Archives For Theology

In the Applied Theology Project, former seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their more than 90 years of combined teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to real life and ministry.

Knowing God as Creator, Redeemer, and Holy

The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level courses designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as Lord in all of life.

In this Essentials Course, we’re explaining and applying the definition of theology as “a study of God in Scripture to know God as Lord in all areas of life.” In this second lesson, our focus is on helping you learn how to see God as “Holy Creator and Gracious Redeemer of all things.

In this lesson, you’ll be equipped to:

  • Describe how creation encourages our trust in God
  • Explain how stories shape our understanding of God
  • Illustrate how God first revealed himself to Moses
  • Recognize how God reveals himself as our Redeemer
  • Summarize what the Bible means by God being holy
  • Explain how our holy God comes near to us in Jesus

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Knowing God as Creator, Redeemer, and Holy

By Steve Childers and John Frame 

1. Knowing God as Creator

A good place to begin our study of God is in the first book of the bible, Genesis.

In the first verse of Genesis we read the famous words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Genesis begins with creation as a magnificent act of God that reveals God to us as the creator of everything that exists.

Genesis was written by Moses after the exodus of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. This was a long time after God’s mighty act of creation. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Moses wrote Genesis for the benefit of the people of Israel during their hard pilgrimage in the wilderness between Egypt and entering the Promised Land.

These people did not need a definition of theology. They already knew God, as did their ancient forefathers for many generations. The Genesis creation story encouraged their trust in God by reminding them that the God who delivered them from their slavery in Egypt is the same God who created the heavens and the earth.

When God spoke to Moses, he revealed himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod 3:6).” These were their ancient patriarchs to whom God revealed himself in magnificent acts. How did God’s people in Moses’ generation come to know God’s mighty acts in previous generations before receiving the book of Genesis from Moses?

They learned primarily through the stories passed on to them from their forefathers that were faithfully preserved for them by God’s Holy Spirit to each succeeding generation. The Apostle Peter writes, “… men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21).” These stories greatly shaped their understanding of who God is based on what he had done in and through the lives of their ancestors.

2. Knowing God as Redeemer

But God revealed himself through Moses as not only the mighty Creator but also the mighty Redeemer.

By the time of Moses, Israel had been held in slavery in Egypt for four hundred years. Even though Israel cried out for God to deliver them from their cruel bondage, he didn’t. For four hundred years God was silent. Why did God not answer their heartfelt cries for help? Many of them must have doubted whether all the old stories they believed about God were true.

But God began answering their prayers by first appearing to Moses. We have a written record of this act of God in Exodus 3. It’s the famous account of how God appears to Moses in a burning bush that never burns up. We read, “He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, ‘I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned (Exod 3:2b-3).’”

After Moses discovers this strange phenomenon, he stops to take a closer look. When he does, God reveals himself to Moses as the deliverer, the redeemer of his people, saying:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Exod 3:7-8a).”

3. Knowing God as Holy

God revealed himself to Moses as being not only the mighty Creator and Redeemer, but also as being Holy.

When Moses approaches the burning bush, God first says to him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground (Exod 3:5).” God reveals himself to Moses as being so holy that even the ground near him is holy. How does Moses respond? He is utterly overwhelmed. “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God (Exod 3:6b).”

Later, the Scriptures teach that the Prophet Isaiah would have a similar experience as he comes near God’s holy presence (Is 6:1-5). When the disciples of Jesus saw his miracles they would sometimes shrink back from him with a renewed sense of how sinful they were in his holy presence. After Peter saw a miracle of Jesus, he fell down at his feet, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord (Luke 5:8).”

Because God is perfectly righteous and just, there is a great barrier between him as supremely holy and imperfect sinners like us. He is the one whose presence we dare not approach without great respect and awe. The Hebrew word for holy (qodesh) means separateness, set-apartness, and sacredness.

Many people misunderstand God’s holiness to mean that God is so separate from his creation that we cannot really know him or be near to him. This is why some believe that human language can’t even describe God accurately. We’ll study later how this misunderstanding of God separateness from his creation often leads to forms of Deism.

Despite the limitations of our abilities as creatures to fully comprehend God as our Creator, the bible teaches we can know definite things about God. And despite the limitations of human language, God uses it to reveal to us who he is and what he does in history. When Scripture reveals God to us as “high,” “exalted,” and “lifted up,” it is not presenting God to us as being far away from us so that we cannot know him or be near to him. It is revealing to us that God is King and Lord.

In a similar way we need to avoid the opposite danger of believing that God is so near to his creation that he becomes immersed in it and unable to be distinguished from it. We’ll study this more later as the historic error of Pantheism–the opposite danger of Deism. [1]

The Scriptures reveal God to us as always distinct from the world. He is the Holy, Creator and Redeemer King–and the world is his creation. But the good news is that our holy God came to be with us as his creatures, to be near us, especially in the person and work of Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit.


