Preparing For Theology 2: The Heart and Mind of A Disciple
Healthy Theology is only available if we are willing to grow and to hear things that challenge our thinking, and open our hearts. This means that a lover of God, and student of Scripture, has an open attitude toward learning. The word disciple literally means learner; so when we are called to be disciples, we are actually being asked to be learners of Jesus.
In fact, the Bible often tells us that God’s people are open to hear, learn, and grow. In Jeremiah 4:22 and Hosea 4:6, God is distressed that his people are foolish and are being destroyed because they haven’t opened themselves to learning. When Jesus confronts the scribes and Pharisees, he makes a play on words that is quite interesting. The Scribes believed that the law was their “yoke” (the heavy wooden beam that kept two oxen on the straight and narrow), and they were called to learn from “it” so that they could find true Sabbath rest. However, Jesus called them to “take MY yoke” upon them and to “learn of me”, so that they could find “rest” for their souls (Matthew 11:28-29). In John 6:45, Jesus says that all who have “learned” from the Father come to Jesus. The Bible declares that a group of Christians in Berea were more “noble” because they searched the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was teaching was actually true (Acts 17:11). After Paul lists all the wrong things the world thinks, he concludes, “but you didn’t learn Christ that way”, implying that “learning Christ” leads to a different view of life (Eph 4:20). And, in agreement with this new view of life, We are called to keep doing the things we have learned (Phil 4:9).
We can’t just repeat true things by memory; we are called to understand what we believe (Neh 8:1-3, 7-8; Hebrews 5:12). On several occasions, Jesus faced an audience that tried to twist Bible teaching in order to affirm wrong-headed ideas. So he told his audience to go home and “learn what this means”, or to learn the true or deeper meaning of things taught in the Bible, because if they had known the true meaning of God’s Word, they would have acted better (Matt 9:13; Matt 12:7).
To avoid being like the scribes, we need to realize there is danger in wanting to only hear what is already agreeable. Paul said that there would come a time when people would not enjoy healthy teaching, but instead would rally around teachers who tell them what they already believe, or what they already want them to teach (2 Timothy 4:3). How could we possibly grow if that is our attitude? Teachers should not seek to please people’s wishes, but to please Christ (Gal 1:10); they are not your enemy for telling you the truth (Gal 4:16). But this means we must be willing to hear new things that challenge us if we ever wish to grow. There is a big difference between child-like faith, and childish faith.
There is a big difference between child-like faith, and childish faith.
God demands that we be mature in our understanding of healthy, vibrant teaching (Ephesians 4:13-15). It is worth noting that “learning” is not always some deep and academic sort of thing. Sometimes the most simple and central truths are hidden from the wise and learned, and seen most clearly in the faith of little children (Luke 10:21). Just as the scribes and Pharisees (who were the preachers and Bible teachers of the day) failed to see the basic truth in Jesus Christ, even today some of the most heady intellectual people can be guilty of “always learning” yet “never coming to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:7). However, there is a big difference between child-like faith, and childish faith. The former is trusting even in those things we don’t fully understand; the latter is naïve, simple, and so basic that we never grow in it.
It’s also true that, according to Paul, right living flows out of right thinking about God (a point William Lane Craig has made.) You can see this, for example, in the book of Ephesians. Paul has 43 commands in that book—rules that God expects you to do or follow. But out of 6 chapters, 42 of those commands are relegated to the last three chapters! That shows that for Paul, proper actions or requirements only make sense after you get a healthy dose of who God is and what He has done for you. Healthy teaching brings about healthy action; to get this backwards can create a narrow and forced understanding of God as simply the one who “gives me rules to follow”. That is anything but healthy.
The Bible also commands us to love God with our minds (Matthew 22:37-38). It is simply wrong to assume that loving God is entirely about warm fuzzy feelings in your stomach, or doing whatever feels right. When John wrote his Gospel, and sought for one word to introduce Jesus Christ, he chose the word logos (translated as “the Word” in our Bibles). He could have chosen a term that means “ultimate feeling” (since God feels strongly, and much greater than we do); but he chose a term that means “ultimately rational”. He says that in Christ, everything makes sense. So, we are called to love God by using our heads, reasoning as well as we can, and seeking to believe what is true, not just what feels right.
Since we are supposed to think right things about God, we must be careful not to develop a combative spirit that can creep in when we focus on knowledge. Paul tells us to avoid unnecessary quarrels (2 Timothy 2:16, 23). There are times when a servant of the Lord must be willing to say what needs to be said. It’s not fair to say that disciples never get into controversy; Jesus and his disciples certainly did. But we are called to be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves. If we spend most of our time fighting over unnecessary things, how will anyone believe us when we want to talk about important things? If we fight over unnecessary things, will anyone listen when we talk of important things? tell the world
A Special Word of Warning to Teachers (like myself)
Leaders in a church are called to hold firm to healthy teaching (Titus 1:9), serving as examples to all Christians. This means there is a special role for teachers (Ezra 7:9-10, 25; Neh 8:8; Acts 8:30-31; Rom 15:14-16), which is why not everyone is called to this task (Ephesians 4:11; James 3:1). For example, teachers who make following Jesus harder than necessary are condemned (Matt 23:13; Acts 15:10), as are those who do not know what they so confidently claim to know (1 Timothy 1:7). When teachers make “the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor 11:3) too convoluted, they fail to be learners or disciples of Jesus themselves.
(photocredit: Caleb Roenigk)
Nathan Guy believes the passionate pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty culminates in Jesus Christ. He received formal training in philosophy, theology, biblical studies, and cultural & political ethics from Oxford, Cambridge, and the LSE. Nathan lives in Searcy, Arkansas, where he teaches in the College of Bible & Ministry at Harding University.