ancient root has ever and always been the root from which the people of God drink. For the apostles, this was the nourishment necessary to bring them in utter conflict with the rest of they who gathered at Jerusalem. For the rest of the Church, it was enough to experience the culture of heaven, and therefore to reveal that the societies of men stem from the devil. The faith is once and for all given, which is to say that it has ever and always been fixed. Any “development” in theology should not be a progression toward something, but rather a restoration of something. We are to restore that which has been handed down by the people of God through all the ages – specifically that which has been handed down by the prophets and apostles. They are the true foundation, and any other building upon any other foundation will result in something that we call “Christian”, but lacks the actuality of that term.

What annihilates the question of development versus catechetic theology is the fact that our theology is not a slew of dogmas. We aren’t worshiping creeds. The Gospel is not a doctrinal stance. All of these things are of a Person, One who has revealed Himself, and in that revealed the Father as well. Theology has as God as its subject, and not biblical insight or interpretation. The Gospel is not a formula for salvation, nor an envoy of doctrinal points that we subscribe to. The Gospel is of a Kingdom, one in which a certain King rules over, from a certain place that He has chosen, by a certain Name in which He has desired to be called forever, over a certain people that He has elected from before the beginning, and unto the ends of the earth eternally. Any Gospel that begins with Genesis chapter 3, and the fall of man, and the introduction of sin, to then end at the cross and/or resurrection of Jesus, and therefore the means of salvation, is a defunct gospel. It is certainly not the Gospel that Paul declared.

Our inheritance depends upon this. To debate whether the faith is catechistic or developed is to miss the point entirely. It is both, because we progress to that one faith that is the centerpiece of all Christendom. With the help of those who have gone on before us, and the brothers and sisters who are with us at this moment, we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but with God Himself to be made holy as He is holy. It is through that interaction with God through the Holy Spirit that we attain unto “all truth”. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, and that is not merely a statement given to the apostles. The Spirit directed them into all truth because they did not wrestle in isolated sects, but rather with all the saints. More took place at Pentecost than we want to admit, and we like it that way. It is through the Spirit of God that we come unto understanding, and that understanding is only found in quaffing from Jacob’s Well – the very Hebrew roots of the faith.

Theologia Crusis

Theologia crusis is the theology of the cross. For centuries theologians have seen the cross as the locus and center of all theology. Everything must be filtered through it. In this, the crucifixion of Jesus has become the centerpiece of Christianity, and often has been the heralded message in every setting. For most, the cross is the Gospel itself. Therefore the Old Testament saints might have been able to “look forward” to the works of Jesus on the cross, and therefore have relationship with God, but they weren’t the beneficiaries of the same outpouring that we have, because that work was not complete.

Jesus’ crucifixion is quite possibly the one point of Christian theology that has been made into an idol. In such, it has not only warped our views of the way we read Scripture, it has warped our views of God, and it has effected the way we view the rest of humanity. Religiosity cannot take one to fullness. The result of religiosity is always idolatry. We’ve heralded a crucified Christ, having technically the correct words as far as that goes, but lacking the deep reality of this event. The cross is not about salvation, or the Gospel, or the whole of the Bible. When we caricature the Scriptures to only pointing to Jesus, and more specifically only pointing to one event in the life of Jesus, we rob God of His eternal glory.

To put it plainly, we shouldn’t be about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Instead, we need to recognize that Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The simple statement is more profound than originally considered. What I’m positing is not an evasion of the cross, nor a neglect of it, but rather that it be put in its proper context. There is 4000 years of history in the Bible before Jesus walks the earth. There are prophecies that say nothing of Jesus, and speak nothing of a crucified messiah. When we pick up the books of Obadiah, Zephaniah, or even Habakkuk, what message can we draw from this? There might be select passages or verses to glean from, but do these books actually have a whole lot to say to the crucified messiah? Do they actually speak deeply about Jesus?

For this reason I’ve read opinions that question why they’re even in the Scripture. Because they don’t talk enough about Jesus, and they don’t seem to give us enough description about things that pertain to “theologia crusis”, maybe they really don’t have anything to say at all. They were great for their day and age, but now that their prophecies have been “fulfilled” there is nothing left to gain. We’ve made merchandise of the holy words, and in this we’ve made an idol that reflects too much of our own ambition and desire. Why the fascination with the cross? Does it stem from an honest reflecting upon God and His goodness, or is it because we are the beneficiaries?

