Monday, June 4, 2007

A look at theology

I thought I'd share some posts from my courses at Regent. This was in response to the question of if we were to write a systematic theology book, what would be essential doctrines. Below is my response.

In the West, we love to recreate the wheel. In the “three ecumenical creeds,” [1] we have a thorough systematic theology. The most concise being the Apostles’ Creed, followed by the Nicene Creed which fleshes out the Apostles’ Creed and lastly the Athanasian Creed, which gives a detailed defense of the doctrine of the trinity.

Focusing on the Apostles’ Creed, it can be divided into three sections: the first concerning God the Father and his role as creator. The second article concerns God the Son and his role as redeemer. The third article is on the Holy Spirit and being made holy.

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism provides a simple explanation of each article of the creed. The Small Catechism was written for the teaching of children, hence its simplicity. In his commentary of the work of the Holy Spirit, Luther sums up what is needed to come to Christ, pre-salvation essentials, so to speak:

I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith…[2]

To respond to God’s gracious gift, we do not have to know and believe an immense amount of doctrine. The understanding and knowledge follows the acceptance.

We could indeed have a before and after salvation list. Oftentimes, we like to complicate what someone must “do” to get saved, but the work has already been done and nothing can be added to it. In this vein, my coworkers and I thought and prayed long and hard in the context of witness to Muslims about this subject when I lived in the Holy Land. Distillingthe the faith down to its essentials, unwrapping it from its cultural packaging, the list becomes quite short. “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). That is simply it.

Here in the Creed you have the entire essence, will, and work of God exquisitely depicted in very brief but rich words. In them are comprehended all our wisdom, which surpasses all human wisdom, understanding, and reason. Although the whole world has sought painstakingly to learn what God might be and what he might think and do, yet it has never succeeded in the least. But here you have everything in richest measure.[3]

After salvation, one can go into the details of the doctrines of redemption, the role of scripture, the trinity etc. To be considered orthodox, one must correctly understand the deity and humanity of Christ, his redemptive work on the behalf of lost sinners, the trinity, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, Christ’s return and the final judgment. All these flow from God's Word written and revealed.

[1] Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 19.

[2] Luther, Martin, Small Catechism in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 1162.

[3] Kolb and Wengert, eds., 439.

The Bible. New International Version.

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