The warmth of a glowing fire fell over the comfortable den. Thoughts of winters gone by filled the couple’s conversation. Dreams of coming summers with grandchildren brought smiles. But invariably all discussion returned to the coming event – the marriage of their daughter. How grateful they were that their Sally, the youngest of four children, had found a wonderful young man like Tom. He came from a good home, was well educated, and seemed to know what he wanted to do with his life. Looking ahead was a most pleasant dream.
Suddenly Sally’s crying broke the silence. She burst into the room. Thoughts and dreams disappeared. Reality entered. Between uncontrollable sobs, Sally shared a nightmare with her parents.
She was pregnant, and Tom wanted her to have an abortion. Neither of them wanted to begin married life facing the burden of raising a child. Both of them would need to work to make ends meet, and Sally was determined to use her education to begin a career. A counselor agreed that an abortion was the easiest solution to their problem. However, Sally had been raised to believe that life was a precious gift from God. From that perspective abortion seemed so wrong. Yet her career and Tom were important too. The struggle was more than she could handle alone.
As a Christian parent how would you respond to a situation like this? Our society would say that Sally has the right to decide her future and to be happy. Must her parents have to face the humiliation caused by Sally’s behavior? In either case abortion would be the answer. What options are open to Sally and her parents as Christians?
While most of us will not have to deal personally with a situation like this, all of us face decisions every day that need to reflect our relationship with God. How can we make decisions that are pleasing to God, when so many issues are not specifically covered in the Bible – issues that vary from abortion to career selection to choice of a mate?
The answer is learning to think like our Creator. The Bible may not specifically cover every modern issue, but our Creator has revealed Himself to us through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures. As we learn to think biblically like Christ, we acquire understanding and insight on how to make righteous, God-pleasing decisions.
What is theology?
Theology is not speculative theory or obscure thinking with little or no relevance to everyday life. It is “thinking about God” and His relationship to all aspects of His creation and one’s life. Whether we like it or not, all of us are “theologians” since we have some thoughts, however vague or precise, about God. The question remains as to whether or not our theology is correct.
How do we determine if our theology is correct? God has given a “training manual” to guide believers in making decisions and choices that help shape character – the Bible. The apostle Paul clearly states, ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This suggests that all believers are to have a theology that is biblical and are therefore responsible for godly living every day. Our responsibility as believers is to develop a Bible-based theology that controls our daily choices and life-changing decisions. Only then can we live a life that is pleasing to God.
Why must theology be based on the Bible?
We should recognize that everyone looks at the circumstances of his life through perspectives that develop from his background, experiences, and beliefs. Everyone has values which affect his choices and decisions like the blueprint of a building’s construction or the maps that direct our journeys. We must also recognize that our perspectives, values, and approaches in life result from our positive or negative responses to the God of the Bible.
Many people still try to live without considering the personal, living God. Their alternatives center on humanly devised schemes that promote man as the savior rather than God. The impact of this humanism on people’s thinking has become unprecedented. In seeking answers and meaning in life these people become victims of the horrors of a macabre mass suicide like Jonestown, the “righteous hatred” of Islamic “holy wars,” various Eastern religions, and other perversions of God and His Word. Our newspapers, magazines, and televisions point us to the fact that various forms of immorality and social abuse have grown to unprecedented proportions. Perhaps all of us know people who are part of these trends. They seem to be disoriented and self-destructing in social decay. To them the events of life become mere chance, and personal tragedies result from “bad luck.” The headlines of our catastrophe-prone world cannot be adequately or accurately explained.
In sharp contrast the Christians’ beliefs are based on the Bible, which provides the framework for understanding specific situations in light of God’s plan for His creation. In biblical thinking primary importance is given to Jesus Christ, the divine Savior and the Lord of creation. His victory over death in resurrection has solved man’s sin problem and provided a relationship with God for everyone who trusts in Him.
Not only is Bible-based theology essential for salvation. Such theology also constantly reminds us that every Christian should be involved in a personally appropriate way in carrying the gospel message into all of our needy world. That saving gospel is that God’s loving initiative solved the sin problem through Christ’s death in the sinner’s place at Calvary. Through trusting in that finished work the believer enters the resurrection life of Christ and the fellowship of His church around the world.
Developing a biblical theology is impossible without this proper understanding of what the Bible says about the relationship between God and humanity. For example, if I view God as anything less than the Supreme Being whose divine plan controls the universe, I will fail to recognize my existence depends on Him. If I view people as anything other than sinful individuals, I will depend on my own abilities rather than on God. If I deny the possibility of relationships between God and humanity, I will fail to achieve the biblical goal for this life – intimate fellowship of the believer with his Creator.