Revelation 13:8 calls Jesus Αρνιου του εσφαγμενου απο καταβολης κοσμου. Notice the Greek words. Καταβολης, which isn’t just “the foundation”, or “the creation”. It is from before, from everlasting. It carries connotation of something beyond from the first day, but even before the first day. This is the very character of the Lamb. This is the very expression of the Αρνιον. This “being slain” was not something that is being spoken of during a select time in history. Our author is expressing something much beyond that. From before the creation, when there was not even an “in the beginning”, this Lamb was slain. Any saint of the Old Testament that ate from the table of God, represented in the altar, feasting upon this eternal Lamb, received salvation and cleansing from sin that you and I also receive. This Lamb, this eternal slain Lamb, the one we call our Messiah and LORD, has ever and always shown Himself as the crucified God.

To limit it then to one point in history that all of Scripture must look forward to or backward to simply reveals that the one making the statement doesn’t know “Him who is from the beginning”. The statement of fathers, εγνωκατε τον απ αρχης, is a statement of knowledge deeper than what the Bible tells us. Micah 5:2 begins with statement of messiah, one who shall come and shepherd Israel, and yet claims that this one to rule shall be “from everlasting”. The Hebrew there is “motzaotaw miqqedem mime olam”. His “going forth” is from of old, the same kind of ancient ascribed to God Himself. He is the “ancient of days” “from of old”. Habakkuk 1:2 even asks, “Halow attah miqqedem Yaweh Elohay Qadoshi?” Are you not from of old Yahweh my God my Holy One? And parallel to “from of old” is olam – everlasting. This is another one of those words given to God. When we’re talking about someone “from of old” and “from everlasting”, we’re alluding to something very much with and alongside of God – if not God Himself.

This Jesus, the Shepherd of Israel, the one of old and of everlasting, the Lamb slain, has completed His word from the very beginning. The theology of the cross is not something to demand that all things converge there at that center, but rather should be about a God who has revealed Himself from heaven as the one who suffers on behalf of His creation. God has always been the one who suffers for the benefit of the creature. It is from the very beginning, for did not the Spirit hover over the waters? And does not that Hebrew word have connotation of intense relaxation – coming from the verb RKhF? This movement, or hovering, or vibrating (as some have pointed out), is one of relaxation. The movement comes from rest, and not the other way around. The difference between this rest and the Shabbat is that our sabbath day is an eternal moment, a “Today” that we can enter, according to the author of Hebrews.

God separated the light and darkness, He hovered over the waters, and He even bore the anguish of a creation that would be “formless and empty”. Indeed from the first couple verses we find that God has not been lax in revelation. He is indeed the Lamb slain from before the creation of the cosmos. Because of that we have a few hinges upon which we can base our understanding. Jesus’ death on the cross is one of those hinges, and is indubitably a pinnacle of the Bible. I’m not suggesting that Jesus’ crucifixion is somehow null or insignificant, but revealing that its significance is determined upon the God who has shown Himself as this quintessence.

For the rest of theology our question is not to be pinned against the cross of Jesus, but rather against the character of God. God has revealed Himself in a very specific manner, and we must keep that revelation intact. To suggest a theological conception that speaks against the very essence of God is altogether anathema. For myself, that has been the ground and foundation, the true “theologia crusis”.

You Are the Sons of the Living God

 

I recently had a friend visit from Colorado, and we decided to attempt to go through Hosea while she stayed here. These are the sessions… the Hosea files.

Enquiry and Faith

Concluding that theology is not a science, at least not in the way that science is used modernly, we must ask what we can call theology. Theology is the study of God and His relationships. From this, we have two things that emerge. First, we cannot study this subject in an impersonal way. It affects us. It must be birthed out of the truth that we are no longer cutting asunder our connection to God. We are no longer foreigners and outsiders looking in. Rather, from the very zenith of God’s relationship to us we are able to wrestle these things. Secondly, we find that faith itself produces increasing interest. Our faith itself is the very medium by which we are brought in, through Christ, and that faith causes an enquiry. Our curiosity is no longer a mere question, but now an ever-growing perspective.

