Archives For Theology

Small Theology

Mark Beuving —  May 7, 2015 — Leave a comment

The Beuving Family (Web) _0095I can remember looking forward to the day when I would have kids with whom I could have theological conversations. Not that this was the reason I wanted kids, I just thought it would be exciting to teach my heirs some amazing theology.

My daughters are now three and five years old. I have not begun reading them theology textbooks at bedtime, nor have they heard me speak the words “justification,” “pneumatology,” or “hypostatic union.” But we have certainly had plenty of theological conversations.

These conversations always arise unexpectedly. I don’t plan theology lessons for my girls; the theology invites itself into our regular conversations. Often, a character or plot development in a movie or TV show will lob me a doctrinal softball, and I’ll take a swing. (I’ll ask my girls questions like “Will Hiccup ever see his daddy again, even though he died?” or “Why do you think Rainbow Dash is so sad?” or “Who else do we know who died and came back to life again?”) Sometimes these turn into great conversations, sometimes they don’t. We never go very deep, but sometimes we have meaningful (if not complex) conversations about important theological truths.

We have talked about God’s constant provision and the importance of valuing God’s gifts when my daughters have complained about the dinner menu. We’ve talked about having compassion for the poor when both of my girls threw fits about the kind of sheets mommy put on their beds. We’ve had several chances to talk about human depravity and the importance of forgiveness when kids at church or at preschool have been mean.

My favorite theological conversations lately have come when we sing to our girls at bedtime. I’ve been singing part of Mumford and Sons’ “After the Storm”—the girls love it. I’ll sing, “There will come a time, you’ll see / with no more tears / and love will not break your heart / but dismiss your fears.” Then I’ll stop and ask them, “Did you know that someday we won’t cry or be sad anymore? Do you know when that will be?” It’s a perfect chance to talk about the return of Christ and the reality of heaven.

I also cycle through the verses to “This Is My Father’s World.” Every night I’ll sing a couple of verses, and every now and then we’ll talk about what the song means. Just last night my five year old asked me what it means that God “shines in all that’s fair.” So we talked about God’s omnipresence, his power in creation, and the goodness of God’s world. We did this without using any big terms, which was a great exercise for me.

As I looked ahead to the time I would talk theology with my kids, I also pictured them much older than preschool age. But I’ve been surprised at how often I get to talk theology with my girls. I shouldn’t be surprised—I know that theology is practical. I know that everything in this world relates to God. But somehow, I didn’t expect theology to be so readily applicable to so many of the things my daughters experience so early in life. For me, it has been a great reminder that everything is theological, and that God cares about—and is active in—every detail of our lives, no matter how small our lives may be.

Your pastor prays for you. His God-given duty, after all, is to “keep watch over your soul” (Heb. 13:17). But unless you’re a rare individual, you don’t pray for your pastor as much as you should. I want to convince you that your pastor desperately needs you to pray for him consistently.

A major factor in your pastor’s need for prayer is the simple reality that he is a human being. He is tempted, as we all are. He sins, as we all do. He is targeted by spiritual warfare. Because he is a human being seeking to live a godly life, he needs prayer and support.

But there are other reasons for his need for prayer related to his unique role as a pastor. I want to explore three of those below:

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO SPEAK FOR GOD.

All of us desperately need to know what God thinks about all of the issues we face in life. We need to hear from God—regularly, insightfully, passionately.

So put yourself in your pastor’s shoes here. Week after week, you gather with other believers to hear a word from God. And your pastor is the one who will deliver God’s word to you. His job is to stand before you on a regular basis and declare, “Thus says the Lord.” Much of the Spirit’s conviction in your life will come from words your pastor speaks. Many of your beliefs about the nature of God or how God wants you to behave in a given situation will originate in your pastor’s sermon prep.

Your pastor speaks to you on God’s behalf. He feels the weight of that burden. Make sure you’re praying for him. Pray that God will speak to him. Pray that he will listen. Pray that God will empower him as he takes on the formidable role of a modern day prophet.

Francis Chan Preaching

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO SOLVE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS.

Perhaps this sounds overdramatic. But when something goes wrong in your life, who are you turning to for help? When you’re struggling with sin, when you can’t navigate a dysfunctional relationship, when you’ve experienced loss, when you’re depressed, when you need some guidance—who is it that you turn to in these situations? If you’re like most Christians, you’ll turn to your pastor to help you solve your problems.