1 The concern is about a view of God’s transcendence that leads to forms of Deism and God’s immanence that leads to forms of Pantheism. He shares a similar concern regarding God’s incommunicable and communicable attributes, as we’ll see later.


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I’d like to introduce you to some of my friends and the ministry partners we serve, but I can’t use their photos because they’re serving in the underground church in China, facing persecution.

So this is a photo of one of our recent monthly secure video conference meetings with church leaders and seminary students in several Chinese cities who are taking a Pathway Learning course in church planting. The man in the photo is Moses, my translator, an ordained minister in Orlando, and part-time director of Pathway Learning’s curriculum development. 

The church in communist China is facing some of the most severe persecution in decades. In 2016, Pathway Learning began providing the essential training needed to equip Chinese leaders to develop strong, healthy churches that transform lives and communities in the face of great suffering.

I can show you this picture below taken in Chengdu China in December 2018 with pastor Wang Yi, one of the top national leaders of the underground church. He was taken into custody a few days after this photo was taken and is still in prison today for his faith. This is his third Christmas in prison.

Steve Childers with pastor Wang Yi in December 2018 just days before he was imprisoned. This is his third Christmas in prison for his faith.

But the good news is that the churches in the underground movement in China are continuing to flourish – even in the face of persecution and the Covid pandemic.

I haven’t been able to return to China since the last wave of persecution. But in God’s providence, because our online learning platform was already developed, Pathway Learning is continuing to equip these leaders and many more.

In 2020 we began a new partnership with one of the most influential seminaries serving the Chinese underground church with more than 600 students, mostly from mainland China.

This month we’ll complete our first pilot course in church planting, with more than 30 Chinese leaders using our innovative online platform that is designed for interactive learning in group cohorts. Last week the seminary president sent me this encouraging message:

Our use of Pathway Learning has been a great success. These leaders must normally study online alone … but now through their Pathway Learning courses they experience the joy of learning together, being equipped, growing, and serving in the same class as though in a physical seminary.

When you give to Pathway Learning, you help equip underserved church leaders with the training and tools they need to plant and develop churches among the persecuted church in China and around the world.

Give today, and bring lasting hope to those facing persecution for their faith.

For the King!

steve

Steven L. Childers
President and CEO, Pathway Learning

WAYS TO GIVE

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Give using your credit card through our secure online form

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Check by Regular Mail
Pathway Learning, P.O. Box 2062
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Your employer may also be able to double your gift. Please ask them.

Give a Gift of Stock
You may give securities either by transfer of the certificate of ownership or through account transfer arranged by your broker. In each case, you avoid the tax on any potential gain and receive a deduction for the full fair market value of securities. To give a gift of stock, email us at staff@pathwaylearning.org, call us at 407-682-6942, or write us at P.O. Box 2062, Winter Park, FL 32790.


We help underserved church leaders develop churches that transform lives and communities

In the Applied Theology Project, former seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their more than 90 years of combined teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to real life and ministry.

The term theology scares people. It sounds formidable, abstract, and academic. Many of us see it as disconnected from real life. As a result, we feel a tension between doctrine and practical living.

In this first lesson, we’ll learn how it’s helpful to understand that theology is a study of God in Scripture to know God – not just know about God. In this lesson, you’ll be equipped to:

  • Explain the concept of theology as the study of God
  • Describe how God demonstrates what he’s like in nature
  • Illustrate ways God reveals himself in acts of history
  • Demonstrate why God shows himself in Scripture
  • Summarize the reason why we should study theology
  • Distinguish between knowing God and knowing about God

CHOOSE YOUR LEARNING PATHWAY:
Read the Transcript Below
Listen to the Audio
Watch the Video
Take the Course


Knowing God Through a Study of Scripture

By Steve Childers and John Frame 

1. Theology is a study of God 

What is theology? The basic concept of theology is found in the meaning of the word. The first part of the word comes from the Greek word theos for God. The second part of word is from the Greek word logos, that can mean word, reason, account, or knowledge. So, theology can be defined as an account or study of God.

Like the study of any topic, the study of theology is greatly enhanced by defining key terms and concepts. So, throughout our study of theology, we’ll be carefully defining several terms and providing you with a growing glossary of terms you can use to help you along the way.    

This is especially true of terms not used in the bible. Even the word theology is not a word used in Scripture, but it’s still a word that can help us better understand what the bible teaches. Other terms like this include Trinity, general and special revelation, God’s transcendence, immanence, person, substance, being, nature, hermeneutics, exegesis, inerrancy, and a host of other words.