Faith that brings salvation is truly what we mean by faith. With faith comes regeneration, and the issue of speaking or writing anything in theology from that point onward is the issue of conveying the very mind and heart of God. God has come down and made Himself known. We are no longer lone vessels left to our own clever devises. As true as it might be that some of the theologians of the past are genius, it was not the genius that wrote incredible revelation, but the genius that conveyed the revelation. God Himself invests in man, and it is that investment that is to be conveyed.

Preaching itself is a sublime mystery, that by him who is sent the word might be made manifest. How shall they hear unless one preach, but how can one preach unless he is sent? And it is in this context that faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of God. We aren’t talking about a word that is written in a particular version of the Bible. This is a living and animated word, something that has crashed into flesh and blood through this sent vessel. God has imparted into the one who is sent a perspective and reality that is beyond time and space. The prophets of old saw the throne and Him who sat upon it, and they were witnesses to an eternal paradigm that all of God’s commands and choosing were patterned after.

Our enigma is that we are too casual in our seeing. The second chapter of Isaiah begins with the word that Isaiah saw. This wasn’t a vision, but a word. The spoken message and prophecy here was something that Isaiah was able to see and perceive, and that reality was so real to him that his words were no longer his own. This pressing enquiry into the very mind of God, and into the very eternal dimension in which God relates from, is not for the sake of the theologian, the pastor, or even the students and pew sitters. This glorious transmission is for the glory of God. It is for His own name’s sake that He would ruthlessly seek for a representative in the earth.

It is for this reason that theology is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of revelation. It is not the opinion of the theologian that matters at all. It is the revealing of God, and the unveiling of His heart, mind, character, and perspective. God must first break in upon the consciousness of the theologian before the theologian can communicate that God. True theology is a heralding of the throne. We are ambassadors of heaven, seated with Christ in heavenly places, beckoned to come into the Holiest Place by the precious blood, and once we’ve entered in past the veil, we are asked to never leave. God has called us, as His people, to come up the mount and be there. Don’t be looking for how to get back down, and who you’ll first tell all of these great things to. Come up the mount and be with me.

What shall we say, then, of the theologians who debate various texts and concepts, but they themselves have never experienced these truths? Are they promoting error or heresy? For the sake of “getting it right” they debate the letter of the law, albeit New Testament law. These legalists and Judaisers are at the same time condemning the legalism of the Pharisees, and the Judaising the Galatians faced. How ironic that the very thing they hate the most is the very thing they endorse. It is exactly here where you can find the plumb line. They who speak from faith and reality actually have something to say. But they who have never been apprehended by the subject, while they might have a lot of arguments and a lot of thoughts, they are left only debating and reasoning. That communication from heaven itself lacks in their words, and the whole tenor of the speaking is left dearth and wanting. Their pristine theology is lacking, not because they are incorrect in their conclusion, but because they have not been gloriously captivated by something they’ve actually seen and experienced.

Faith itself leads to enquiry. Enquiry often leads to the discovery of things we know nothing of. New concepts flow through our minds and hearts, and at the first, we’re excited. But when did it become something so tedious? Where did the zeal of our youth go? Why is it that many find the debate to be the most fulfilling thing, as if discussing subjects is the actualizing of those subjects? I don’t see theology as a science, because too often science is left as an impersonal subject that we can quibble about, sometimes quite passionately, and yet always be looking for some new thing. Theology is instead an enquiry. Specifically, it is an enquiry into the very mind of God, where we are most concerned with “on earth as it is in heaven”.

Theology As Science

In almost all of the modern textbooks as well as available courses regarding theology, they call theology a science. Charles Hodge makes claim that we grapple with the Scriptures as a scientist would grapple with facts. While this sounds good, and it does lead to the implication that the Scriptures are facts, I disagree. Is theology a science at all? What do we mean by science? And what do we mean by theology? If theology is a study of God and His relationships, then the question is begged, if not fully pleaded, “What can science say in regard to God and His relationships?”