Since God created man in His image, a special relationship between God and man was intended. However, that relationship was estranged because of man’s disobedience (Gen. 3:22-24). Everyone’s sinfulness continues to separate man from God (Rom. 1:18 – 3:20). Even believers struggle with sin (Rom. 7:14-25; 1 John 1:7-10). The only way to repair the broken relationship is provided by God through the gift of His Son (2 Cor. 5:19-21). People come to terms with their sinfulness and their need for the righteousness of God only through the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11). The Holy Spirit is also responsible for the salvation of the believer. This rebirth is based on the faith of the individual (Titus 3:5). The Holy Spirit then indwells the believer (1 Cor. 6:19) enabling him to lead a life that is pleasing to God (Gal. 5:16-26).
The Bible is clear in its teaching about God, man, and their relationship. Our responsibility is to understand the meaning of this teaching and begin to think like our Creator. Theology must be based on the Bible because this is the only way daily choices and decisions can become more pleasing to God.
Why must I practice theology based on the Bible?
Christians are commanded to turn from the practices of the world to a biblical lifestyle (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Pet. 1:14-16). As we obey this command, we become more like Christ. The change transforms our character, and it is reflected in our conduct. Over time the believer grows spiritually (much as we mature in our physical lives), which enables our decisions to be progressively more pleasing to God.
But too often, Christians try to make decisions in circumstances where options have already been closed. We cannot avoid the consequences of our daily choices. Disobedience is not as trivial as it sometimes seems. A biblically-based theology actually simplifies much of life and protects an obedient believer from the self-destructiveness of sins. All of us are faced with various social pressures which cause us to think, “Surely I could not be harmed by compromising only this one time. No one would notice.”
However, the Bible teaches that “one time” can involve a lifetime of heartache, as was the case of David and Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11). After David yielded to his desires, his kingdom began a decline that continued until his death. Contrast David’s response to that of Joseph in Genesis 39. When he was tempted by his employer’s wife, Joseph fled. He suffered the temporary consequences and was imprisoned. But in lifetime perspective God honored his obedience and enabled Joseph to save his family and nation from famine. Both men knew what was right. One obeyed and succeeded; the other did not and failed.
In other words, a biblical theology will direct us to correct choices in matters of faith and morals. It will sharpen our consciences. It will teach us not to do doubtful things. In Paul’s unmistakable words, “Flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). Practicing theology will help us to avoid those seemingly isolated and harmless choices that can destroy a lifetime of influence for God.
How do I practice biblically-based theology?
No magic formula exists for Christian living. But biblical guidelines for living are clear. We have already mentioned the importance of obeying the Bible. Two additional guidelines should be emphasized at this point, dependence on the Holy Spirit and prayer.
There is a tendency in modern society to think that we can accomplish anything we want to. With hard work and a network of influential contacts we can expect success in any area of life. This may be true in society, but it must be modified in Christianity.
According to the Bible the indwelling Holy Spirit is absolutely essential for Christian living. The indwelling Spirit is the most important promise for believers today (John 14:16-17). As believers take the initiative to learn God’s Word, the Spirit comforts (John 14:26), teaches (John 16:12-15), guides (Rom. 8:14), and encourages (Rom. 8:15-17). His work in us is very practical and specific. He enables believers to have victory over problems like immorality, jealousy, dissension, and anger (Gal. 5:19-21). He produces Christ-like qualities like love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
This transforming growth process brings together knowledge of the Bible, the presence of the Spirit, and obedience. In our individualistic society everyone wants to be his own boss. The idea of yielding control to anyone, even God, is alien to our desires. But to please God we must obey Him as we make decisions every day. The Holy Spirit cannot guide, teach, enable, or even comfort us unless we cooperate.
Next, living a life of faithful obedience to the Lord and dependence on the Spirit takes practice. Success in righteous living requires practice that may include failure. This of course is true of all of life’s worthwhile endeavors. But too frequently we do not think of spiritual maturity in this way. We need to recognize that it does not happen overnight.
A final requirement in practicing biblical theology is prayer. An established fact of the Bible is that God has communicated with His creation. His stated desire is that we communicate with Him in prayer. Jesus taught that people at all times “ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Paul instructs us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17) and to pray about everything (Phil. 4:6). Clearly prayer is a vital part of our relationship with God.
How does all of this fit together? Initially the importance of developing a theology based on the Bible was discussed. God’s provision of His saving Son, His indwelling Spirit, and His inerrant Scriptures has been emphasized. But, we must abide obediently in God’s provision over time to practice theology with maturity.
What are the results of practicing theology based on God’s Word?
The believer who makes decisions based on the guidelines of Scripture can be assured of a lifestyle pleasing to God. Although hardships and trials will not disappear, the obedient believer’s correct theology allows a proper understanding of events and circumstances in this life. The “gray areas” of living can be approached with confidence. Through it all the Christ-like character that is the proper goal of every Christian will begin to emerge and grow.
Now in a situation like the one facing Sally and her parents, how would you respond? If your theology is based on God’s Word, the decision is already made.
By Dr. J. Lanier Burns