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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 Bible.”

Say what?

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.’ ”1

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 desires.”

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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