[ Doctrine in Detail ]

Topic: I. Preparation

Lesson: A. Purpose and Participants

"I wish," mused Jimmy, "that I could have got to the bird who invented theology before he inflicted all this unnecessary anguish upon an already unhappy world." (Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Efficiency Expert) Jimmy felt that mathematics was a useless study, a worthless burden on generations of students. Perhaps you share similar feelings about Theology. To someone with a warm heart that wants to do things for the Lord, 'theology' may sound like a boring and academic study that may divert you from a close relationship and walk with Jesus. Let's examine this a little closer, and see if this feeling is true. What is Theology and Doctrine and why should you care about it?

Objective: To understand what theology and doctrine are, who should study them, and why.

1. Definitions of Theology and Doctrine

a. Theology. The English word is derived from the Greek words 'theos logos', literally, the study of God. This is expanded to include God and his relationship to His creation, including mankind. For Bible based Christianity, it includes a systematic study of the teachings of Scripture. Sometimes the word theology is used to mean the method of studying and drawing conclusions about God and the universe.

b. Doctrine. Doctrine is formalized teaching. The doctrines of the Church are the teachings of the Church, often written in a creed or doctrinal statement. "The Articles of Faith of the Bible Fellowship Church" is a doctrinal statement. Theology, or the study of God, produces conclusions about God which are formalized as doctrine.

2. Importance of Theology

a. Faith and the Object of Faith. Christianity is a faith based upon factual historical events and objective truth. Some are skeptical of a religion based upon facts, and criticize theology and doctrinal statements as being cold, unfeeling, and dry. Others admire strong religious feelings and convictions. But it must always be remembered that the object of faith is more important than the strength of such faith. Many members of cults are strongly committed and have deep feelings about God, but unfortunately, they may be totally wrong about the facts, or who they believe in. On the other hand, a new believer may have weak faith, but if that faith has been placed in the true and genuine God, it is better than the strongest faith in a false religion. It is not the strength of our faith that saves us, but the object of our faith, Jesus Christ. It is very important to clear about the object of our faith, and to know Him as he really is.

You do not have to choose knowledge over a warm faith, ideally the two are combined. As your knowledge of God deepens, your faith, trust, and worship of Him should also grow. Strong feelings and faith should be rooted in the deep soil of the knowledge of God, and when properly rooted they should grow straight and true.

b. Purposes. Jeremiah said, "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD ..." (Jeremiah 9:23-24) The purpose of Theology is to develop a deeper understanding of the Lord and his works. This is so important to the Lord that we are to value it above our riches, health, learning, and accomplishments in any other area of life. We know the Lord though our personal relationship, and our relationship grows with time and through our Christian walk. But our understanding of the Lord deepens through a careful and systematic study of what He has revealed in His word.

The Apostle Paul told Timothy to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (2nd Timothy 2:15) Why isn't it enough just to pray and read the Bible? Prayer and regular Bible reading are necessary, but to understand all that God has to say on a particular matter, for instance, life after death, the theologian studies all of the Bible passages that deal with that topic together. Charles Hodge in Systematic Theology, has said, "The object (of theology) is to systematize the facts of the Bible, and ascertain the principles or general truths which those facts involve." Such study is necessary to 'correctly handle the word of truth'.

3. Relation to Other Studies

a. Bible Survey and Bible Study. A Bible survey is a reading through of all of Scripture, usually in the order the books appear in the Bible or in a historical order. Bible Study is usually a more in depth study of a single book or section. While Theology studies all of the Scriptures on a given topic, it is essential to understand the each section of Scripture in it's context. These studies complement each other. When reading Genesis 1 on the creation, it is important to understand from John 1 that Jesus had a part to play. When studying the end times in Theology, it is important to have read through the entire book of Revelation in order to understand the complexity of the topic, as well as the extensive amount of symbolism involved.

b. Ethics. Ethics is a major emphasis of preaching, and answers the question, "How should a Christian live?" While Theology provides a method of determining what the Bible teaches on any topic, the topics of Doctrine are usually matters of faith rather than practice. The theological method is used for life issues in the study of Ethics. Doctrine states what we should believe, while Ethics direct what we should do.

c. Apologetics. Apologetics give a defense of the Christian faith. This includes historical, literary, philosophical, scientific, geological, and logical evidences. In this Theology study, we give only a passing defense of the reliability of the Bible and its teachings. Apologetics an extensive study of the reliability of the Bible and the actual events that occurred. Theology defines the faith, but Apologetics defends it.

d. Church History. Biblical Theology uses the Bible as the ultimate authority and primary source. Church History shows how the Church has developed since the time of Christ. In Theology, it is important to understand what previous generations of Christians have thought and the practical effects of their doctrines, although this must be reevaluated in the clear light of what the Bible itself says.

e. Evangelism. Evangelism is a persuasive presentation of the Gospel, in order that people apart from God may understand enough and be encouraged to be reconciled to God. Theology gives a clear understanding of what is necessary for salvation and the results, evangelism presents this in a convincing manner to the unsaved.


Written Assignment:

Write a single paragraph explaining your interest in Theology or Doctrine and what you expect to get out of this course.

Reading Assignment:

Ryrie: Introduction and Chapter 1


Key Verses:

"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD. " (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. " (2nd Timothy 2:15)

Additional References:

"The object (of theology) is to systematize the facts of the Bible, and ascertain the principles or general truths which those facts involve. " (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology)


All Bible quotations are from the New International Version (NIV), (C)Copyright 1984 by the International Bible Society, used by permission.
Doctrine in Detail (C)Copyright 2002 by Ronald Miller, All Rights Reserved

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