The following is a guest post by Tyler Recker.
This post could easily be titled “Why Theology Is Important for Students”. To that end, I must clarify that I think students should develop a biblically derived understanding of who God is (theology) and how to interpret the Bible (hermeneutics).
Most likely, when I say that “students need to learn who God is”, there is no disagreement. But when I say that “students need to learn theology” (theology is literally “the study of God”), some will reply that is not practical and too academic.
I would respond that saying that “students need to know who God is” is the same as saying “students need to learn theology”. While there is pushback to saying using the word “theology”, I would echo the often heard mantra that “Everyone has theology. It’s just that some people have bad theology.” If you have a thought about what God is like, that is a theological thought. If you think that God doesn’t exist, that is a theological thought (even though it’s a false one).
So, everyone has theology.
Furthermore, everyone has some kind of hermeneutic (the way by which you interpret the Bible). If you read any part of the Bible and try to understand what it is saying then you are using a hermeneutic.
We believe that students should be taught to study and understand the Bible, therefore we believe students should be taught how to interpret the Bible. To this end, we teach sound hermeneutical principles (usually without saying the word “hermeneutics”), so that students respect and rightly treat the Word of God.
Practically, we have done this by teaching through methods of how to interpret the Bible. We usually employ the 4-part system taught by Duvall and Hays in “Grasping God’s Word”, wherein the reader seeks to 1) Understand the text in the biblical context, 2) Understand the differences and similarities between the biblical context and the modern context, 3) Formulate timeless principles from the text (about the character of God, about believers, etc.), and 4) Seek to apply those principles to the modern context where they live.
The American church has often erred in application because they have failed to understand the text in its original context, and have skipped too quickly, and unthinkingly to application.
Furthermore, we model this on Wednesday night by preaching expository sermons through books of the Bible. In doing so, we seek to walk students through a passage of Scripture showing clearly how we derive our points (or “timeless principles”) from Scripture and then offering some concepts about how that might or how that does apply to their lives.
We hope that through this focus on teaching, students will themselves be able to rightly handle the Word of God. To us, this is the spiritual equivalent of that old phrase “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”
Likewise, when it comes to theology, it is only natural that when you read something about God in one part of the Bible, you try to make it make sense with what you have read about Him elsewhere in the Bible. It is at this point, that many people will accuse the theologian of imposing their philosophical ideas on the text. In fact, seeking to synthesize what Scripture says is really both unavoidable and necessary.
Now, I would plead with you from Deuteronomy 29:29:
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
The Bible tells us that we should not try to understand things that God has not revealed or things beyond the extent of God’s revelation. However, it tells us that we are remiss if we don’t seek to understand the things that He has, in His grace, revealed to us.
Some folks who don’t like the idea of teaching students theology don’t like the idea of theology. They prefer a sentimental Jesus who is their buddy and delivers pithy statements of encouragement, as opposed to the biblically revealed majesty of God that is revealed in human form in King Jesus.
All of that is a euphemistic way of saying that “they suppress the truth” about God (Romans 1:18).
As I have argued many times before, students who study calculus, chemistry, Shakespeare, and economics can and need to study deeply about their God.
Students need to be equipped to handle the sufferings of this life with something more than “It’ll be alright”. Students need to handle the identity issues of life with something more than a superficial understanding of their identity in Christ. They need to know the riches of His grace to sinners. Furthermore, students need to understand what the Bible teaches about our radical depravity so they can know how to overcome sin (by the Spirit) and know the depth to which sin has tainted everything.
That is why we go “deep” with students, and that is why we will continue to do so.