written by Justin McKitterick
My son just started playing baseball. As someone who enjoys baseball and helps coach, going to practices and games has become a fun weekly ritual for our family. Each time we get ready to go to the field to play we have a little mental checklist. Cleats? Check. Ball? Check. Glove? Check. Bat? Check. It is hard to play baseball if you do not have a glove, a bat, and a ball. In fact, if you take away the equipment, you might end up on a baseball field, but you are not playing baseball. You can run around on the field, make up other games to play on the field, you can even run the bases, but you are not really playing baseball. At best, you are playing a game that has some baseball-like components. More accurately, what you are doing is not baseball at all.
Sadly, I think this illustration can be applied to how many are approaching theology today.
People are developing a theology about God without their Bibles. While such an approach to God is the tragic norm for unbelievers, sadly many professing Christians are also “doing theology” without their Bibles as well. The erosion is subtle, often veiled in pious pursuits of godliness, and its creeps in from numerous different directions. It is not as if the Bible is intentionally left at home and disregarded. At times it is even opened and read. But conclusions about God are no longer dependent on Biblical revelation. Ever so subtly the Bible is treated as optional equipment in one’s pursuit of God.
Theology, simply stated, is the study of God. The Christian life is dependent upon an accurate view of God and His work. God has revealed Himself with clarity and precision through His written Word. God wants to be known and He wants to be known accurately. While there are ideas about God that are difficult for the finite mind of man to grasp, this does not mean that God is unknowable. The Lord has given us Scripture, with understandable words, sentences, paragraphs and books that reveal His character and works. Scripture has different genres of literature, written in historical contexts, using normal rules of grammar and syntax. God inspired Scripture to be understood because He wants to be understood. God wants His children to have right theology. We don’t choose who God is, we submit to who God is. We do not decide what Scripture says, we surrender to what Scripture says. When we try to “figure out” God on our terms, with our wisdom, according to our ideas, it is no wonder that our theological conclusions reap not only deficient views of God but errant views of God. The Lord therefore calls the Christian to surrender his life to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in order for the Christian to have an accurate theology of God.
Doing Theology Without the Bible
So how do believers forget their Bibles when studying about God? As mentioned above, most believers are not throwing away their Bibles and trying to develop bad theology. The erosion is much more subtle than that. In fact, most of the time the Bible is still open, yet other influences begin to take precedent over the Biblical text when it comes to what one really thinks and believes about God. While many dangers come knocking on the believer’s door, I want to focus our attention on two ways Christians are tempted to do theology without their Bibles.
First, some professing believers are tempted to interpret the Bible through the lens of their experiences instead of allowing Scripture to simply say what it says. While experiences are wonderful, they cannot interpret Scripture, rather they need to be interpreted by Scripture. Far too often Christians are tempted to read their experiences into Scripture instead of evaluating their experiences by Scripture. When we place our experiences above the clarity of God’s word, we are basically saying to God that we know better than He does about who He is and how He acts.
A second way believers are tempted to do their theology without the Bible is they allow their emotions and feelings to dictate their views of God instead of surrendering their emotions to the Lord’s truth. Again, emotions are a wonderful gift from the Lord to be treasured and enjoyed. But, our emotions are not reliable. Our feelings and desires have been corrupted by sin, and even though the Christian is a new creation in Christ, the desires of the flesh are still untrustworthy. Yet, so many Christians develop a view of God by how they “feel” instead of what they know is stated in God’s word. This is where the subtle erosion begins. For example, you might “feel” very convicted over a certain sin you commit in your life. Therefore you quickly confess and repent of that sin. But take a different sin that when committing you don’t “feel” as remorseful. Does that make the latter sin less sinful? While the mind might initially say of course not, sadly when it comes to how one lives, more often than not, the second sin is treated as less sinful than the first. This errant living can be remedied if one allows Scripture to shepherd one’s heart instead of relying on feelings for one’s view of sin. If not remedied by Scripture, this can soon become the lens in which the believer views sin and views God. Sin is soon compartmentalized based on how one feels. While this is just one example of how one’s emotions can quickly distort one’s view of sin and God, such danger exists anytime we allow our emotions to dictate our view of God.
In both of these examples, while the Bible is not discarded, the Bible’s authority, clarity, and sufficiency are questioned. The Christians view of God is developed not from Scripture but from experience and emotion. In approaching theology this way, the Bible becomes a tool to support one’s own ideas about God instead of the means for which one actually learns about God. If this slippery slope becomes habit, before one knows it, one can abandon the biblical God and developed an idol to fit one’s life. At this point we can say, one might still be on a baseball field, but in reality he is not really playing baseball anymore.
Don’t Forget Your Bible!
The Lord has graciously and clearly revealed Himself through His Word. He wants to be known intimately and accurately. He wants you to know him intimately and accurately. Studying about God is a privilege, a joy, and a need for the Christian soul. So, as we study about Him, let’s not forget our Bibles.
adapted from a blog post for The Expositors Seminary