That’s as it should be, to a certain extent. Your pastor does indeed keep watch over your soul; he is there to help you grow. But once again, consider it from your pastor’s perspective. What if you were the last line of defense (and often also the first) with every major issue anyone in your congregation could possibly encounter? That’s an enormous burden to bear. And an impossible schedule to maintain. (Even if your church has multiple pastors, that means your church has more people to care for.) Be sure to pray for your pastor in this regard. Ask God to give him wisdom, patience, and endurance.

 

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO THINK & ACT LIKE YOU IN EVERYTHING.

You’re not offended by everything your pastor says, but let’s be honest: there are a good handful of topics over which you would be horrified to hear your pastor disagree with you. What if your pastor preached a sermon that gave a differing view on the end times, or on speaking in tongues, or on the proper use of alcohol, or on the way Christians should relate to politics, culture, homeschooling, workplace evangelism, infant or adult baptism, or whatever? The list of issues upon which Christians disagree is almost literally endless.

You might not be upset about every theological point your pastor makes, but someone is likely to be. Consider it from your pastor’s perspective: It’s impossible to preach on the end times, hell, the role of obedience in the life of the Christian, or spiritual gifts without offending someone. You can imagine the weight that this places on his shoulders every week.

Pastors face constant criticism. Their lives are lived in a fishbowl, with everyone analyzing what the pastor and his family do (and don’t do). Not only that, but he also has to present his (well-studied) views on controversial topics to a large roomful of people every week. Can you imagine the pressure? So don’t forget to pray for him. Be gracious to him when he “gets it wrong” theologically, and don’t forget to pray that God would give him grace, patience, and encouragement as he has big and small conversations week after week with people who are angry about something he said.

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You may love your pastor deeply. Or you might have a real problem with him (for good or bad reasons). But either way, be sure that you are praying for him. He has devoted his life to speaking for God and ministering to your soul. That’s an impossible job. Keep praying that God will encourage, shape, and empower your pastor. And please heed these words from Hebrews:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (13:17)

I’m sure that very few readers actually save words like “awesome” for God. But I’m equally sure that many readers will be surprised at the title of this article, maybe even offended. I have heard it said from time to time that we ought to reserve words like “awesome” for God. God is awesome. Nothing else can compare. Is it really appropriate to describe both God and the new Taylor Swift album as awesome? If we use the word awesome to describe our weekend plans, then we devalue the word and weaken it in reference to God. We ought to reserve some of these terms for God alone.

So the argument goes, and there is wisdom in it. I appreciate the concern with upholding God’s uniqueness, with insisting that God is beyond compare. However, I find this argument misguided for a few reasons.

On a very basic level, we would probably have a hard time deciding which words to reserve for God. “Awesome” seems a strong candidate. But what about “great”? Or “beautiful”? Or “glorious”? I think you could make a strong case for reserving each of these words for God. So which words do we reserve, and how do we settle on standard usage? Maybe someone can create an English to Christianese dictionary app.

Another problem is that we live in a world that inspires superlatives. I defy anyone to stand on the brim of the Grand Canyon and withhold the word “awesome.” After all, awesome means “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.” Is that not a perfect description of the Grand Canyon? Or the ocean? Or a thunderstorm? This is a world of superlatives (a word expressing “the highest quality or degree” of something). I could go along with an argument that we should use the word “awesome” for the Grand Canyon but not breakfast cereal. To me, that is being consistent with the meaning of the word (which, alas, is always subject to usage and therefore change). But this world is full of reasons to cry out in shock, in ecstasy, in astonishment, in fear. When something inspires awe, call it awesome.

Grand Canyon

Rather than diminishing God, I believe that references to the Grand Canyon as awesome actually give God greater praise. God is awe-inspiring. How so? He formed this canyon, which leaves me speechless and makes me feel wonder, fear, and an aching recognition of beauty. God inspires awe in part because he creates things that inspire awe. I do not honor God by sidestepping the awe-inspiring nature of the world he formed, the people he created, or the experiences he makes possible.

