RSS

Tag Archives: theology

A sound church: systematic theology

Just to get our bearings, let’s review where we are in our series. I’m addressing the question, “What does God look for in a church?” We began by observing that a sound church will be one that looks to the Bible alone as the final authority for everything that it does. We then saw a church should feature, as a first priority, preaching and teaching that attempt to clearly explain the meaning of the Bible. And most recently, I’ve argued that a good church will give careful attention to the meaning of the text by placing it in its context.

The context of the Bible is its theology, and theology is of two kinds. The first we addressed last week: the Bible, from beginning to end, forms one major story. This story, as we see illustrated in so many of our Christmas hymns, is ultimately about the kingship of Jesus. Understanding a passage of Scripture rightly involves, at the very least, knowing where it falls in the biblical story. This kind of theology, with its emphasis on the story of the Bible, we call biblical theology.

The second kind of theology is not organized as a narrative, but rather by topics. If we ask, for instance, what the Bible teaches about salvation, or angels, or the end times, we’re asking questions about doctrine. The theology of the Bible that is concerned with questions of doctrine is called systematic theology. Although most people assume that theology is a dry and impractical thing, systematic theology ought to be deeply important to anyone who takes the Bible seriously as being the Word of God. Almost always, when we encounter a verse in the Bible that addresses a particular topic, there are also other verses that speak to the issue as well. If we want to get a good grasp of the Bible, we cannot merely pick and choose verses that support our own positions; instead, we need to see how the Bible as a whole addresses our questions. To do this is to do systematic theology.

We can illustrate the importance of theology this way: come this time of year, we give our attention to the birth of Jesus Christ. By why is this birth so important? As soon as we ask this question, we are doing theology. Here is one answer to this question, from John 1: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” That is to say, when Jesus was born, God was in human flesh. To see this baby was to see God. The implications of this theology are truly life-changing.

Advertisements
 
Comments Off on A sound church: systematic theology

Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Newspaper Article, Pastoral, Theology

 

Tags: , ,

“Might Makes Right” and Christian Ethics

Does might make right? The question is one of ethics: who gets to say, in an ultimate sense, what is right and what is wrong? By what standard are we to know what is right?

People advocate a variety of answers to these questions. For some, what brings pleasure is the standard for what is right. For others, the measure is pragmatic: what works is what is right. Yet others insist that ethics are determined by whomever is strongest; this is the claim that might makes right.

The notion that might makes right is objectionable to most folks because it makes morality relative in a way that we find unacceptable. Typically, a single counterexample exposes the problem: if Hitler’s forces had prevailed in the Second World War, most insist that Hitler’s values would nonetheless be correctly judged corrupt and reprehensible. And his values would be no less worthy of contempt if, having conquered the world, he would have reigned without challenge until the end of the age.

The twist in the discussion came for me when I was told about a skeptic who suggested that the Christian position is equivalent to the claim that might makes right. And this objection seems plausible: the Bible clearly presents God as uniquely mighty, and as the one who will judge the living and the dead (Rev 20:11-15). He blesses those who do what he has commanded, and he condemns, for all eternity and in great torment, all those who will not do what he has dictated. Isn’t God simply the most egregious example of might making right? And if so, and if it is false that might makes right, shouldn’t a rational person object to the Christian message?

Now, as a Christian, I have to confess my belief in God the Father Almighty. The Bible says that “our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps 115:3). Denying the mightiness of God is no option for the Christian. That said, Scripture does not teach that God arbitrarily dictates what is right and wrong. Rather, moral standards are determined by God’s own unchanging character. In other words, it is not God’s mere mightiness that permits him to say what is right, but the fact that his character is wholly good.

But I think there’s an even more interesting reply to this objection. Suppose that Hitler does win, and does reign unchallenged until the universe ends. And further suppose that there is no justice awaiting him after his death. In that kind of universe, wasn’t he right? He won, didn’t he? But few of us would want to concede this point.

It seems to me that if we want to deny that mere might makes right, we must believe that the right must not only be mighty, but almighty. Otherwise, there is no justice in the universe, and there is no value in holding to the right. Without ultimate justice in the universe, then might really does equal right. The only safeguard against might making right is the existence of a right that ultimately overcomes all that is not right.

Now, those who object to Christianity will find the remaining truth (that God is still almighty) no less comfortable. For the if the right remains constant despite the objections of even the mighty, it will be the case that, in the end of things, we will stand before the Judge who never fails to do justice.

 
Comments Off on “Might Makes Right” and Christian Ethics

Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Apologetics, Newspaper Article

 

Tags: , ,