It's popular today, even among pastors, to say that theology is unimportant. It's not practical, some say, and many question spending time learning doctrine and theology when there's so much more to do. But theology provides the framework for an intelligent conversation about Christian beliefs, and those who are illiterate about the subject are vulnerable to the hot winds of heresy blown in from hell. Meaning: nothing is more practical than theology. Activity for the sake of activity, without a solid biblical foundation, will soon lose sight of its purpose. We present a primer, admittedly not exhaustive, containing important theological concepts that should be at least familiar to every Christian. One list is from a pastor, the other from a theology professor.
The Pastor's List
Bill Haynes is pastor of First Baptist-Sweetwater in Longwood, Florida.
For years, Southern Baptists wrote and published books for laymen that dealt with serious theological issues-issues that many today believe should be left to the seminary classroom. For example, E.G. Dargan wrote Doctrines of Our Faith, for the Sunday School Board (1905), Norvell Robertson wrote Handbook of Theology (1874), especially aimed at the average church member, and Williams Rutherford wrote Church Members' Guide for Baptist Churches (1887). All of these dealt with doctrine, that the church might be strengthened and built up. The following are terms that each of these, as well as others, would have expected the average Baptist church member to know and believe. The words are defined as found in these, and other, early Southern Baptist writings.
The unmerited favor of God. Everyone knows this standard definition, but few realize how rich it is. God has the right to send every person who has ever lived or will ever live to hell. That is exactly what we all deserve. But He has chosen, because of His grace, to grant eternal life to those who have faith in Christ and repent of their sin. It is because of his Grace that men can and do believe and repent.
The act of God whereby he gives life to the believer. The Baptist Faith & Message says it best: "regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart, wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." Many today treat man as if he is simply sick with sin, but the Bible indicates man is dead in sin (Eph. 2:4-5). Man is spiritually blind and needs the touch of God to see, as shown in Lydia's life in Acts 16:14, "And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul."
This is God exercising his sovereignty in salvation. The literal meaning of the word is "to choose" and it always applies to God's work. According to the Apostle Paul, it is an act that took place before the world was created (Eph. 1:4). Apart from this doctrine, none would be saved. The Baptist Faith & Message says "election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which he regenerates, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. ... It is a glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy and unchangeable." This doctrine teaches us that God is "the author and perfecter of faith" (Heb. 12:2) and that salvation is of the Lord and not of man's will. A proper understanding of this doctrine will promote humility in the life of the believer and destroy pride.
Man in his original creation, by God, was intended to have fellowship with God. But, in the Fall, our first parents chose to disobey God and follow after their own will and desires. This broke the relationship between man and his Creator in such a way that they became enemies (Rom. 5:10). In Christ's death on Calvary, God bridged the broken relationship and brought reconciliation between himself and his creatures. So the Doctrine of Reconciliation teaches us that God has reversed the primary effect of the Fall in the lives of his children.
This is a term that comes right out of the business world of Bible times. To redeem something is to purchase it, especially to purchase a slave to give him freedom. God paid the price that was required to buy his people out of their slavery to sin — the price was death. Jesus, by his death on the cross, bought us out of that slavery.
This is the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for the sins of those who believe. He died in our place and for our sins. It is God offering the ultimate sacrifice that turns his wrath away from the sinner. Through His death on the cross, Jesus made an actual atonement for the sins of his people, not just a potential atonement.
The legal aspect of salvation whereby God declares those who place their faith in Christ "are not guilty." He even goes beyond the declaration of "not guilty" to the point of declaring the Christian "righteous" before him. Justification is by faith alone in Christ alone.
God's continuing work of grace in the life of the believer. This is Christian growth brought about by the indwelling Holy Spirit in the believer. It is best expressed by Paul in Phil. 1:6, "For I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect (continue) it until the day of Christ Jesus." It is important that Christians realize we are not only saved by grace but we also continue in the Christian life by grace.
This is a biblical term which literally means to "mark out beforehand" according to God's eternal plan and purpose. It is always used in reference to God's working in history. This doctrine brings great security to the Christian because it assures him that nothing happens in his life that God has not "cleared." In fact, apart from this doctrine, there is no comfort in one of our favorite verses that we turn to in times of grief and trouble, Rom. 8:28, for it becomes a hollow hope that has no certainty.
The biblical idea of God's sovereignty includes all that is involved in his kingship and consists of at least three matters: 1) Ownership of everything there is because he created it; 2) authority in that God has absolute right to impose his will on his creatures and creation; 3) control because God is the master of his universe and rules over all that takes place.
This is the outworking of God's sovereignty whereby all events are directed and disposed to bring about the purpose of God. Christians have always believed that God was actively at work in the course of history. Nothing happens just by chance according to God's word. He is the blessed controller (Col. 1:17) of all things with purpose and meaning.