It is very true that we have our own “textbook” of sorts, which is of course the Bible. Yet, should we reduce the Bible itself down to being labeled as a “textbook”? And should we reduce the study of God Himself down to a mere analysis of a certain book, no matter how significant that book might be? Can one study God and His relationships from simply studying the Scripture, or must this person also have relationship with God?

Notice here that I’m attempting to point out that science itself is not a proper medium for theology. When we think of science, we think of the scientific method. It is a method, or a “system”, by which we can study and understand the world around us. Theology simply cannot have that same method of study and interpretation. Even Hodge proclaims, “Facts… do not constitute science. Nor does the mere orderly arrangement of facts amount to science… In every department the man of science is assumed to understand the laws by which the facts of experience are determined; so that he not only knows the past, but can predict the future… If, therefore, theology be a science, it must include something more than a mere knowledge of facts. It must embrace an exhibition of the internal relation of those facts, one to another, and each to all. It must be able to show that if one be admitted, others cannot be denied.”1

I do wonder, are these facts something that relate only to one another, and not also to the one studying them? Even in science the scientist knows these observations effect him as much as the “test subjects”. Can we have a theology that is somehow outside of our own experience so that we might have an unbiased opinion? Or, maybe that is precisely the point. It is God Himself that is the theologian, and we are merely the pens. Study of the Bible will not give us any correct conclusions. It is not from persistent penmanship that we author revolutionary oracles. Nor is it from the labor of devoted hours that we read the Scriptures as well as other authors in order to comprehend a subject. The comprehension of biblical subject matter stems solely from the apprehension of that subject matter. We must not be the ‘apprehendors’, but the apprehended.

Unlike science, theology cannot be concocted at a desk with a concordance and a lexicon. It is to be fashioned on your knees, praying with diligence to hear the voice and heart of the Father, and then to be lived out in real life. We herald our message as men from heaven, because we have experienced it in the presence of God. With that kind of relationship to God, to know Him, and to walk with Him, there must be evidence of that relationship in the life of the theologian. They will be an embodiment of the message they speak, and their life will tell whether the words they proclaim are true.

Our evidence is not a demonstration of miraculous power and healings, as if we can somehow make merchandise of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have repeatable and demonstrable observations to exercise, as if we’re somehow scientists in the lab just waiting for our opportunity to show all of our findings. No, for the theologian, our demonstration of what we speak is our own lives, and the lives of our students. As Paul would say, “You are our epistle”.2 Paul preached the Gospel “εν πειθοις σοψιας λογοις, αλλ εν αποδειξει πνεθματος και δθναμεως” – not in persuasive wisdom, but in the demonstration of Spirit and of power.3

Theology, as such, is an enquiry. It is a longing. It is a method of lifestyle, and not of study. I don’t fall into the realm of believing that theology is a science, simply because I don’t believe that theology is a pursuit of knowledge. We aren’t looking for knowledge or wisdom in theology, but rather for God Himself. While scientific endeavors might be made to speak on biblical subjects, it has little to do with theology, and even less to do with God revealed. Theology used to be heralded as the mother of all sciences, that all other scientific acquisition must bow the knee to theology. Such is not the case any longer. Our science doesn’t bow the knee to theology, and our theology certainly doesn’t bow the knee to science.

Science is loosely known as a systematic body of knowledge on a certain field of study or enquiry. More commonly, science is the study of the physical and natural plane. Even if we went with that first definition, theology separates itself simply because theology itself is not a systematic body of knowledge. While many have systematized it, and therefore made it a bit more accessible, the truth is written in the pages of Scripture. God did not leave for us a systematic theology. He left for us stories, prayers, prophecies, songs, and letters. He left for us salvations as well as judgments, history as well as predictions, tears of joy and tears of grief. Theology can be comprehended on no other basis. Until it is living in our lives with the same veracity that those saints of olde had known, our theological enquiry is nothing more than dead words on a dead page to dead men with dead intellects. The great Theologian of us all still asks, “Can these dry bones live, O son of man?”