On one occasion, Jesus stated, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). So maybe we could set aside the word “good,” insisting that it applies only to God. Yet Jesus himself used the word “good” in reference to people (Matt 5:45), gifts (Matt 7:11), fruit (both physical and spiritual, Matt 7:17), soil (Matt 13:8), seed (Matt 13:24), fish (Matt 13:48), salt (Mark 9:50), and wine (Luke 5:39).

This seems to be a good model for the way we use language in reference to God. We don’t need to hesitate in saying that God alone is good, or beautiful, or powerful, or awesome. But that doesn’t mean these words can’t be applied to other people, things, or experiences in this world. There is a sense in which only God is good. God is good in a way that nothing else is good. But there are good things in this world: God himself judged his creation “very good.” There is a sense in which only God is awesome. God inspires awe in a way that nothing else possibly could. But we find ourselves in awe of other things, like the Grand Canyon, and we need not hesitate to apply the appropriate term.

The root issue here is whether or not we need a separate language for talking about God. There is a sense in which everything about God is beyond compare. People can be compassionate. But God’s compassion in forgiving sinners and offering eternal life is in a distinct category. We might be tempted to call it something entirely unique: supercompassion, perhaps. But God refers to it simply as compassion.

God is okay with analogy. He insists that nothing can compare with him (e.g., Is. 40:18), but he also describes himself as a shepherd, a father, a king, a husband, a vine and vinedresser, etc. Language works through commonalities, through analogies. And God is gracious to speak to us in ways that we can understand. He doesn’t speak to us in a heavenly language that is incomprehensible to our silly little human minds. Throughout the Bible God speaks so that people can understand. When he came to earth, he came as one of us—that is the beauty of the incarnation.

So use words like awesome according to their definitions. Acknowledge the awe-inspiring nature of things that truly inspire awe. And when you use the word in reference to God, acknowledge that God inspires awe as nothing else in his awesome world ever could.

A. W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” John Frame widens that thought to extend to literally everything: “The most important fact about anything in the world is its relationship to God’s lordship.” Frame intends for this to include everything from inanimate objects to the immaterial thoughts of the human mind. Perhaps Abraham Kuyper covered the universal scope of theology most poignantly when he said, “There is not a square inch of the entire domain of human life of which Christ the King does not say, ‘That is mine!’”

What each of these godly thinkers is conveying is that theology is important. It’s not the exclusive domain of braniacs who have long since retired to their nerderies with their Bibles and stacks of incomprehensible commentaries. The twenty-something barista who rubs coffee stained shoulders with non-Christians and searches the Bible to see how God’s truth applies to the mundane details of her life is every bit as much a theologian as the ivory tower academic. Probably more so, actually, since God’s revelation is meant to address the real world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe don’t understand anything in this world properly until we see it in relation to the God who made it. This shouldn’t be a strange thought. After all, we live in a world that would instantly disintegrate without the constant upholding power of God (the Theo in Theology). This world was absolutely nothing until God told it to exist—and it obeyed his authoritative voice.

Flip through a theology textbook and you’ll find the usual categories: the doctrine of God, the doctrine of humanity, the doctrine of sin, the doctrine of salvation, etc. These are essential theological categories—issues in life that must be seen in their relation to Ultimate Reality: God himself. But equally valid as theology would be categories like technology, dating, the environment, the workplace, the auto industry, linguistics, geography, and blogging. Taken as an academic discipline, these categories don’t belong under the heading of theology. But if theology is the study of God (and it is), and if all of life is God’s (it is), then everything must be viewed theologically.

Unfortunately, Christians are not often trained to think theologically about everything. Our theological thoughts are limited to Sunday mornings or our occasional times spent in prayer or reading the Bible. Perhaps our minds will wander into the theological realm when we consider God’s sovereignty in some life event or when we see the sin of humanity on display.

But for the health of the church and the furtherance of the mission of God, Christians need to learn to see everything theologically. The seemingly endless hours we spend at work need to be viewed in terms of God’s lordship. Our parenting has everything to do with God and his will. The movies we watch and the music we listen to is theological to the core, and we must learn to see it that way.

I am privileged to teach at an institution where everything we teach relates to Christ’s lordship over every aspect of life. We actually teach book by book through the entire Bible (going much deeper than the survey level, an approach that is highly unusual, even for a Bible college). We do this not because we think the Bible is the only thing that should be taught, but because we believe the Bible should be deeply internalized and skillfully applied to everything.