This word is used in several different ways in scripture. Its meaning varies from "missing the mark" — to "ungodliness" — to "rebellion." In all cases, it refers to the condition of human nature that separates us from a holy God at birth. It holds mankind in bondage until it is broken by the power of God in regeneration. Often confusion is made between "sin" and "sins." It must be remembered that "sins" are an outworking of what dwells within — "sin." We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.
The Professor's List
Mark DeVine is visiting professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested the Bible be read as God's love letter addressed to believers — because that's exactly what it is! In a genuine sense, "theology," which means simply God-talk, is a focused effort to return God's letter with one of our own. By taking care to express what we have heard from God with just the right words, we show gratitude to our Lord as we embrace our duty to be his witnesses. Technical words in theological conversation serve a very practical function — they allow the exchange of increased amounts of information within a compressed space. For example, rather than having to say "the 1000-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth at the end of the age mentioned in the book of Revelation," we may say "the millennium." The following should be viewed as a primer.
The study of last things. C.H.D. or "chronic homesickness disorder" has afflicted Christians ever since Jesus promised he would return one day and take them to heaven (John 14:1ff; Phil. 1:23; Heb. 11:14). Eschatology represents the unquenchable thirst to know all that the Bible teaches concerning the end times, such as — Jesus' promised return (Acts 1:11), the millennium (Rev.20), the great tribulation (Matt.24:21), Israel's future (Rom. 11:25-6) and the significance of hope for Christian living (1 Cor. 15:58).
Because God is no liar, his book, the Bible, does not lie. Inerrancy affirms that the perfect God, who inspired the Holy Scriptures, produced a book — the very words of which tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, in all that they teach.
Are you like me? Does that hymn about stars in our crown give you the willies? Good! Because in the Bible glorification is always decisively God-centered. God has glory because all his deeds demonstrate his infinite worthiness for praise. We are changed into the likeness of our Savior as we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. When all things render due praise to God continuously, we will be in glory.
Out with the old or in with the new or both? The term postmodernism represents a growing consensus that the modern world is giving way to a new, emerging cultural reality. Precisely what characterizes fading modernity is a matter of dispute. While some analysts confidently identify features of the postmodern world, others question whether such characteristics are yet clear.
The belief that when you're dead you're dead: That's all folks! Even a prominent evangelical scholar or two have recently supported this view — that the unredeemed do not suffer eternal punishment but rather, at death, simply cease to exist. Whether arguing that human beings are mortal by nature or that no one deserves eternal punishment, annihilationists have never found a wide following within the Christian community.
The satisfaction of God's violated holiness. When Mom dissuaded Dad from administering corporal punishment to yours truly, did she become a propitiation? No! As the propitiation for sins (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2, 4:10), Jesus does not alter the heavenly Father's disposition toward us. After all, the Father sent the Son to die for sinners. Rather, propitiation points to the sufficiency of Christ's atoning work on the cross to deliver us from deserved wrath unto undeserved bliss.
God's transcendence highlights the eternal qualitative superiority of the Creator to the creatures. Recognition of divine transcendence reminds us that God will forever deserve our worship and obedience because of his exalted majesty. Transcendence also warns against understanding Jesus' friendship with us as chumminess. The suffering servant who saves remains the righteous king who judges.
God's immanence or presence within the created order is demonstrated in the coming of the Son of God to Bethlehem's manger. Though high and lifted up, our God is not trapped in isolation from his creatures. Indeed, "He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:27, 28)
Which means literally "enfleshing," is the event in which the only true God became truly human without ceasing to be God. The miracle of Christmas was not an arbitrary display of divine power. Salvation required incarnation. As Athanasius (4th century) insisted — "If Christ is not God, he cannot save us, and if Christ is not human, then we are not saved."
The study and evaluation of various ways of interpreting the Bible. Approaches to biblical interpretation range from straightforward attempts to grasp the author's intent to "reader response criticism" which merely asks, "What does this passage mean to me at this moment?" How we seek truth in the Bible influences the meaning we receive as fundamentally as our understanding of the nature of scripture. After all, Jehovah's Witnesses are inerrantists!
The second coming of Jesus Christ. "Yes, I am coming soon." These last recorded words from the lips of our Lord evoked a grateful response from his servant John — "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." (Rev. 22:20) Few Christian truths have been embraced so dearly as Christ's promise to return and gather his elect so they might forever be with him.
Everybody's going to heaven! Not! The voice of Christian orthodoxy across the centuries has felt compelled by the scriptures to warn unbelievers of the prospect of everlasting damnation. Universalism is the belief that every sinner will, in the end, land in heaven.