1 Hodge, Charles “Systematic Theology” Volume I pg 2

2 2 Corinthians 3:2

3 1 Corinthians 2:4

Difficulties in Defining Theology

If you ever read a systematic theology textbook, one of the first things you will encounter is a definition of theology. In some ways this is to be expected. Many even go through the Greek to explaining where we get our definitions from. However, what I’ve found is that a hard stance on theology being the study of God is shunned. How do we insert subjects like ecclesiology and eschatology into such a definition? The truth of the matter is that our working definition of theology should not succumb to our fanciful ideas of what theology encompasses. Rather, our understanding of God needs to be something that encompasses all that theology discusses. To put it more plainly, if when we talk about God we don’t also have discussion of the creation, of humanity, of angels and demons, of the end times, of sin and salvation, and of God’s foretold work through all of time, then we aren’t truly talking about God.

God has expressed Himself through these things over and over again. He puts His name upon certain people, peoples, historic events, and even prophecies. To take God away from those things is to ruin our concept of God as well as those things. The difficulty in defining theology is often a philosophical difficulty. The secular theologian, even one who claims to believe, is found debating the details in an unhealthy manner. For the fear of debate, or the even worse confrontation, I have found that many do indeed settle the issue of definition at the statement of what all theology encompasses.

While there is sometimes reason for this, even stating what we don’t mean to imply, I simply reject the notion that we as Christians should operate by the concern of opposition. The wisdom of God, and therefore all of theology, is in stark contrast to the wisdom of this evil age. They who believe in the world system, and all of its so-called genius, have ever and always been the despisers of all things true. Prolegomena is about the searching internally to find the answers that are often unwanted. It is about finding and rooting out motives. If we define theology as anything other than the study of God, and then use a term like “Theology Proper” as the designated aspect of theology that talks about God, then I have to assume that our understanding does not come from God at all.

Apostolic and prophetic theology is rooted and grounded in an intense zeal for the glory of God forever. It is always “of Him, through Him, and to Him”. Theology that is truly theology is grappled with on your knees in prayer, wrestling with the God who has revealed Himself, and not merely with the throes of church history or doctrinal history. To subjugate this is a denial of the very faith itself. Theology is patterned after Jacob, who walked with a limp after meeting God face-to-face. How are we to be any less intense about our own pursuit for truth? Can we honestly say that reading or studying various opinions, and settling the issue in our own mind to agree with one and not another, is actually studying theology? And can argumentation truly be sufficient in conviction? What I find more often is that what one can convince a man concerning, another can unconvince him. Conviction comes from sublime encounter, and anything less than tangible experience is ipso facto not theology.

Introduction to Theology

To answer the first question first, when we discuss theology, we are discussing God Himself, and the way He relates to all things. “B’reshit bara Elohim…” In the beginning, God created. This is the absolute foundation to all theology. Here we have it: God and creation. What else is there within theology to examine? Theos istself means God, and any study of God will lead us directly to the study of the creation as well. The wisdom of God is itself relationships. He relates to Himself, to creation, to His people, and even to the heavenly beings. To seek God in His relationships is to seek God, just as much as to seek Him directly through our relationship unto Him.

We find here that our primary task is to study God. In fact, if we take seriously this definition, in all of our studying we are studying God. Dogmatics, or as some would rather call it, “systematic theology”, has as the zenith a view of God. Θεος is the very first word present within “theology”, the second being λογος. I have decided to title these volumes Christian Theology, because I personally don’t enjoy the term “systematic theology”. If we’re studying God, who is personal and indeed a living Being, there can be very little “systematic” about it. The older term is dogmatics, which also bears with it the idea of dogma – a conviction of a principle or set of principles as undeniably true.

The idea is that theology can be studied in various compartments, called systems. We can divide the subject matter of theology into various smaller subjects. Christian theology, as such, is specifically the study of Christian theology. In no manner am I going to explore apologetics, at least not in a means to defend the faith against other religions or “non-religions”. Theology comes from the Greek θεολογεω (discourse on the gods and cosmology), θεολογια (the science of things divine), and θεολογος (one who discourses of the gods). What all of these words have in common is the prefix theos – God – and the some derivative of logos – word, or speech.