2. Theology is a study of God in Scripture

If theology is a study of God, that raises the next question, “Where does God reveal himself so we can study him?” We need a more precise definition of theology. God reveals himself to us in three primary ways.

a. God reveals himself in nature.
One of the ways God reveals himself to us is in his creation, through nature. In Psalm 19: 1-2, we read,
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.

When we look up into the sky on a star-lit night or look down into a microscope at living cells, we see masterful design and majestic beauty that proclaim the glory of a masterful and majestic designer. The Apostle Paul refers to how God reveals himself in creation, saying: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made (Rom 1:20).” This revelation of God in nature is called general revelation. We’ll study this in much greater depth later.

b. God reveals himself in acts
But God does much more than reveal himself in the beauty and wonder of his creation. The eternal God also makes his invisible presence visible by sometimes breaking through into our temporal world. Theologians use the Latin phase “Magnalia Dei” to refer to these magnificent acts of God breaking through in history. The writer of the book of Hebrews refers to these magnificent acts by telling us that God spoke to his ancient people “Long ago, at many times and in many ways… (Heb1:1a).”

We learn from Scripture that God sometimes reveals himself directly and personally to individuals. Other times, He reveals himself by dreams, visions, and miracles. The Apostle Paul teaches that God writes his law on our hearts so that our consciences will bear witness to him (Rom 2:15, 2 Cor. 4:2, 1 Tim 1:5). One of the primary ways God revealed himself to his people in Old Testament times was through the prophets of Israel. Hebrews 1:1 tells us “…God spoke to our fathers by the prophets (Heb 1:1b).”

But, the ultimate act in history, through which God reveals himself most fully, is in the first century when God reveals himself through the person and work of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 1:2 we read, “…in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”  In the person and work of Jesus Christ, God reveals himself like at no other time in history.

In Hebrews 1:3 we read, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…” This means that when we see the power, wisdom, and goodness of Jesus Christ, we are seeing the power, wisdom, and goodness of God. Jesus said, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him (John 14:7).”

c. God reveals himself in Scripture
Since we could not be there to experience first-hand all these magnificent works of God in history, God, by his Spirit, has graciously recorded his acts and words for us in the ancient Scriptures. We’ll study later how God gave us the Scriptures. But for now, our focus is on how theology is a study of God’s revelation of himself to us in the Scriptures.

3. Theology is a study of God in Scripture to know God

Now we come to the important question, Why do we study theology? The word logos, from which we get the second part of the word theo-logy, conveys not only the idea of the study of God, but also the knowledge of God that is the result of that study. This brings us to a fuller definition of theology as a study of God in Scripture to know God.
But how can we, as mere creatures, know the creator? Isn’t it arrogant, or even delusional, even to claim we can know God?

Here we raise another foundational pillar in our study of God. The Scriptures teach that God is incomprehensible. Through the prophet Isaiah, God declares: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isa 55:8-9).” In the New Testament, the Apostle echoes this when he writes, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways (Rom 11:34-35)!”

Although the Scriptures teach God is incomprehensible, they also teach that God is knowable. Because God is incomprehensible does not mean he is unknowable. Of course, we cannot know God exhaustively and completely. Only God knows himself at that level. But we can still know God. The Apostle Paul describes his knowledge now in comparison what his knowledge will be like in the age to come, by writing: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Cor 13:12).” Theologian Herman Bavinck writes,

While our knowledge of him is accommodated and limited, it is no less real, true, and trustworthy. As God reveals himself, so he truly is. His revealed attributes truly reveal his nature.[1]

Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and prayed to God the Father on behalf of all his followers, saying, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).”

The knowledge of God Jesus refers to here is the very essence of eternal life. This knowledge is not merely knowing about God, or about godly behaviors. It is knowing God like you would know another person. This is a personal knowledge of God that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Theology is a study of God in Scripture to know God. We study God’s revelation of his magnificent acts and words in Scripture, not merely to understand Christian doctrine academically, but to know, love, serve, and honor God personally.


Bavinck, H. (2008). Reformed Dogmatics. God and Creation, Baker Academic, p 95


We help underserved church leaders develop churches that transform lives and communities

WAYS TO GIVE

Online
Give using your credit card or bank draft through our secure online form

Phone
Call us at 407-682-6942

Mail
Send a check:
Pathway Learning, P.O. Box 2062
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Matching Gift
Your employer may also be able to double your gift.

Give a Gift of Stock
You may give securities either by transfer of the certificate of ownership or through account transfer arranged by your broker. In each case, you avoid the tax on any potential gain and receive a deduction for the full fair market value of securities. To give a gift of stock, email us at staff@pathwaylearning.org, call us at 407-682-6942, or write us at P.O. Box 2062, Winter Park, FL 32790.