We are training up an every-growing army of graduates who march into the world with their theological glasses firmly in place. They have been taught to look at everything they encounter in light of the King and his all-encompassing kingdom. As an example, before our students are cleared for graduation, they have to complete a senior project where they choose a specific subculture (whether it be a jungle tribe, a particular youth group, a community of artists, or a retirement home) and show precisely how the Bible speaks hope and transformation into that group of people.

We are committed to this mission of training the church to think theologically about everything. That’s why we started this blog, and that’s why we continue to post new material. That’s why we started Eternity Bible College, and this line of thinking runs in the veins of every one of our graduates.

 

If you would like to invest in this mission, we encourage you to partner with us in our end of the year giving campaign. All of your donations are tax-deductable, and in addition to ensuring that we can continue pumping out content on this blog and through our Silo Project, your donations will be used to efficiently train our students to live and die well.  

 

2013-14 Giving Campaign

As many of you know, Eternity Bible College is not your typical college. One of the most unique things about the school is that we are committed to graduating students debt free.

A recent article reports that “since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the amount of outstanding federal student loan debt owed to the government has skyrocketed, increasing by 463 percent.” Currently, America’s student debt stands at $674,580,000,000.00. Yikes!

When Francis Chan started Eternity, he saw the vicious cycle of how student debt cripples Christians from furthering the kingdom. To be a missionary, for instance, Invest in Eternityyou’ve got to get training, which includes some sort of Bible education. To get solid Bible education, you’ve got to pay $30,000-50,000 a year to learn the Bible at most Christian universities. After graduating, you apply to a sending agency only to get told that you have too much debt to be sent overseas. Now, you’ve got to work for the next 10 (or 30) years to pay off your student debt so that you can go overseas. But in reality, you never leave. Mission stifled.

The same cycle rears its ugly head for pastors and lay leaders. We tell them to get trained and then pay them a modest wage that doesn’t cover the $800/month (for 30 years) loan payment they’re enslaved to.

Now, smart students who get scholarships or who come from rich families who foot the bill are exempt from this cycle. But from Genesis to Revelation, the kingdom of God is rarely furthered by people who are smart or come from rich families. The 12 thugs Jesus called apostles are case in point. And they turned the world upside down.

John Dickerson points out in his book The Great Evangelical Recession that the evangelical church is facing a financial crisis. We’ve built unsustainable ways of doing church and unless we learn to run things much more efficiently, many churches and organizations are going to crumble over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, tuition costs at most evangelical schools continue to soar, and student debt continues to rise.

The problem doesn’t just apply to pastors and missionaries. In fact, most of our students at Eternity do not aspire to be full-time pastors or over-seas missionaries. Most end up working secular jobs upon graduation and become lay-leaders and chanservants in their local churches. But being freed from the vicious debt-cycle furthers their mission as well. Because now, these graduates do not scramble around finding high-paying jobs in order to pay off debt. Now, they seek out a secular job because they see that job as a mission field.

For instance, one recent graduate named Alise is an artist. And now after graduating, she’s been equipped to apply a rich biblical worldview to art. If she was enslaved to her school debt, then Alise would need to pursue one of two things upon graduation: A rich husband or a high paying job. Reaching the art community, or producing theologically rich art, would be nothing more than pipe dream realized in the finger paintings of her future kids tacked on the refrigerator door (“That’s a nice painting, sweetheart, but does it really reflect the Imago Dei?”).

Fortunately, Alise graduated debt free. And so she moved into an art district in downtown Portland, where she lives missionally—producing art and rubbing shoulders with artists. The gospel has wiggled its way into a dark pocket of society,

Alise Hay, a servant of Christ and graduate of Eternity Bible College

Alise Hay, a servant of Christ and graduate of Eternity Bible College

through the brush and paint of a creative student with a dream. Mission advanced.

We want to keep graduating students like Alise, who can apply the gospel to every vocation, regardless of whether such a vocation shells out enough dough to pay off a pile of student debt.

Come partner with us!

Eternity is currently running an end of the year campaign to help support our mission. If you desire to partner with us financially, please visit http://eternitybiblecollege.com/campaign/. All of your donations are tax-deductible and will be used efficiently to train our students, like Alise, to live and die well.

2013-14 Giving Campaign