There are various events in our lives as Christians that force us to robustly define our theological convictions. Seminary is one of these events. Those who attend seminary quickly realize that the process drives them to define what it is they believe and in many instances to take a position on various theological topics. Another event that has a similar impact is assuming a position of leadership in the church. This can be anything from a Sunday school teacher to a full-time pastor. Being in a position where we have responsibility over others brings us to quickly realize that we have to know where we are on key issues. Depending on our own study life and discipline, we may be a bit more diligent at this process than others, but we all have our ways and patterns of learning and growing. Sometimes this process can be quicker than we would like, in that, we need to determine what we believe in a short amount of time. However, time may only be an issue if we haven’t been diligent in study prior to this time or if we are being thrust into leadership or advanced training too quickly. We all reach a point where we have settled on our beliefs regarding various topics, but it is the foundation of those beliefs that are absolutely crucial.
Without spending lots of time talking about the philosophical or cognitive implications, I will at least make the point that I think we can all agree on that we all believe different things for different reasons. Sometimes we need to see something proven to us. Other times we take something on faith. Occasionally we just need something explained to us more completely. Regarding our Christian faith, some reach a doctrinal position because that is what their parents believed, because that is what their church teaches, because that is what their favorite author or preacher teaches, because that is what makes the most sense according to the rest of their doctrinal positions, and so on. However, I am beginning to wonder how often the Bible is the foundation of our beliefs.
I have seen this first in my own life. My journey through seminary and various degrees of leadership in the church has been at times marked by a less than disciplined, sometimes hurried study of various topics. I have occasionally fit the description that I mentioned earlier of the person who was not always diligent enough in my studies to foster a healthy foundation for some of my beliefs. Thankfully, God in His grace later led me to a more scriptural foundation for those weaker areas and He continues to do so as He exposed and exposes my sometimes weak foundations. I took correct and orthodox positions on certain theological issues not always based on my own study and subsequent convictions from scripture, but based on some teaching, an explanation, or an extra-biblical book I read. I was recently reminded of the importance of having scriptural foundations for my beliefs as I was preparing to sit before my ordination council.
One of the many things that I love about the men that God has placed me with in our church is their love for the Bible. Due to their passion for scripture, I am reminded of the importance of grounding what I believe and therefore what I teach in the Bible. This concept is Sunday school 101, but it does not always seem to be the reality as I have already mentioned. So often we can become very dogmatic about a theological position without having settled the scriptural foundation for our position. I believe this lack of scriptural foundation for our beliefs can denigrate Bible truths to the same level as any other crowd-sourced cultural idea. In other words, it becomes our word against theirs, or this author’s word against that author’s word, and so on. By this point we are no longer together engaging God’s revealed word, but basing our beliefs on secondary or tertiary sources.
Now there are those that would claim to base their convictions in scripture, but it is quickly evident that they’re simply regurgitating what they have heard before. We certainly learn from others, from books, and teachers that God has placed in our lives, but we should not camp in regurgitation mode when it comes to things of God. There should be a time when we begin to see things for ourselves in scripture. Those things that we see may very well be what it is that we have been regurgitating. However, when we see it for ourselves in scripture we can start speaking from something that has been planted in us rather than something that is planted in someone else. We may say that we believe in the Trinity, perhaps because we have been told we should, because we read about it in a book, or because we heard someone defining Jonathan Edwards’ explanation of the Trinity. Yet, when we can look at passages like 1 Peter 1:2, “…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood,” and plainly see the Trinity for ourselves, we can speak from a different place about it.
Having said all of this, we cannot see things for ourselves in scripture if we are not in fact reading scripture. If our Christian life is fueled by just sermons, an occasional podcast, maybe a few chapters of a book, and a couple conversations over coffee, then we will be anemic in our faith and our doctrine. We can do lots of things, and I just listed a fair amount of things that many Christians probably do all of, but if we personally are not rooted in the Bible ourselves, we remain foundationless regurgitators. We can do ourselves and many others a great deal of harm living in this mode. Not only are we fooling ourselves in thinking that we are doctrinally sound, but the foolishness we exude in our biblically starved debates, consternations, and prideful hogwash is detrimental to others and the church. Yet we do not have to remain this way, as it is God’s will in and through Christ that we change.
In conclusion, our theology should have a foundation, but it is imperative that our foundation be the word of God. Furthermore, we are each responsible for the development of our foundation in scripture, meaning that we must be active in the scriptures. God has given us parents, mentors, teachers, books, podcasts, pastors, and so on to complement our personal reading of scripture, but not to be in place of it. Thanks be to God for his grace in the giving of his word to us and the ability by his Spirit to understand it. May God help us as we seek after truth in his word.