I find it intriguing that God created from His speaking, and here we call the study of God “God-speech” (of course this isn’t the exact definition by any means). Theology is itself tied together with “In the beginning…” Our concepts of God and dogmatic can form from no other plane. In one sense, theology exists simply because God and His creation exist. In another sense, theology is specifically the human response to God revealing Himself by searching Him out and understanding that which He has revealed. In revelation, there are of course the personal and experienced revelations and the revealing of God through Scripture. Both of these are personal, and both of these are experiential, but one of them demands the scrutiny of others. Our interpretation of the Bible is not something we alone can come to, but must come alongside of others and seek with them.

Our personal experience, even down to the day that Christ was shed abroad in the heart, is something that others cannot comment on to diminish, nor to magnify. It is entirely personal, and outside perspective only goes so far. Scripture is not this way. While it is personal and experienced, that does not negate that others have equally as much ability to comment and correct. Thus, the study of Scripture must be something that is done communally. Through the wrestling together of many counselors, wisdom is established, and through the instructing of the wise, wisdom is enacted.

With our delving into theology, we dive headlong into a plethora of subjects: angels and demons, humanity, sin and death, freedom and salvation, etc. God has a certain mindset, and certain way of thinking. I call this a “wisdom”. The wisdom of God is relationship, and for that reason the study of God touches all of these other subjects. When we study the various “systems” of theology, we root our understanding first and foremost in the character of God, and then secondarily in our reason and logical deduction from Scripture.

For systematic theology, the Bible is the most critical text and source that we use, but it is not the sole agent of understanding. As opposed to other various types of theology, systematic theology should be the culmination of all other theological efforts. Biblical theology is related to our exegesis of Scripture, where we seek to understand the original intention of each passage in relation to the whole of the book, the theology of the author, and the context of the rest of Scripture. Practical theology is sometimes called “pastoral” theology, because it seeks to give theology in a manner that it expresses how we ought to live. Denominational theology, sometimes called dogmatic theology, is a study of various denominational bends. Apologetics is the defending of the faith. Philosophical theology would be to seek to understand God through the grid of philosophy. It is arguably not theology to consider the history of doctrine, which some call historic theology. Similarly, natural theology doesn’t seem to fall into a true “theological enquiry”. Again, polemic theology is the study of differing opinions, which doesn’t seem to actually be a study of God at all.1

In studying systematic theology, we desire to come to each subject as its own piece in a very large puzzle.2 All aspects of theology fit together, and we desire to understand the harmony of all aspects.3 Thus, we take each subject and pursue to understand it via the verses and passages that speak to such a subject. In this, we “systematize” our view and understanding. Each subject is a system, and within each system would be a series of smaller subjects and pieces of Scripture that come together to express a full understanding. Biblical theology does not work with systems in this manner. Biblical theology seeks to understand the Bible via the author, the audience, the context, etc.

Systematic theology cannot speak to the individual verses as precisely as biblical theology. When we’re struggling to understand the meaning of, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” we turn to biblical theology. The reason for this is simple. This is an isolated verse, and when brought into the context of the rest of the passage, we already see the obvious interpretation. However, biblical theology wouldn’t stop there. Biblical theology would look at the context of the whole of Romans, and then seek to understand the point of Romans chapter 3 in the context of the whole, and then shrink down more and more until we come unto that specific verse. Systematic theology just doesn’t work this way.

A good systematic theology should take into account biblical theology, and from the foundation of biblical theology build up its systems. Often, though, theologians use “proof texts” instead of truly diving into each verse and each passage to understand the context, whether it does or does not speak to the issue being expressed. None of the biblical authors did this. Every time that a certain verse or passage is quoted in the New Testament, the context is being thought of and not simply the one verse. The authors want you to either know the context or look it up to better understand what they’re saying. For the sake of following their pattern, and for the sake of “good scholarship”, I have attempted in all quotations to follow suit.

It is necessary to note that the Bible does not speak systematically. Over two thirds is written in narrative. Because we are sifting through stories for the majority of the Bible, and another large portion consists of prayers, letters, and poems of the saints, our systematic theology is an extrapolation from the context, and is not to be taken as commentary to the Scripture. We are forming together pieces that are scattered throughout the text into one topic and/or subject at a time, and not the expositing of these passages.

