at the close of a service at which I was the guest speaker,
a lady came up front to speak to me. She told me, “We
don’t believe in doctrine here — just the Bible.”
that may sound pious, but it’s really not possible. To
say we believe in the Bible but not in doctrine is akin to saying,
“We believe in water baptism; we just don’t use
is simply teaching — presenting the truth derived from
the written Word. Of course, there can be false doctrine, but
that doesn’t mean we can do without all doctrine. Doctrine
is presented nearly every time a preacher steps to the pulpit
or a Sunday School teacher leads a class.
there are many who, in practice, believe in the Bible but never really learn much of what it teaches.
They either have dust-covered Bibles or Bibles that are just
brought back and forth from home to church — and seldom
should be easily understood.
study used to be so easy,” said Herbert Jacobsen, “then
someone called it hermeneutics.”
a conviction that the teaching of the Bible should be easily
easy to make simple things complex. One way we do that is by
giving basic concepts high-sounding names. I have been part
of the academic world. I taught systematic theology, which is
basically a topical way of studying Bible doctrine. The subjects
I taught had names like “hamartiology,” “soteriology”
and “ecclesiology.” Many believers who encounter
these words are led to believe that theology is the realm of
the professional theologian. They feel it is beyond the reach
of the run-of-the-mill Christian to have a solid grasp of the
Bible’s doctrines. But call those same subjects “sin,”
“salvation” and “the church,” and it’s
suddenly a different story.
is learning about God.
word theology comes from
two Greek words: theos,
meaning God, and logos, meaning word. The suffix –ology has come to mean “the study of.” So theology
is first “the study of God” and, in its extended
meaning, “the study of God’s relationship to the
is for everyone.
the truths of God’s Word is definitely for everyone, not
just those with seminary educations. I have known godly men
and women who never went to Bible school but who are rich in
their understanding of God’s Word. The reason? They make
Bible study a lifelong occupation.
primary source of theology is the Bible.
is called special, or specific, revelation. It refers to what
is revealed about (and by) God in the specific medium of His
holy Word. The Bible is God’s letter to mankind. It is
the only place where we can find the authoritative truth about
God clearly stated.
are many different Bible study schemes. These are man-made arrangements
of the Bible’s topics. The Bible itself is not in topical
theologians “major in the minors.” This happens
more easily when the Bible itself does not remain the center
of a theologian’s study.
one lengthy debate that dealt with these questions: Are four
5-minute prayers as good as one 20-minute prayer? Is one 10-minute
prayer as good as 10 1-minute prayers?
instead of having a debate, they should have had a prayer meeting
… or at least addressed this question: Why do we talk
about prayer more than we pray?
creation also teaches theology. The theological term for this
kind of revealed truth is general revelation, meaning what is
revealed about God in a general way. Nature, God’s creation,
primary source of information about God, the Bible, also teaches
that God’s creation reveals things about Him. (See Romans
teaching must never substitute for the Word’s clear message.
I spoke at a men’s breakfast, a man approached me. He
plopped a magazine on the table and said, “This is what
I’m into.” On the front was the picture of a somewhat
questionable televangelist. The man was off-base … not
just because of the evangelist’s teachings, but because
he was “into” a certain person’s teachings.
if Billy Graham had been on the cover of that magazine, such
an approach would have been wrong. We should be “into”
Jesus. (See 1 Corinthians 3:4-7.)
pastor I always told my congregations, “Don’t accept
what I say from this pulpit without checking it against the
Word of God. Bring your Bibles to church and have them open
during the message. If there is something you don’t understand
or that you think is wrong, my door is always open.”
or teacher, no matter how seasoned or credible, is infallible
in the pulpit. Only the Bible is infallible.
is meant to be interactive.
of Avila, in the prologue to her devotional classic The Way
of Perfection, said, “I
shall speak of nothing of which I have no experience, either
in my own life or in observation of others, or which the Lord
has not taught me in prayer.”
theology effectively, one must know God. This is the same for
all who study the Bible. A heartfelt relationship will cause
you to actually know God personally, not just know about Him.
love God with heart and head. We have the privilege of interacting
with the living Word. (See Hebrews 4:12.)
doesn’t need to be boring.
are daunted by theology simply because they fear it is too lofty,
or even too boring. It can be both. Making it thus is a crime.
Those who teach the Bible’s truths, in Sunday School or
seminary, are teaching exciting truths about a living God. They
should teach with passion.
they should teach creatively. Jesus taught in compelling word
pictures called parables.
theology should be practical.
asked to teach a seminary course in the practical theology department.
Practical theology is theology applied to life — evangelism,
counseling, Christian education, etc. I had taught mostly systematic
theology in the other schools I served. Since systematic theology
and practical theology are two different academic disciplines,
it is easy to assume that systematic theology isn’t practical.
it can be and should be. I have always told my students I wanted
them to “do theology,” not just blindly accept what
I taught. It is important for the student of the Word to have
conviction, to know why you believe what you believe. “That’s
what the pastor teaches,” isn’t a good enough reason.
The only acceptable reason is, “I believe it because I
see it in God’s Word.” Every Christian can learn
to mine the riches of God’s Word for himself or herself.
Truly great sermons make the hearers want to get into the Bible
to find more on the subject.
theology should be practical, that is, usable. And it should
be easy to understand. That’s the purpose of this series
— to present the teachings of the Bible in a systematic
way that is easy to understand and readily applicable. In the
articles to come, we will break down the major subjects of God’s
Word in summary form … theology in a nutshell.
Horn, D.Min., is managing editor of Today’s Pentecostal
your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.