Avoiding Sin in Theology
This post emerged from a question posed to a prior entry (“Thoughts on Theology”)…
Question: What precautions could you take in the seminary environment to prevent sin through theology? (because that is a place where you run a high risk of placing the theologian over the scripture)
I think the first and most important thing is to study the Scriptures relentlessly and know them much better than you know any other book that you read. If you know the Old Testament well, how the New Testament authors quote and comment on it, and what more they have to say about Christ and the Christian life, then you will be much better equipped to see bad teaching and heresy for what it is, and you will also be able to bring a ready defense of solid Scriptural support for your conviction and understanding of what God is communicating to us through his written Word.
Another significant point is that in order to keep Scripture supreme we should always always always know the Scripture behind a certain theologian’s convictions. So you have your five solas (fide, gratia, Scriptura, Christus, Deo Gloria)… great. But where are they found in the Bible? For my fellow Reformed theologians, you have your TULIP… excellent. Quote the Scriptures as they make sense to you and have a working knowledge of the full counsel of God that feeds into these theological constructs and convictions. Do not forsake Scriptural knowledge for the convenience and sanctification-shrinking ease of quoting a theologian. To give an utterly practical example, when a non-Christian brings an pagan heresy against the Bible or has a legitimate question, will you quote the Scriptures back to them, or will you first turn to a theologian or philosopher to do your dirty work for you? To give an utterly biblical example, this is what was happening in Corinth when Paul rebuked the church for starting quarrels about what the apostles and early church fathers were teaching:
“… each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” – 1 Corinthians 1:12-13
In other words, are not all Christians baptized in the name of the Triune God? We are Christ-followers, not Calvinists. We are Jesus’ disciples, not Piper-ites (… Piperians? Piperinis?). Mark Driscoll is not the fourth member of the Trinity. What it boils down to is first knowing the Bible well and having a working personal knowledge of what God has written to us. Once that has been accomplished, then begin sorting out your deduced theological convictions and finding out who is like-minded, who disagrees and why (for each camp).
And finally (thank you, by the way, for reading this far), we must also be relentless to tie theology to life.
We seminarians have an uncanny knack for engaging in great theological conversations but leaving them at the coffee table next to our ESV Study Bible and our Moody Handbook of Theology (both of which I recommend, by the way), never to make it into the real world for real effect. So you can carry on an extended debate over supra- infra- and sub-lapsarianism. Excellent. So you can articulate your eschatology clearly, succinctly, and with Scriptural coherence. Incredible. But how do those things help you mortify sin, vivify affections for Christ, and make disciples of Jesus out of non-believers? I think in an academic environment like seminary we must be doggedly determined to always ask the question: “What does this have to do with how I live, and what am I going to do about it?”