While it is true that our systematic theology will help us to understand the passages of the Bible, we should understand that our systematic theology comes after the foundation of proper exegesis, and not the other way around. Proper understanding of the texts of Scripture should come first, and systematizing the Scripture second. With certain aspects that are more difficult, we can first examine what we do know, whether in the realm of biblical theology or systematic theology, and from there seek to build a more intimate understanding and awareness of the rare baffling nuances and verses. So, with this I conclude our first discussion. Let us now begin to explore the depths of theology and how it relates to us.

1 For a much more concise and thorough examination of these various fields in theology, I highly recommend Christian Theology Volume I by H. Orton Wiley, pages 20-32.

2 These “pieces” are the “systems” from which we get the term “systematic theology”.

3D. A. Carson has said that our theology is like a puzzle. He implied that this puzzle has 9000 pieces, and yet we only have 5000 of those pieces. We know the pieces fit together, but we’ll never come to a completion of the puzzle to see the whole picture. I don’t agree. I believe it is much more like building a house. You first put down the foundation; this would be the doctrines that Scripture gives us much information regarding. From there you build the less solid, but still dependable, walls and roof. We continue to put on the siding, the shingles, the plaster, the drywall, any brick or stone, and finally coming to the more minute details of adding in the counters, the type of flooring, the type of sink, the bathtub or shower, etc. The more intimate the details are, the less Scripture we have to build from. It is also like ice on a pond. There is much Scripture to base the existence of angels on, and so we build their existence upon the “thick ice”. But, when it comes to the intimate details, like when or how angels were created, we are building upon “thinner ice”. You don’t put too much weight, or interpretation, upon the thin ice. Our understanding comes from the thick ice, and the smaller details are then worked out via what we already know.

 

From a first draft of my Christian Theology Vol I

The Necessity of Theology

Coupled with the task of theology is the necessity of theology. When we break this down we’re essentially asking why we need theology, and specifically, why we need systematic theology. The blunt, horrifyingly honest answer is to continue to perpetuate salaries and institutions. When you read the Bible it isn’t written in a systematic structure. God never intended a systematic structure, and we’re all too Gentile in our ways of thinking to believe that He ordains and blesses it. God speaks in patterns and mysteries, which are ways in which the unconcerned and the one lacking the Spirit will never comprehend. The need for theology, says many, is to make it accessible and easy to memorize. We can understand the breadth of Bible dogma through concise systems, classes, subjects, or teachings.

Our need for theology stems instead from our need for each other. Theology is the study of God, and its task is the manifestation of heavenly protocol in the earth. How does that protocol manifest? Is it somehow through isolated vehicles of Jesus that sometimes collide in the night? No, rather we believe that we’re all of one Body built together through the Spirit, and jointly attached to our Head, Christ Jesus. As many members of the Body, we all have our own calling, function, and purposes. The whole point of theological endeavor is to engage the interconnection of the callings and functions, both for ourselves and for each other. If one is called to be apostolic, it is not for the sake of those who are also apostles. And if one is called to be an overseer, it is not for the sake of programs and events.

We are fit together as one Body, and it is through theology that we build one another up, being built up ourselves through our faith and engagement with the subject Himself. It says in Ephesians 3:10 that our whole purpose as the Church is to manifest the wisdom of God, and specifically make that display unto the principalities and powers of the air. While we have oft conceived of a fallen world that needs a savior, and considered missions to be about the souls of men, Paul seems to turn that idea on its head. Our primary function as a Body is unto this mystery, even the fellowship of this mystery, which was hidden in God from the beginning of the ages. This manifest demonstration of the wisdom of God is an eternal purpose, and we see the mystery being expressed in chapters 2-3 together.

Our one Head is Lord over what some have seen as two different peoples. What is the whole crux of Ephesians 2? Have you noticed that the whole chapter hinges upon verses 11-13? An inheritance is mentioned in the first chapter, which is then again taken up in the third chapter, but is explained to us in the second, as being something explicitly Israelite. We, as Gentiles, who were once under the power and influence of the principalities and powers of the air, the wisdom and course of this world, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, are no longer under that usurping agent of darkness. We have been brought out of that darkness and into marvelous light. Yet, we have been taught the darkness was sin, and here Paul is saying it is the very culture of Satan himself. Yes, sin is mentioned in Ephesians 2:1, but Paul doesn’t remain there. We have not only been brought out sin, but also out of a darkened kingdom that has its authority and power with the evil one.

