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Doing Theology

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Over the years as a pastor and a teacher of theology I have encountered many Christians who have not studied Scripture or the theology contained in Scripture. This is not what is expected of us by God. We are all theologians and we should be good theologians. Sadly, a fundamental problem among professing believers is that they think there is no need to study theology or they do not care about theology. How could they not care about these things when they teach us about Our Lord who saves our souls?

Theology is not just for pastors or scholars, furthermore, some pastors and scholars actually make the layperson feel as though only those with advanced degrees can "do" theology.

On the other side of the theology calculus, there are some believers who think they need to develop their own theology. Yet, God does not call us to develop our own theology—rather it is already developed in Scripture. Our calling is to study it, understand it, and be doers of it, not just hearers (James 1:22-25). Our theology is that of the one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic church. When well-meaning believers set out to develop their own theology they will inevitably develop their own heresies.

So what exactly is "doing theology"?

1. Studying Scripture
2. Studying the historic creeds and confessions of the church, which serve as helpful summaries and explanations of what Scripture teaches.
3. Studying systematic theologies and biblical commentaries, as well as books on hermenutics, church history, historical theology, and Christian living. Rightly understood theology is rightly applied in our lives.
4. Sitting under the ministry of the Word in our local churches, through worship, song, and the sacraments.

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
Spoiler

Rightly dividing, properly interepreted, means "to handle correctly". Literally, the phrase means literally cutting something in a straight way. Figuratively, teaching or expounding correctly. Unfortunately, wooden literalism of the phrase led to the movements that cuts up or divides the Word into many divisions versus "rightly handling".

What right dividing is not:

1. Assuming all of the Bible is for our learning, but is not addressed to us or is about us.
2. Assuming there are many "gospels" in the Bible, and that we must carve out gospels only meant for us.
3. Assuming Paul's writings are disjointed, and in need of gleaning out of matters relevant to just Gentiles or to Jews.

Rather, per the whole counsel of Scripture rightly dividing is rightly handling, straightly furrowing, and wisely discriminating. Accordingly, the right way to handle Scripture is to treat it like the sword it is, as it is not meant to be played with.

Rightly dividing implies a straight cutting just as the plowman stands with his plow, and he plows right along from this end of the field to the other, making a straight furrow. Thus we have Paul who would have Timothy make a straight furrow right through the Word of Truth taking up its full counsel. The Truth of God is a straight line, and so must our handling of the Truth be straightforward and honest, without shifts or tricks.

For example, one of those furrows that should be plowed straightly is that of free grace. “Salvation is of the Lord”—He begins it, He carries it on, He completes it. Salvation is not of man, neither by man, but of Grace alone. Grace in election, Grace in redemption, Grace in effectual calling, grace in final perseverance, grace in conferring the perfection of Glory—it is all Grace from beginning to end.

Another straight plowing would be the matter of man's moral inability—to preach that man is fallen, that every part and passion of his nature is perverted, that he has gone astray altogether, is sick from the crown of his head to the sole of his feet—yes, is dead in trespasses and sins, and corrupt before God. “There is none that does good, no, not one.” The discerning will notice some are plowing this furrow very crookedly, for they say, “There are still some very fine points about man, and many good things in him which only need developing and educating such that he will decide rightly." Sigh.

Rightly handling the Word of God requires discrimination and dissection, as in the division between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. We must always distinguish between the root (e.g., regeneration) and the fruit (e.g., faith). Putting the cart before the horse is a very absurd thing, but many do it.

There are simple steps to rightly dividing, as in:
First step- Word Focus: etymology, synonyms, antonyms
Second step- Word Relations: grammar, syntax
Third step- Context: immediate context, whole book context, whole Bible context.
Fourth step- Culture: Social—the customs of the times; Temporal—the period in history; Geographical—the place on earth.

Rightly dividing requires exegetical ability, as in the following ten steps:

1. Identify the Genre (the Literary Form)
2. Get the Big Picture: Establish the Historical and Literary Context
3. Develop a Thesis Statement
4. Outline the Progress of Thought in the Passage
5. Consult Secondary Sources (a Good Commentary) on Your Passage.
6. Analyze Syntactical Relationships
7. Analyze Key Terms and Themes
8. Resolve Interpretive Issues and Problems
9. Evaluate Your Results From the Perspective of Wider Contextual and Theological Issues
10. Summarize Your Results

Now you know what rightly dividing really means.
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Theology

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