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Professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their almost 90 years of experience (Frame 49 Systematic Theology, Childers 22 Practical Theology & 15 in church planting and pastoring) to help you apply theology to life and ministry. Study the 8 foundations Scripture provides for developing sound theology.
Because the Bible is God’s inspired Word which includes an understandable and consistent set of truths, we can understand it on our own, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. So, we must learn to test everything, including the great ecumenical creeds, the historical confessions of faith, and our church’s doctrinal statements by studying the Scripture.
Like Martin Luther, we must learn to test everything, including the ancient creeds, confessions, and our church’s doctrinal statements by studying the Scriptures.
There are eight biblical and theological truths that are foundational for developing sound theology. They’re represented in the diagram by eight pillars. Let’s begin by looking at the biblical foundation.
Our definition of theology is the application of God’s revelation in Scripture to all areas of life. So the role of the Bible in developing sound theology is essential.
To apply the Bible, we need to know the Bible. And to know the Bible, we need to study it. The Apostle Paul writes to his disciple Timothy, “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).
Notice how the Bible commends the people in the city of Berea who heard Paul’s teaching: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
Following the example of the Bereans, we must test everything, including the great ecumenical creeds and historical confessions of faith, by studying the Scriptures.
The Westminster Confession (1646) warns about the danger of placing more value on the confessions and creeds from church councils than on the Bible:
“All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore, they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice; but to be used as a help in both.”
Martin Luther reflects this in his famous statement: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
Likewise, Calvin echoes this sentiment: “Be this as it may, we shall never be able to distinguish between contradictory and dissenting councils, which have been many, unless we weigh them all in that balance for men and angels, I mean, the word of God.”
Any form of traditionalism that demands a total alignment with a theological tradition, divorced from a higher commitment to sola Scriptura, can lead to spiritual ruin.
However, it’s not enough to study and to understand Scripture. We must also learn how to apply it. Sola Scriptura refers not only to the authority and clarity of the Bible but also to its sufficiency and application to all of life. The Westminster Confession describes it this way:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.
Paul writes to Timothy about the sufficiency of Scripture: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16).
Likewise, Peter describes the fullness of God’s revelation as including “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3).
The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture affirms that the Bible clearly teaches, either explicitly or implicitly, all God’s truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life.
This doesn’t mean the Bible has all truth. For example, the Scriptures don’t explain all the laws and principles of natural science such as physics, chemistry, and biology. The Bible is not a scientific textbook, but where it speaks to science, it speaks truthfully.
The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture doesn’t discourage us from learning truth from the natural world. Instead, a biblical view of truth acknowledges all truth is God’s truth. If something is true, it’s because it is an accurate description of something God reveals or creates.
The fifth century theologian Augustine writes: “Nay, but let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master…” Calvin agrees with this when he states: “All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God.”
Therefore, we can and should recognize the riches of God’s truth revealed in his creation. But we must also affirm sola Scriptura, that the Bible alone gives us all the truth we need for our salvation and spiritual life.
Because the Bible is God’s inspired Word which includes an understandable and consistent set of truths, we can understand it on our own, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless, affirming the sufficiency of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean we don’t need pastors and teachers. In Ephesians 4:11-13, the Apostle Paul writes:
It was [Christ] who gave some to be … pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all … become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Although the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit can give us salvation and spiritual life, God gives us pastors and teachers to help us mature spiritually in ways we could not without them.
The writer of Hebrews challenges his readers who failed to become mature through their teachers’ instruction:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food … But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Heb. 5:12-14).
Our goal in this series is to help you understand the biblical balance between the sufficiency of Scripture and the need for teachers to help you mature in Christ.
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