Why the contrast between the course of this world, of which we used to walk, and that we’ve now been “raised up together” to sit together with Christ Jesus “in heavenly places”? We used to walk, but now we sit. We used to be of the earth, but now we dwell in heaven. We used to be dead in transgressions and sins, but now we’re “made alive” and “raised”. We used to conduct ourselves in the lusts of the flesh, but now we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has predestined. We were once Gentiles and uncircumcised, but now we’ve been brought into the commonwealth of Israel, and made to be a part of the “circumcision”. Do you see the thrust of the argument? We are no longer in the kingdom of darkness, which is the ways of the world, ruled by the principalities, which the Gentiles walk in without knowledge. We are now in the Kingdom of God, ruled by Christ Jesus, where the people of this Kingdom are called “Israel”.

Does that then negate the natural branches? I believe Paul would say, “God forbid that you would think that!” The chapter continues to show that God has broken down the hostility between Jew and Gentile in His own flesh, making of the two peoples one, just like you see of various characters in the Old Testament. Was Ruth an Israelite? Or Rahab? Or Bathsheba? And yet all of these women are mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel as being mothers of the Messiah. Not only were they considered Israelites, even though they were Gentiles in the midst of ethnic Israelites, but they were so honored by the God of Israel that they are in the lineage of Messiah.

It shouldn’t surprise us what the need of theology is. The need is expressed from the beginning unto the end. From the foundation of the world God has separated light from dark, and created more and more order, until He rested on the seventh day, in which we have our rest if we rest with Him, and in which we overcome the darkness and become the bearers of light if we allow the true Light to shine forth. What is it that manifests the wisdom of God unto the principalities and powers of the air? Is it not the very mystery expressed in Ephesians 2? We are one new man, and Israel, though they mostly stand in unbelief currently, is still under that Head with us, as our brethren, who shall have an inheritance at Christ’s coming, being the purchased possession that shall be redeemed, so that Gentiles might be “fellow heirs”, and not the sole heirs, of the same Body, and partakers of the promise in Christ through the Gospel,

What could more bring the principalities and powers to rage? What is it that manifests this wisdom and glory? It is a people who have been brought into their fullness, as Ephesians 2:19-22 expresses. We’ve been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and we’re fitted together, growing into a holy temple in the Lord. What is Paul saying? Is it not the very thing that’s been expressed? In Ephesians 4 Paul will go into the fact that in his own day, when Paul is writing, there were apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. He has given some to be within each of these callings, which I believe many have misunderstood the functionality of each. And the giving of these calls is for the equipping of the saints, and for the edifying of the Body, till we all come to the unity of the faith and off the knowledge of the Son of God.

While it is true that I think we have a long way as the Gentile believers before we “all” come to that fullness, the truth is that Paul is also thinking of ethnic Israel. If Paul is including them from chapter 1 as the “purchased possession” that shall be redeemed, then it only logically concludes that he hasn’t forgotten about his brethren, his countrymen according to the flesh. We need theology, because we need fullness. Fullness comes through the outworking and wrestling together, listening to the apostles teaching, taking care for the prophetic oracles, accepting the message heralded (herald being an alternative word for evangelist), allowing the shepherds (pastors) to lead us, and finding the nourishment from the burrowing in of the rabbis (teachers). When the Spirit is given that kind of liberty, that each member of the Body might express itself in humility and love, we find that the wisdom of God is indeed being manifest. The wisdom of God is relationship, and apostolic authenticity is the only thing that the principalities are required to recognize. The supernatural is offensive to the principalities, and therefore to the worldly man, because man, who came from the dust of the earth, does not deserve (in their mind) spiritual fullness. But we are made in the image and likeness of God, which is a statement in itself against that mindset, and therefore we are able to perceive God, even as dust. We’re given the mind of Christ because we’re in Christ and Christ is in us. We are spiritual, and therefore supernatural. This is the need of theology – the connection of the two.