The four letter word Theology

I read a very useful quote the other day about hermeneutics and it got me thinking. In his witty succinct manner Douglas Wilson says:  “Theology is simply remembering the verses you read over there while you read the verses here.”

Now I love Theology, hence the subtitle to this blog, but unfortunately, often it gets a bad wrap. I keep seeing blogs that encourage people to stop saying that the Bible is clear. Well I would agree if the Bible is not clear on something. But I think the Bible is clear on a lot of things, especially if you take the time to learn how to read it. I also read another one about proof-texting, the author didn’t flesh out how this works exactly other than to say not to do it. But what the term means is not to take a verse out of context and use it to prove your theological point.

Remember in the temptations of Christ, Satan said to Jesus “It is written”, but before we say “That is right! we shouldn’t try to prove things from the Bible!” But remember, Jesus also said “It is written” in his responses to Satan when tempted. The obvious take away is one was doing it better than the other. Jesus knew why it was written. You could say he took the time to understand the context and meaning of the passage, or he had good Theology.

In fact the exchange between Jesus and Satan, I believe, is a perfect example of why we need to be exceedingly clear when we use the Bible and how to do Hermeneutics.

Paul even makes a big deal when telling Timothy about being sure his doctrine is good.  1 Timothy 1 is all about this. He reminds him again in 4:16 saying that it will save his life and his listeners’.  Paul reminds young Timothy again in 2 Timothy 2:15 To study and show himself approved, rightly dividing the word of Truth, why? To not be ashamed.

So, yes, some use it to their shame, but it can and should be used well.

Unfortunately, to some terms like doctrine and theology are considered the four letter words of the church. Why? Because doctrine divides and theology/knowledge puffs up. I have also seen a bit of this in both Bible college and seminary. The Bible theology professors have one slant and the systematic professors have a slightly different slant and rarely the two shall meet.  I had the privilege of studying one in Bible college and the other in seminary and I have personally felt this challenge. I have seen this many times and I think I have learned something. I think that an example lies with Augustine.

Augustine was a benedictine monk who lived in the 3rd century in northern Africa and his theology has influenced many theologians and thinkers to this day. Sure, he had some problems in systematic theology and some problems in biblical theology especially in the old testament. But one thing he had down was pastoral theology. What I mean by pastoral theology is not just another of the theological disciplines but the way his theology impacted the way he led his people.  His theology generated a change in his life that meant he gave his for the sheep. They knew he loved them.

It was his theology that translated to rubber meets the road faith.

Part of the problem I have seen is that sometimes we communicate with too much straight Bible and not enough “Hey I am with you” language. When the time isn’t taken to see why the Bible says what it says people start to think it is distant and too hard. But this can lead to people saying do not proof text, or rather do not make Biblical assertions. Other times however there is too much “Hey I am with you” language and not enough Bible, but that is a different problem for a different day.

I see the problem as one having to do with a lack of pastoral theology, or I should simply say a lack of usefulness. This is where the boot meets the boardwalk.  This can be reduced to answering the question “Yeah but what does that even mean?” Pastoral theology as I am using it is delivering doctrine and theology in a way that doesn’t cause people’s eyes to gloss over and start checking Facebook on their phones. It leaves people challenged and excited for the word and not leaving with them saying
And that’s why I don’t read the bible.”The pastor has to first be real and relateable. Read Augustine’s The Confessions and you’ll see this real quickly. As useful as knowing that the Greek word for “work” means a lot of synonyms for work is, this may not be helpful to the listener.  A pastor has to take the time to make the language understandable. If not then often the language he uses is not simply flying over the hearers head but angels are not allowing it to leave the stage. The listener wants to know how difficult passages speak to their lives, or, if they even do? But a pastor must stick mostly to the text. This may mean making assertions and defending a position. Because it is the text that is authoritative not our opinions or what we want to speak about that week. If we follow the first two steps this won’t sound as boring as it sounds. Sure add stories, add anecdotes, but the meat should be the word, that is why God gave it too us. That is why so much history and blood was spent to preserve it.

Finally a pastor should be one who remembers that “Theology is simply remembering the verses we read over there while we read the verse over here”. This is really just another way of what Paul says to Timothy in 2nd Timothy 2.
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 

Pastoral theology is presenting the word in enjoyable, relatable, understandable, applicable truths, which it is if the time is taken.  Part of this translates to the people feeling that their pastor is believable, relateable, approachable, and that he cares for them and this in turn that God feels the same way. The point is not to sell ourselves but the bible is clear “How will they hear without a preacher?” The pastor is in a sense “selling God” but the people will not buy-in, if the pastor is distant, cold, aloof, grandiose, or merely selling himself.

I have seen how this type of preaching leaves people with distance from the pastor and the word itself and thus they concluded that Theology is not good.

Augustine is a major influence in all of Christianity.  By his pastoral theology he won his people with love and charity, and ended up literally giving his life for them, to serve them.  He understood that to lead was to serve, and thus the people saw God.  His Theology pointed him to charity, but it came from rightly handling the word of truth.

Theology sometimes has hard truths for us. The Bible sometimes makes difficult assertions. While knowledge may indeed puff up, sometimes doctrine is meant to divide.  You can usually tell one way or the other if love is in the mix.

Augustine won me over personally to the pastorate while studying him in seminary. The way he loved his people inspired me to continue in pastoral ministry when i was tempted to walk away. I was letting the burn out and challenge of people in the ministry overcome me until I truly understood that love was the key to ministry. Augustine understood his role of loving the sheep while bringing the word.

To his people theology wasn’t a four letter word, to them theology meant that the pastor loved them, and more importantly that God did.  It is truth and love, love does not discount truth, and love is void without truth.



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