THE CASE FOR GOOD THEOLOGY

Yesterday I noticed a company logo as I drove past:  EDUCATION COSTS, SO DOES IGNORANCE! 

As I broach the subject of good theology once more, may I urge you to remove any ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign from your mind and spirit. We don’t want to be like the fellow who said ‘My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts!’ I include the ‘mind’ because God is in essence a thinking God, and has created us in his image to think as he thinks and act as he acts. So many believers today pooh-pooh ‘theology’ (lit. the study of God) when the fact is that we ALL have a theology of sorts. It can be a good theology based on the self-revelation of God in creation, the Bible and the Logos (the living Word). Or it can be a poor theology based on our own subjective ideas, speculations, rationalisations, emotions, experiences and impulses (are they always from the Spirit, as we claim?) which are often unreliable (Jer. 17:9, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’). Years ago well-loved theologian, John Stott, wrote a booklet entitled ‘Your Mind Matters’ – of course it does! (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:15, 3:10-17; 1 Pet. 1:13)

This post was triggered, I believe by the Spirit, when I received mail from good missionary friends in Hong Kong, reminding me of the imminent 90th birthday of one of our mutual mentors, Dr. Ralph Christensen. I owe the foundations of my theology to two men in particular. One was our College Principal, a Scotsman named Sandy Gilfillan – he was one of the sharpest Greek and NT scholars in South Africa during my theological training and has been to this day. I pay tribute to him because he gave us a ‘biblical theology’ drawn from and shaped by the text itself, exegeted in context. By contrast, a ‘systematic theology’ can easily impose a rationalistic and pre-determined ‘system’ on our reading of the Bible, bringing division rather than unity in the Body. Thus, for example, (imho) rigid ‘Calvinists’ have sometimes bought into a system of state-church which during Reformation times led to the martyrdom of thousands of saints in the Anabaptist movement and in modern times terrible national upheaval [thus Apartheid, the Rwandan genocide, etc]. Not to mention the confusion spawned by dispensationalists, secret rapturists, etc…

My second theological mentor was Dr. Ralph Christensen, a N. American of Danish descent who came to South Africa with his wife as TEAM missionaries. He lectured Missiology at the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa, where I was a student in the mid-to-later 60’s. Having earned an MA in Theology from Wheaton in the USA and a Doctorate in Missiology from the University of South Africa under the world-renowned missiologist Prof. David Bosch, and having had the benefit of many years of cross-cultural church planting in Africa, he was certainly well equipped to teach and mentor me and my fellow students [cf the ‘pastor-teacher’ function of Eph. 4:9-13]. Later as head of Rosebank Bible College he taught and mentored scores of missionaries who scattered all over the globe in the cause of the kingdom.

Above all Dr. Ralph’s theology and missiology was refreshingly God-centred and simple. The Church was called to mission because God was at heart a missionary [David Livingstone once said, God had an only Son and he made him a missionary] [Dr. Ralph’s mentor, David Bosch, was known for his statement, ‘missiology is the mother of theology’]. I was reminded by my Hong Kong friends how he introduced the first lecture of their second year with the question, ‘Where is God?’ The students’ offered different answers like ‘God is omnipresent,’ ‘he indwells believers’ and so on. Dr. Ralph replied that while their answers were biblical, the more biblical answer was ‘God is going into his world.’

I believe that organic/house churches have re-discovered that more intimate communion of the saints with God and the Body. The danger is so ‘hanging out’ with Jesus and fellow-believers that we neglect the call to mission, i.e. by life, deed and word. The evangelist John in the Fourth Gospel reminds us of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples (who for fear of the religionists had turned in on themselves) of their divine mission (Jn. 20:21-22):  “‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” A quick summary of ‘As the Father has sent me’ and the implications for us as Body of Christ:

  • Jesus came incarnationally. So must we go into the world.
  • He came into a family. Church begins in family and every family must be a ‘little church’ led by the parents. 
  • He came relationally. Building relationships are ‘key,’ within the Body and in the market place.
  • He showed the way by being and doing. So must we.
  • He focussed on the kingdom of God. We must have a focus as wide as the kingdom, i.e. the reign of God in Jesus Christ.

During the last 17 years of pastoring an institutional church, I made it my aim to lead the congregation to be missional in every way, both locally and globally. We sent missionaries locally and to the ends of the earth. I made one fundamental mistake – we over-did the doing bit and under-did the being bit. In my facilitation of house churches over the last 7 years, I have tried to do justice to both. God has blessed our small efforts in remarkable ways. Perhaps more particularly, because we have begun to see ourselves as the indwelt temple of the Spirit, individually and corporately. At the same time we are trying to live from ‘the Tree of life’ rather than the ‘The Tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ (cf. Gen. 1-3) [see my earlier blog on ‘A Theology of Two Trees’]. It really makes all the difference to live from divine life rather than self-effort.

Here’s my challenge to those who gather organically [see earlier blog for definition]:  while enriched by community let us not degenerate into holy huddles. Ultimately the Infinite-Personal God of the Bible is not here just for us and our immediate needs, our prosperity and self-development, our health and well-being, our ‘destiny’ and good feelings, etc. This God has a global purpose in Christ, which is to install him as ‘Head of all things’ (cf Eph. 1-2, Col. 1), both in the present and the future – graciously he involves us in that process! God is massive in his sovereign intent for our world and this universe. The gospel is not about ‘3 easy steps to salvation’ but is about:  Christ’s death according to the Scriptures;  his burial and resurrection;  the resurrection of the dead;  his headship over all;  a new heaven and earth (1 Cor. 15). Sell your shirt and try and get hold of N.T. Wright’s ‘Surprised by Hope.’ In it he argues that what we believe about life after death directly affects what we believe about life before death. If God intends to renew the whole creation – and if this has already begun in Jesus’ resurrection – the church cannot stop at ‘saving souls,’ but must anticipate the eventual renewal by working for God’s kingdom in the wider world, bringing healing and hope in the present life.

Now that’s saving theology, life-giving theology, theology on fire, life-transforming theology, a theology of hope, theology that puts Christ at the centre and glorifies the Father! And that’s how we should live…

 

 

 

 

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