Getting to know God through his Word
By Ken Horn
“Systematic theology probably should have been tossed out
the window centuries ago.” A confused former evangelical wrote this opinion on
his blog. I understand why some people come to this conclusion. But the
conclusion is wrong.
Theology is simply learning about God, and it is for
everyone. But we can make it more difficult than it has to be.
Bible truths seem more accessible when we refer to them by
commonly understood words. Academic terms, such as soteriology, can make
theology sound distant and boring. But call it “the study of salvation,” which
the word means, and it becomes approachable and practical.
Theology has accurately been called “faith seeking
understanding.” This is why it is so important.
Learning the truths of God’s Word is definitely for
everyone, not just those in higher education. I firmly believe in our Christian
colleges and seminaries. As a pastor, I told the people of my congregations
that I thought it would be a good thing for everybody to have at least a year
of Bible study in a good Christian college. But I have known some godly men and
women who never went to Bible school who are rich in their understanding of
God’s Word. The reason? They make Bible study a lifelong occupation. That’s a
good idea for every Christian, including those with degrees.
There are two primary sources from which we learn theology.
God’s creation teaches theology in a general sense. This is called general
revelation — what is revealed about God in a general way. Nature, His
creation, does this.
The most important primary source, the Bible, even
acknowledges that God’s creation teaches us about Him: “They know the truth
about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was
created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they
can clearly see his invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine
nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Romans 1:19,20, NLT).
The Bible is called special, or specific, revelation. It is
God’s letter to mankind. It is the only place where we can find the
authoritative truth about God clearly stated.
I recall the lady who, after a service for which I was the
guest speaker, told me, “We don’t believe in doctrine here — just the
Doctrine is simply teaching or the content of teaching
— the truth derived from the written Word of God. You can’t have the
Bible without doctrine.
Of course, there can be incorrect teaching — or false
doctrine — but that doesn’t mean we can do without doctrine. All genuine
things can have counterfeits. Doctrine is presented nearly every time a
preacher steps to the pulpit or a Sunday School teacher leads a class.
Christians present it when they share, directly or indirectly, their
understanding of Scripture.
So we need theology and doctrine. But that mostly means we
need God’s Word.
It is incredible how easy it is for Christians to take the
Bible for granted.
Anoosh Bullock lived in the Soviet Union. “When I came to
America,” she says, “I went to a Christian bookstore. I stood at the foot of a
clearance table. I could not believe what I saw — a Bible on sale for 97
cents. I fought back tears. I remembered how my pastor during the time of
communism copied the Bible by hand. I remembered tearing pages from my
Christian books to share with other believers. Every time I read my Bible
today, I say, ‘Thank You, God, for allowing me to have my own personal Bible.’
Testimonies like this can help us guard against the tendency
to take the Bible for granted.
We need both the information the Bible provides, and the
relationship with God it enhances.
Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and
powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul
and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and
Reading and studying God’s Word is an exciting activity that
is constantly available to us. It should never be thought of as a dry, routine
responsibility. God speaks to us through His Word.
A.W. Tozer said, “God did not write a book and send it by
messenger to be read at a distance by unaided minds. He spoke a Book and lives
in His spoken words, constantly speaking His words and causing the power of them
to persist across the years.”
The Bible is spiritual nutrition for mind and spirit. Yet,
too many Bibles gather dust. It does no good to revere it if we seldom use it.
We must use God’s Word daily.
First Peter 3:15 tells Christians, “If someone asks about
your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” Christians need to study
the Word daily so they know what and why they believe.
They also need to stay engaged in the teaching process that
takes place at church. As a 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. Come and talk to me about it.”
All Christians should feel this freedom to approach their
pastors and teachers with their questions and concerns. The Bible says those
who teach have a great responsibility: “My brethren, let not many of you become
teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1, NKJV).
C.S. Lewis said, “A man can’t always be defending the truth;
there must be a time to feed on it.” Wise Christians both study the Word and
read it devotionally, drinking in its riches for the soul.
Reading God’s Word offers a further dimension of spiritual
communion with God. Most Christians have had the experience of a Scripture
passage “jumping out at them” — even though they had possibly read it
before many times. This is called illumination, the Holy Spirit shining a light
on a Scripture and applying it to the reader’s life. It is wise to read the
Bible with the anticipation that the Holy Spirit will speak like this. When I
open God’s Word, it has long been my practice to use words similar to those of
David in Psalm 119:18 (NIV): “Open my [spiritual] eyes that I may see wonderful
things in your law.”
God longs to speak to you daily through the pages of His
wonderful Book, the Bible.
Adapted from Theology in a Nutshell: Biblical Truths in
Plain Language, by Ken Horn (Springfield, Mo.: Onward Books, 2008).
1Anoosh Markosian Bullock, “Survival Kit for Hard Times,” in
A Quiet Escape: Moments to Replenish Your Soul, compiled and edited by Peggy
Horn and Lillian Sparks (Springfield, Mo.: Onward Books, Inc., 2004), p. 40.
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