The Shepherd’s Church exists to raise up deeply rooted disciples of Christ who are growing in their knowledge of the Word and learning to think Biblically, with all humility, in every facet of their lives. We seek to accomplish this in several ways, but one of them is by choosing various books to read for a given month and then meeting together over coffee to discuss the concepts. November’s book was: “What Is A Healthy Church Member?” by Thabiti Anyabwile, which discusses 10 fundamental character traits of a healthy church member. After reading and discussing this book, I became convinced that our entire church needed to hear this great content. Last week, we looked at Part 1 (Expositional Listening), this week we look at the second mark of a healthy church member.
A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER IS A BIBLICAL THEOLOGIAN
Yes, you read that correctly. Every single Christian alive today is called to be a Biblical theologian! Now, before you say: “That’s not for me” Thabiti is not calling you to sit aloof in an ivory tower thinking deep thoughts that no one will understand. Some may be called to that work, but that is not what this chapter means by a Biblical theologian.
By a Biblical theologian, Thabiti is challenging us to have Biblical thoughts about God. Theology comes from two Greek words Theos + logos, which simply means words or thoughts (logos) about God (Theos). In fact, every human being has a theology, because every human being has some thoughts about God. Our goal then, as Christians, is not simply to have a theology, but it is for our theology to be Biblical!
HOW WILL BIBLICAL THEOLOGY MAKE US HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBERS?
Thabiti gives us a few examples. (This list is not exhaustive)
First, when we know what the Bible rightly says, we begin to know God. We begin to see Him in truth and that causes a deep-seated love and reverence for Him to spring up in our hearts. This also causes us to be, not only healthy and joyful believers but also healthy members of our churches. When a group of people are all growing in their knowledge of God, the church begins to thrive!
Second, having the right thoughts about God not only keeps us from believing error personally, but it also equips us to safeguard the church, so that error does not creep in there as well. The Lord is not calling us to be an overzealous truth police, but it is all of our responsibility to help protect and safeguard the church!
Finally, knowing the right doctrine points us in the right direction for ministry and mission. The whole point of the church is to be a Gospel community on the move, taking and sharing the Gospel wherever we go. When Biblical theology is lacking, mission and evangelism stifle. But, when right thoughts about God abound, the church always thrives on mission.
And while this list is not exhaustive, I do believe it demonstrates the essential place that Biblical theology must play in the life of the church. If we want to follow God rightly and be healthy, it must begin with knowing who He is! Now, you may be wondering at this point, how do I get there? Let’s discuss what this chapter reccomends!
HOW CAN WE BECOME BIBLICAL THEOLOGIANS?
The list below was offered by Thabiti with a few additions of my own. Approach this list, not as a to-do list, but as tools of grace. Imagine it like this, if all you ever do is rake leaves, dead leaves is all you will ever get. But if you dig deep into the soil, while it is hard work, you may find a diamond. Knowing the Bible is a lot like that. It takes hard work and it also requires the proper tools. The list below are some of the tools I believe you will need to joyfully embark on this journey, to seek after the greatest treasure of them all, knowing God!
READ THE BIBLE.
One of the most valuable disciplines in the life of a believer is to make a plan to read your Bible (cover to cover) and then execute that plan time and time again. It is not enough to want to. It is certainly not enough to read a few verses here and there isolated from context. The most helpful Bible plan is the one that takes you from Genesis to Revelation in a way that makes the most sense for you!
I have found that the chronological reading plan works best for me. It lays all of the passages of the Bible out in chronological order and helps me understand where each book fits in the Biblical narrative. No matter what, challenge yourself to read the whole Bible cover to cover. The more you do it, the more you will appreciate it!
READ A CATECHISM OR CONFESSION.
Confessions of faith and good catechisms are a wonderful tools for understanding the Bible! Generally speaking, confessions and catechisms summarize all of the major points of doctrine found in the Bible, and lay them out into a helpful and digestible portion. These are time tested and faithful documents, while not on par with Scripture, are thoroughly informed by Scripture! At every point, they look beyond themselves to the Bible and seek to train the believer in Biblical theology!
At The Shepherd’s Church, our favorite confession of faith is the London Baptist Confession of 1689. That is the confession we most closely align with and it is a wonderful summary of Biblical theology. Perhaps in the year 2020, you and someone you love could walk through it together and discuss the concepts. You will also do well to read any of the confessions we have listed on our website from The Westminster Confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, or the Belgic Confession of faith. Each of these are incredible and wonderful tools for the growing Christian and are highly recommended.
