Learning and Teaching Theology

Outside of preaching every week I enjoy teaching theology the most. Some of the more rewarding times in ministry have been inside dingy classrooms in Russia or Romania teaching theology to hungry pastors. Throughout these experiences there were a few “events” that catapulted my understanding of theology in new and fresh ways.

1. When I was a senior in high school the little gem Knowing God fell into my hands. Through a long process, a few years later, this would lead me to finally read Calvin’s Institutes. I would subsequently learn that when most people said something about Calvin it would be glaringly obvious if they had never actually read him (much less understood him). This exercise was solidified over another two year period where I was able to read through his commentaries (yes, this was before marriage and children). Calvin is one, for all his foibles (both real or perceived) who I think actually got it. He was a theologian, he was a pastor, he was many things but his ministry was driven by the desire to expound the text. So what I saw in Calvin was a theologian but underneath it all was a consummate expositor.

2. When I was in college I plunged myself, for a while, into the writings of Karl Barth. I don’t have time or energy to explain why at this point but the experience sealed a number of things into my growth and understanding. One, Barth was a nimble mind and profound at amazing levels BUT his demythologizing was a constant hurdle upon which I would keep hitting my knees. In the end he left me hollow and without, what I now believe is, a biblical view of grace or Christ. This is one of the reasons why I put my head in my hands and pray when I read here or there that someone has “discovered” Barth. Turn back while you can.

3. A few years ago, I found in my favorite local second-hand book store, a set of G. C. Berkouwer’s Studies in Dogmatics. I knew that certain men (like R. C. Sproul while studying at Free University in Amsterdam) had been greatly influenced by his writings which were not made available in English until the 1960’s. Though Berkouwer would amend some of his earlier views his writings remained a benchmark of modern reformed theology. One finds in Berkouwer a sound answer to many of the newer “questions” that have been spewed forth yet again, albeit in a modern package. His chapter “The Motive of the Incarnation” in his The Work of Christ is a great place to start in light of recent discussions about justification and the atonement.

4. The release of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics in English (three volumes so far) was another welcome addition to my theological learning. Now that he is not confined to the Dutch I can read for myself what has remained merely inaccessible footnotes in some of the modern systematic theology works. I just learned today that there is an excellent review/overview of Dogmatics over at Reformation21 (see here). Also Ron Gleason has offered an excellent biographical overview of Bavinck’s life (see here). Gleason is writing a fuller biography of Bavinck which should fill a massive void in understanding the life and theology of this great Dutch theologian.

5. There are other factors in my theological learning which are probably just as profound, even more so than those I’ve listed here. Two things that readily come to mind are my seminary experiences at Master’s Seminary which were invaluable and my weekly preaching which constantly forces me to grind my theology in the mill of exegesis. However, one of the greatest developments for me was when I taught bibliology, theology proper and christology to our congregation over a year’s time. It deepened my understanding of the critical fact that theology belongs to the church. When theology falls into the hands of academics who lack a robust understanding of ecclesiology it is only a matter of time before the church is fed the crumbs of speculative thinking. That time of teaching theology in our congregation continues to bear fruit in the lives of the people and in my own life.

Richard Baxter famously wrote in his The Reformed Pastor, “nothing can be rightly known unless God be known.” It is for this reason that learning and teaching theology are crucial to the expositor and the church of Jesus Christ.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Caleb Kolstad on November 29, 2006 at 12:24 am

    This was a wonderful post! I would like to read more that are like this one. It was personal as well as instructive. Good stuff.

    CK

  2. “When theology falls into the hands of academics who lack a robust understanding of ecclesiology it is only a matter of time before the church is fed the crumbs of speculative thinking.”

    Amen, Paul! Thanks for stating that so beautifully.

  3. Paul,

    Thanks for the recommended (and not so recommended i.e. Barth)books on theology. One of my favs is W.G.T. Shedd. His Dogmatic Theology and Theological Essays are fantastic! If you can fins Dogmatic Theolgy in it’s original three volumes, you’ve found yourself a treasure!

    Thanks again,
    Jason

  4. Thank you brothers for your kind remarks.

    Jason,

    I also think Shedd is great. He was an interesting read and at times seemed hyper-rationalistic (much like Charles Hodge) but by and large he offers a great balance to some of the older systematics. I also wish he would have dealt with important subjects like the Trinity but this is where Bavinck comes in handy.

    On the newer front, I am really enjoying Robert Culver’s Systematic Theology (even if he fails to deal with bibliology).

    Blessings to you,
    PSL

  5. I wonder if you might be interested in my Bible Reading Notes, covering the whole of Scripture http://www.christinallthescriptures.blogspot.com http://www.theologyofgcberkouwer.blogspot.com http://chascameron.spaces.live.com
    Best Wishes.

  6. Paul

    You mention in #5 about preaching to your congregation bibilogy, theology proper and christology. Could you give me how and what your direction was in this teaching. That would be great. You could e mail me if you want, or here. Thanks

    I grew up on Oliver B. Greene. Harry Ironside, AW> Pink, and George Norris, and Spurgeon.

    Charles

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