Bernie Diaz, March 6, 2018
Reading and interest in doctrine were once staples and prominent features of the Christian faith in a time where smartphones, social media and tablets were non-existent and people gathered and disseminated information in greater volume than with 150 character tweets and thirty-second television and web-video sound bites.
The post-reformation and post-revolutionary eras of the west and the United States in particular, implied that disciples of Jesus Christ like their Israeli forefathers, were people of the “book” (the Bible) who read, understood and could communicate the fundamental truths and doctrines of their faith. Obviously, that has not been the case in Christendom for some time now to the detriment of the church and our greater society in general, as our nation and much of western civilization continues to flounder in a post-Christian age of moral relativism, which unchecked, could lead to outright chaos.
How do we correct and reform the state of biblical illiteracy that is rampant in the church of Christ, crippling its ability to be salt and light in a decaying if not dying culture? Every Christian must be made aware of their responsibility to be both a scholar and theologian.
Calm down Christian. I’m not suggesting every believer that can read enroll tomorrow in a seminary of their choice or strive to be the church’s next Luther, Calvin, MacArthur or Piper – although that wouldn’t hurt!
What I am exhorting Christians to do is return to the attitude of prioritizing the reading of the Bible and the study or proper understanding of the Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ found in the scriptures.
How to Be a Christian Scholar
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15, ESV).
Interestingly enough, the scripture commands all disciples of Christ to be “workers” or laborers like farmers who plow the soil to sow and harvest seeds and crops to “handle” or cut straight the word of God.
That’s what professional scholars do, as the dictionary defines, as people with “profound knowledge of a particular subject.” That’s supposed to be us Christian! That subject is to be God and his kingdom. Where do we start? Strive to know, learn, live and then give the word of the living God. That starts with a radical exhortation. Ready…wait for it…. READ!!!!
Read to Know
The best reason to read books – beginning with the Bible, is to know God. I think each of us can and will meet God in his Word, but this does not mean that he reveals himself equally to everyone of us.
We can and should benefit from what others have learned and we do that through books, those that are theological in nature (see below) and would include edifying and inspiring biographies. Yes, e-books are permissible of coruse. I’m virtually out of room for hardcopies in my office, so I thank the Lord for the technology that has given me a Kindle.
There are many people who are intimidated by the mere thought of reading theological and doctrinal books. No worries. It doesn’t matter who you are, there is a book written at your level. Ask a pastor and/or a more mature brother or sister in the faith and get yourself a solid reading list that will move you beyond Joel Osteen, and into meatier and weightier works such as those from giants like Calvin or Jonathan Edwards, who were utterly humbled by just how little they initially knew about their God.
For example, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and its abridged version (Christian Beliefs) are very accessible and handy reads summarizing the basic doctrines of the faith.
If you do not read, you deny yourself a great way to learn who God is and how he acts in this world. There is no study more satisfying than that.
Read to Grow
Reading is a means of grace in which we’re spiritually born and then grow (1 Pet. 1:23-25). We read to know God and we read to grow so we can honor or glorify him in every area of our lives.
To do that, we as children of God have to know what the Bible says, what it means by what it says and then what we are to do by what it means and says.
Wisdom and discernment- good biblical discrimination and decision making begin there. So, I recommend to many that they start with the Bible and a good reading plan than enables one to eat Bible in an OIA method of study or scholarship: Observe, Interpret and Apply. Then you’re ready to move on to Bible study tools and theological books and material.
Read to Lead
It’s true- readers are leaders and leaders are readers. Wouldn’t you agree that we could use more Christian leadership today- in and out of the church? After all, every man is called to lead in some area of life, whether that is leadership in the home, in the workplace, in the church or elsewhere. There is more than a little anecdotal evidence proving that the great men of history were readers — find me a great man whose mind was shaped by television. I’m still waiting…..!
Al Mohler, a Christian worldview commentator and seminary President is an advocate in his book, The Conviction to Lead, of: “convictional intelligence,” which he defines as: “the product of learning the Christian faith, diving deeply into biblical truth, and discovering how to think like a Christian.” In other words, the best Christian leaders again know, learn, live, give and then lead accordingly. The unavoidable fact is that your convictions determine where you lead and how you lead.
