The Church is in an interesting place today. She's been around for about two thousand years and she's been through a lot. She's had her theological struggles, she's had her heretics, she's had big successes, she's made her big mistakes. What is it that has kept her defined as "the church" all this time? How do we know that she didn't actually collapse years ago and that we're not something completely different today? I think that many have a pretty good idea of how we know, but we often struggle in how to put it into words.
In this post I'd like to take a whack at the basics. The foundations of what we believe can be found in the Bible first and foremost. Secondly, built upon the Bible, we have creeds and catechisms. Built on these we have Christians in the church today who preach, teach and write their understanding of the Word of God. The closer these teachers are to scripture and historic Christianity, the more "Orthodox" they are. Orthodoxy simply means "right belief." If they stray too far from these beliefs, they are called "Unorthodox" or "Heretical."
There, that wasn't too painful was it? Much of this may be common knowledge to most of my readers, but I wanted to lay this out briefly so that these definitions will be solidified in your minds as we discuss a few problems we might find in the church today. Yeah, I know, all I talk about are problems. Oh well, where would we have gotten most of the New Testament if Paul wasn't addressing church problems all the time?
I also write this assuming that most of my readers are presupposing the inerrancy and ultimate authority of scripture. If you disagree or don't know what this means, then let me know and maybe I'll direct you to some sources explaining or defending the position. This can be a theological topic all in itself, so I'd rather leave it be for now. Personally, I don't see how one can have a worthwhile "theological" discussion without a solid foundation you can go back to and agree on.
All this brings me to my main question, what is "theology"? For that matter, what is a "theologian"? I'm not sure why, but a lot of people seem intimidated by the word "theology." Perhaps it sounds really academic, and I suppose it can be, seeing as entire graduate and Ph.D programs are dedicated to it, but honestly it's not a very complicated word. At least for me, all it really means is, "what you think and say about God and the Bible." Any questions? I hope not. I really don't see how you could complicate that.
That being said, I want to point out a few trends I see in the church today and why I think it is important that we notice them, and if need be, correct them. There are a few sayings, or cliches if you will, floating around the church that I don't find very helpful when it comes to the discipline of theology. I've heard many well respected pastors say things like, "Well, I'll leave that one to the theologians, but this is what I think." Or, "I just want to say, I am by no means a theologian." I guess I get what they mean. We haven't all been to seminary, but think about the meaning of they're saying. If the way I defined theology is true, which I think it is, then we are all theologians. So technically what they are saying is, "on this point I don't quite know enough to be fully biblical, so I'll just tell you what I think." The question should never be whether we are theologians, but will always be, are we good or bad theologians? Even an atheist is a theologian... a really bad one, considering their opinion about God, but a theologian nonetheless.
The only question that remains isn't "am I a theologian?" but rather, "How deep do I want to go?" Don't misunderstand me, I would never recommend that we all become seminary students. We all have different callings. However, I find that being called "theological" has become more of an accusation than a simple observation these days. There has been a growing lack of respect for teachers and preachers who have done the hard work and actually know what they're talking about to the point where they can rebuke and correct as the Bible teaches our leadership to do. We have often settled for poorly trained teachers because they have the guts to be cute and brag about how "unorthodox" they are. Rather than challenging our authority by saying their teaching is unorthodox, we make their orthodoxy look old and boring while reveling in what we ourselves are technically claiming is "wrong belief." I'm sorry, but has unorthodox come to mean anything other than "wrong belief"? There has even been a book written called "A Heretic's Guide to Eternity." I'll leave it for another day to talk about whether the ideas in the book are actually biblical.
All this to say, it is my wish to start a series where I simply outline the basics of Christian doctrine. This will by no means be exhaustive. Rather, in each post I will do my best to summarize one of the basic branches of theology and then give a few basic views on what the Bible says concerning it. I myself am not yet formally educated on all the different denominations' disagreements and agreements, so I will keep my observations rather subjective and based on my own church experience and private reading. I will then give a basic summery of where I stand on these issues. It's my hope that this will strengthen at least a few and that it will weed out at least a few of the misconceptions of how complicated theology supposedly is. In most areas I'll summarize and recommend different books and resources where my knowledge is lacking or for anyone who wants to take their focus on a particular area further.
Much of the time I will probably give quotes from authors I have benefited from and will site doctrinal statements from the creeds and catechisms of the church fathers. I will probably focus on the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds as well as the Heidelberg Catechism. To finish I just want to give a quick list of the topics I hope to cover:
What does the scripture say about the person of God himself as a trinitarion being. What are some views on the Genesis 1 account of creation
The study of the person of Christ.
The study of the Holy Spirit
The study of God's plan of salvation
The study of the Christian church
The study of end times