A tale of two Januaries.

January 2020. I began a Bible study series at my church teaching theology, or the doctrine of God. That series was cut short because of the way the pandemic affected our church programming. Due to scheduling, we have not yet been able to bring that series back to an in-person study though we are hopeful we can in the future.

January 2021. I began posting a word of the week where I defined a theological term. In previous word of the week posts, I’ve dealt with terms associated with the doctrine of Christ (Christology) and the doctrine of salvation (soteriology). In today’s post, I’m going to back up and highlight the broader subject of theology and its importance for Christian living.

Theology is the study of God and God’s relation to the world. It is important to note that everyone does theology, though not everyone does theology well. Whenever we speak to an issue from the perspective of God or Scripture, we are doing theology.

When you say, “God wouldn’t be happy with a particular word or deed,” you are doing theology. 

When you say, “God wants you to live a certain way,” you are doing theology. 

Theology is a course of study in Bible Colleges and Seminaries. It is taught for pastors, missionaries, and ministers. But because everyone who discusses God’s relation and expectations in the world is doing theology, any follower of Jesus can and should learn basic biblical doctrines. These word of the week posts that I share weekly are one of my attempts to help us as followers of Jesus better understand God and Christian doctrine.

There are different theological disciplines that shape how we understand theology as both an academic pursuit and as a practical guide for Christian living. 

Biblical theology—Investigates how each author or book of the Bible considers a particular doctrine. 

Historical theology—How different doctrinal ideas arose and were developed in history. 

Systematic theology—Is a collection of Bible doctrines that flows out of an organized, logical framework. These posts and the terms they define flow out of systematic theology.

Practical theology—Connects doctrines to daily living. 

We need each discipline for clear understanding of God, his Word, and our place in God’s plan. Think of these four disciplines as different perspectives. If one explored the contours of a metropolitan city like New York from a helicopter, this would be like our view of theology from a systematic perspective. Driving through the Burroughs of the city would be like exploring the of the city from a biblical theology perspective. Searching out how the city’s history shapes its current makeup would be exploring the city from the perspective of historical theology. And walking through the city engaging with cab drivers and local shop owners would be exploring the city through the perspective of practical theology. When it comes to Scripture and theology, we need each of these four perspectives to best understand who God is, who we are, and what God expects of us.

It is right to think of theology as a basis for knowledge. But it is not correct to categorize theology as a primarily academic or intellectual pursuit.

We take our understanding of knowledge from the Greek worldview. Gnosis in the Greek language emphasizes cognitive or intellectual understanding. Much of our educational model in the West is shaped after this academic paradigm.

But the Old Testament in particular and the Bible in general offers another, deeper perspective on knowledge. The Hebrew word for knowledge that is used extensively for knowing God is da’at. This term means relational knowledge. While it does not exclude an intellectual component for knowledge, the cognitive is not the primary means of knowing.

One of the classic verses on knowing God stands out here.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7

The word for knowledge is the Hebrew word da’at. The verse indicates that reverential awe and respect of God for who he is is the beginning of the relational knowledge of God.

This biblical view on knowledge is important for our theological understanding in at least two important ways.

First, knowing God relationally as well as intellectually shapes our understanding of salvation. Salvation is not just an intellectual assent of the facts of the gospel. Salvation is not less than this assent. We need to know the facts about Jesus (his person as God and man, his perfect life, sacrificial death, victorious resurrection, and ascension into heaven) for our salvation. But merely acknowledging facts is insufficient biblically. This is because knowing God is more than intellectual. It is relational. Trusting in Christ for salvation is a personal and relational response to the gospel. Salvation necessitates confession and repentance acknowledging the broken relationship between man and God. Salvation necessitates trusting in Christ alone to repair that broken relationship granting us the privilege of knowing God relationally. Salvation also anticipates the expectation that trusting Christ alone brings us into relationship with God whereby we follow him with our life and choices.