Read to Love
While we tend to consider reading as a personal pursuit, it can also be a means of loving others. There are ways in which we can love others by being a reader.
First, read to understand. Not only should we read in order to know the Lord better and to grow spiritually as disciples, but reading also benefits others around you. Husbands can learn to love their wives better by reading books like, When Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey.
Mothers and fathers can better disciple their children with Voddie Baucham’s Family-Driven Faith and we can better raise our children in the ‘fear and admonition of the Lord’ by reading Ted Tripp’s, Shepherding a Child’s Heart.
Second, we can read to recommend. You can love others by recommending books that will help them in their circumstances. This may involve reading books that will apply more to others than to yourself. Knowledge and information are paramount and powerful tools when we disciple others as the disciple-makers we should be.
For some people like me, reading is a great and natural pleasure. My appetite to read is insatiable and due largely to my curiosity: I need to know things. Yet other people are not as curious by nature and reading brings them little pleasure. May I be as bold to suggest that to discipline or train ourselves to do those things we should, often results in those things becoming pleasurable. Pleasures can be learned! There was a time that I hated to drink my coffee without milk and sugar. Once I trained myself to abstain from the sugar for health’s sake, I soon began to enjoy it as a pleasure.
Reading is a pleasure worth learning to love and pursue, even if it requires some effort at first. Get into the word- via a reading plan perhaps, one chapter a day. Mix listening to it and other treasures via audio versions on your phone or CD player if that helps and notice how quickly you will develop the intake of the word and doctrine as a habit and will miss it when you don’t.
How to Be a Theologian
Again, when I argue that every Christian must be a scholar and theologian, I don’t mean that every Christian must be an academic or a professional theologian like an R.C. Sproul. We don’t want to know about God just for the sake of information – but for life transformation. We all basically understand what is meant by the biblical warning that “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1).
There are at least three big reasons why every Christian ought to be a theologian or a student of God:
- Theology is Commanded
Theology by definition is the study of God (Theos+science/ology). Having a mind dedicated to God is required in the great commandment of the faith: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).
Loving God with all of our minds certainly means more than theological study, but it certainly does not mean less than that.
- Theology Leads to Salvation
Now, of course, the mere study of God- his attributes and such will not bring a sinner salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8) totally apart from any works of our own (Ro. 3:28), which includes any intellectual ability (1 Cor. 1).
But at the same time, the faith by which we are justified, is a reasonable and I believe an even rationale faith, once God gives us the ability to understand ourselves and our sin, as well as the need to escape the wrath of God’s judgment to come as the due penalty for sin.
Saving faith is a gracious and sovereign gift from God (Eph. 2:8; Ro. 8:28-30; 12:3), but it is predicated upon information— initially, what we call the gospel or the good news of who and what Jesus is and has done for repentant sinners. We must believe and know what we are believing.
- Theology Fuels Worship
True Christians are not those who believe in some vague notion of God. Real disciples of Christ are those who believe in the triune God of the Bible and have placed their trust by the real Spirit in the real Savior as proclaimed in the specific words of the real word of God.
Knowing the right information about God, is just one way we can rightly pursue and praise him. We worship when we listen to our pastor’s preaching, in lifting up our voices to God in ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ (Eph. 5; Col.3) and in our church’s prayers, both corporate and private.
Doctrinally sound and biblically saturated theological study, adds fuel to our heart of worship in the Spirit. What did Jesus explain to the Samaritan woman at the well? True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (Jo. 4:23-24)
As per Romans 12:2, our life transformation begins with a renewing of our minds. As John Piper has said, “The theological mind exists to throw logs into the furnace of our affections for Christ.”
Genuine, purposeful and prayerful scholarship and theological study of God, is an expression of a deepening love for our God. The more we know, learn, live and give his word, the more we will find ourselves in awe of Him and as someone said, “Like a great ship on the horizon, the closer we get, the larger He looms.”