A tear runs down the cheek of your friend as they tell you their teenager is rebelling and they’ve tried all they can but nothing is working. A family member has lost their job but the mortgage payments keep coming, and they tell you they are considering giving “in faith” to that TV evangelist who promises they’ll receive back their gift a hundred-fold. A co-worker confides in you that they are struggling with depression and have considered suicide. What do you say in each of these situations?
How we respond to life’s difficulties is determined by our theology. Your view of God, or lack thereof, will dictate how you see the world and your actions or advice to others. Far from being impractical and irrelevant, our theological worldview impacts our daily decisions.
In the last post, we asked the question, “What are the defining marks of a healthy church?” We began looking at Mark Dever’s 9 Marks of a Healthy Church in which he highlights certain defining marks that are seldom emphasized today. The first mark we considered was expository preaching, and today we’ll look at another mark of a healthy church: biblical theology.
What is biblical theology? Biblical theology not only means that our theology comes from the sound teaching of Scripture, but it also, as Michael Lawrence says, “is about reading the Bible, not as if it’s sixty-six separate books, but a single book with a single plot–God’s glory displayed through Jesus Christ. Biblical theology is therefore about discovering the unity of the Bible in the midst of its diversity. It’s about understanding what we might call the Bible’s metanarrative.”
Paul instructs his pastoral protege Titus to “teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). All believers should strive to grow in their knowledge and understanding of God. Scripture teaches us that sound doctrine:
- opposes ungodliness and sin (1 Tim. 1:10-11)
- opposes false doctrine (1 Tim. 6:3)
- is patterned by Paul (2 Tim. 1:13)
- will be rejected by those who just want itching ears satisfied (2 Tim. 4:3).
Why Does It Matter?
If you’ve ever spoken to a widow who can’t understand why her husband died from disease even though Scripture says “by his wounds we are healed,” then you know the powerful effect of false belief. Not only does she have to deal with the death of her husband, but now she carries the guilt that maybe her husband died because she “didn’t have enough faith.”
This is where biblical theology is necessary. We can easily pull a verse of Scripture out of context and make it say what we want, but a healthy biblical theology that understands the metanarrative of Scripture provides a context for all of Scripture. To understand what Isaiah 53 means when it says “by his wounds we are healed,” one must understand it in the context of the whole chapter. That whole chapter must be understood in the context of the whole book of Isaiah, which must be understood in the context of the Old Covenant and how it applies under the New Covenant. When understood in light of the whole story of Scripture, we see that Isaiah 53 is a prophecy about Christ who would be wounded, not primarily for our physical healing, but for our spiritual healing. A fuller understanding of biblical theology will show that God certainly is able to miraculously heal, but there are many times he doesn’t. “Claiming” a promise that God never made is very dangerous.
I pray that this gives just a glimpse of how false teaching and taking verses out of context impacts people’s everyday life. Many have waited for God to do something he never promised to do, and have ended up bitter, joyless, and angry at God. The more the members of a church are trained and equipped with sound biblical theology, the healthier the church will be and the more powerful her witness will be to her community. As Dever states, “We will ‘do church’ differently, depending on how we understand God and ourselves” (66).
Ultimately, however, our desire to learn theology stems from, and enhances, our love for God. As Lloyd-Jones said:
The doctrines of the Bible are not a subject to be studied; rather we should desire to know them in order that, having known them, we may not be ‘puffed up’ with knowledge, and excited about our information, but may draw nearer to God in worship, praise, and adoration, because we have seen, in a fuller way…the glory of our wondrous God.
Why wouldn’t we want to know more about our great God? Why wouldn’t we want to worship him in Spirit and in truth? Our theology drives our methods and everyday decisions, but, most importantly, it drives our worship!
If you’re interested in an introduction to biblical theology, check out Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church or God’s Big Picture. If you’re willing to take on a longer book, check out The King In His Beauty.
9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church by Michael Lawrence