READ OUR STATEMENT OF FAITH.
At The Shepherd’s Church, we took all of the best theology we could find, all of the most essential points of doctrine that are necessary for a Christian, and we summarized it in our statement of faith. This document can also be found on our website and it is a great place to start if you want to know what we believe, what we hope our church will believe, and the bare bones of what we think every Christian should believe.
READ A THEOLOGY BOOK.
It may seem like growth is intimately tied to reading. That’s because it is! And while there are plenty of digital options available (from audiobooks, podcasts, lectures, etc.) reading is still one of the best ways you can learn and grow in the area of Biblical theology.(DISCLAIMER: I struggle reading too. I lose focus often, have to re-read paragraphs more than I would like to admit, and I am a very slow reader. I do not read because I am good at it, I read because it is essential!)
With that, there are several resources I would recommend for men and women at various stages in their walk with Christ. For the beginner, who is just starting to learn about theology, a helpful summary of doctrine has been written by R.C. Sproul, called “Everyone Is A Theologian”. For someone who is growing in their understanding of doctrine, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is a wonderful intermediate resource and is also available on podcast. I do not agree with everything in this book, but what he has written is wonderful and not too difficult to understand. It will challenge the reader, but it will also encourage and strengthen the reader as well.
Here are the books that Thabiti recommended in chapter 2:
Vaughn Roberts, “God’s Big Picture” Tracing the Storyline of the Bible”
Mark Strom, “The Symphony of Scripture: Making Sense of the Bible’s Many Themes”
Peter Jensen, “At the Heart of the Universe: What Christians Believe”
Graeme Goldsworthy: “According to the Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible”
And for advanced students
Geerhardus Vos, “Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments”
Along with a steady diet of reading the Bible, one of the most helpful things I do is to study a particular theme. For instance, I will go to Bible Gateway, type in a word like “Sabbath” and read every verse in the Bible (with its surrounding context) on that topic. Another helpful resource for studying the Bible in this way, and one I go back to time and time again, is a Topical Bible (like the one found on OpenBible.info) or a Thematic Bible like the one found for free here. Both are absolutely invaluable!
Just like a child is told to look both ways when crossing the street, a healthy church member should be told to look both ways when reading a passage of Scripture. If you are in the Old Testament, try and imagine how that passage is connected to Christ and His Gospel. If you are in the New Testament, try and understand how this passage is the fulfillment of something from the Old. By doing this, you will begin to see a unity between the two testaments and it will deeply enrich your faith.
One of the most repulsive of all humans is the dead theologian who knows so much beautiful doctrine about God but yet their lives have not been transformed by the Gospel. These people live to win arguments, belittle others as inferior, and look down their pretentious noses at other less enlightened folks like us. In many ways, I believe this is one reason why theological inquiry among the average Christians is at an all-time low. Why? Because who wants to look like a dead theologian or a resurrected Pharisee?
But just remember this, the discipline of study does not ensure you will be a snarky know-it-all. Study, in many ways, only amplifies what is already in your heart. If you are insecure, study will be your fortress instead of Christ. If you are arrogant and prideful by nature, more knowledge will puff you up with pride! But, if your desire is to know God in Spirit and in truth, and in humility and sincerity, then study is one of the richest blessings that you can incorporate into your life!
When you dedicate your studies to God, surrender your own selfish will to Him, repent when you are proud, and use whatever new insights you gain to love others better and serve His bride more fully. Then you will become a Biblical theologian and that will be one of the best endeavors you ever undertake. And like Thabiti says, it will make you a healthy and vibrant member of a Gospel-centered community.
FINALLY... GIVE YOURSELVES GRACE.
Studying God and His Word is hard work. Like I said in the beginning, it requires discipline and effort, which comes easy to some and not so easy to others. Our goal is not to prove to God how smart we are. That is a repugnant and silly endeavor. But, our goal is also not to heap stress upon ourselves and to give up in discouragement.
So give yourself grace. Learn at a pace that is sustainable for you. Do not take on too much. Treat your spiritual life like it is a 50-year marathon and not like you are cramming for a final exam. Let these grace habits (above) serve you and bless you in your walk with Christ! Nver allow them to become a wicked taskmaster that fills you full of guilt and shame. Use these tools to help you know and understand God, and to the degree that you will do that will be to the degree you reap the reward.
May the Lord bless you and keep you until I write again!