Second, knowing God relationally underscores the practicality of theology. Knowing more about God intellectually, doctrinally, or academically is only part of the equation. As a professor at Bible college, I try to instill in my students this important recognition. If we know about God academically so that we can pass a class, but fail to grow in knowing God relationally, we’ve missed the point. Knowing about God rightly can help us to know God better relationally.

Right knowledge is both relational and intellectual.

Sarah P. Sumner, “Intellectual Discipleship and the Value of Theological Education” in Theology, Church and Ministry: A Handbook for Theological Education

I believe that growth in our knowledge of God and his work in the world is vital to the Christian faith. My hope is that these posts help you to know God better intellectually, but more than that inspire you to know God in a deeper way relationally.

Photo by Hieu Vu Minh on Unsplash

Some of the greatest people I know have fostered and adopted little ones into their home. There is just something right and wonderful about a family making a home for a child in need.

Adoption is a glorious concept. Theologically, adoption is the aspect of salvation whereby God brought us into his family.

Paul highlights adoption in the book of Romans.

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:14-17 (emphasis mine)

In the Old Testament, God’s people were a specific nation. God chose Abraham and his descendants (Isaac, Jacob, and the patriarchs), to be his people. To be identified with God in the Old Testament was to be a part of the Hebrew people. But even in the Old Testament, there were promises that God’s people would include more than a race (Hosea 1:9-10; Psalm 96).

In the New Testament, God fulfilled these promises in the doctrine of adoption. God adopted those into his family who were not previously part of his family. This is the promise for every believer. We are now children of God (John 1:12), and as children of God, we are heirs of God (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Upon hearing they were adopted through Christ, the first believers would have been astounded. According to Roman law, when someone was adopted into a family, they could never be disinherited. A biological child could be disinherited, but not an adopted one. Used in this context, the doctrine of adoption is not only glorious, but it is also guaranteed. God will never disinherit us once he’s chosen us for his family.

Adoption is a great blessing that reflects the love of God for us.

Justification is the basic blessing, on which adoption is founded; adoption is the crowning blessing, to which justification clears the way. J. I. Packer (quoted in The Preacher’s Catechism, 97). 

J. I. Packer (quoted by Lewis Allen in The Preacher’s Catechism, 97). 

Because we have been declared right with God through justification, we can be made into sons and daughters of God. God adopted us into his family, giving us a family. We belong to Someone, our Heavenly Father. We have the greatest big Brother, Jesus Christ. And we have a universal family, all our brothers and sisters in Christ.

But not only does adoption give us a family, adoption makes us heirs of God. We will share in the abundance and wealth of our Heavenly Father. Sinclair Ferguson describes our inheritance this way:

According to the Law, as Paul knew, the firstborn son received a double inheritance, while all the others received a single portion (Deut. 21:17; cf. 2 Kings 2:9). But neither the Father nor the Son binds Himself to the limits of the Law. Paul declares: “[We are all] heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Do you see the implication? All that belongs to the last Adam is for us. As the early church fathers delighted in saying, Christ took what was ours so that we might receive what was His. All that is His is ours: “All things are yours:… the world or life or death, or things present or things to come-all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21-23).

Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (kindle edition, locations 1015-1019)

You may or may not have much in this life. But if you have been adopted into the family of God, you have all that belongs to Christ. As adopted heirs of the One True King, we are rich.

  • The blessing of adoption should make us grateful. God adopted us. He chose us to be part of his family. That is a glorious thought.
  • The blessing of adoption should make us joyful. We have God, and God has us. We can rejoice no matter our circumstances in life because we belong to the God who rules all things.
  • The blessing of adoption should make us evangelistic. God doesn’t want a small family. The bigger, the better. The more, the merrier. We should share the good news of Christ because all who repent and believe receive the gift of being children of God.
  • The blessing of adoption should make us generous. God owns everything, and as his children we inherit what he has. We can be generous with what he has blessed us with, for there is so much more to inherit.

Photo by Mayur Gala on Unsplash