Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative

Got this new book by Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary Philadelphia as a throw-in to get my recent purchase from WTS over the magical $40 mark to get shipping for a buck. Really glad I did. Excellent little book that only took me two hours to read. Including the intro and forward it is about 125 pages.

Now I of course disagree with Dr. Trueman on some of his thoughts on free-market capitalism and gun-control and universal healthcare. Though I agree wholeheartedly with the negative side that he notes on this and believe that only through a Christian worldview can it be kept in check. Even more to the point Biblical Law looks a lot more like a “nanny-state” than most conservatives would like to think and or believe.

On another front his description of politics in America is spot-on (to use a British colloquialism). He does a good job I think in describing the many contradictions on the Left and the Right when it comes to ideology. He takes a not-so-veiled shot at Fox News and its commentators that are featured at 5:00pm and 8:00pm. His criticism of Fox comes from two angles. First its founder Rupert Murdoch hardly espouses the policies that the news network’s idealogical mouthpieces preach. Secondly is the irony of the “family values” network’s use of highly attractive and scantily clad anchor babes (to use a Limbaugh phrase) as well as the need for Fox News to belittle the intelligence of its watchers by reducing every issue to a Manichean “liberal = evil” and “conservative = good”. For those of you wondering he does take full aim at MSNBC and Olberman/Maddow as well.

Overall an excellent book and well worth the money and effort.

You can find the work here at WTS Books.

Carl Trueman on Redemptive-Historical Preaching

From Luther on the Marks of a Good Preacher

I thought of this a few weeks ago when visiting at another church.  At the time when the sermon was meant to be preached, the pastor gave a fine lecture on the Bible a good, redemptive historical exposition of an Old Testament passage.  The congregation waited politely for the abracadabra-hey-presto! moment when, like a bunny from a magician’s top hat, Jesus is pulled as if by magic from the chosen  Old Testament passage.  And, hey presto, there he was, right on cue, where he’d never been seen before! — though there were no gasps of amazement, as the congregation had, I presumed, seen the trick performed a thousand times before with other texts.  The old `I bet you never saw Jesus there before’ gets a bit predictable and tiresome when its the only application, I guess. This was truly a lecture and no sermon.

More Wisdom From Carl Trueman

Minority Report: The Way of the

Christian Academic

Carl Trueman

Carl Trueman is Academic Dean, Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.My guess is that many of the people who read Themelios either are, or have aspirations to be, teachers in the world of Christian theological academia. Thus, it seems apposite once in a while to reflect briefly upon what exactly this calling entails.

The first thing to note in this regard is that being a Christian academic is no more virtuous a calling than any other. What makes a calling Christian, first and foremost, is not where it sits in the hierarchy of vocations as perceived by the Christian community. That was a medieval notion, where priests and monks performed functions that were considered inherently holy, while the rest of the rabble made do with inferior callings—you know, tilling the soil, growing food, raising children, and other such mundane and superfluous tasks. Luther rode a coach and horses through this kind of thinking with his understanding of justification, his reconfiguring of the place and power of the sacraments, and the shattering of the wall between the sacred and the secular. We evangelicals are heirs of Luther on this, and it should be central to our thinking about the calling of academia that we do not see it as an opportunity to make ourselves seem greater or better than others. Generally, those who have Ph.D.s and teaching jobs have enjoyed greater opportunities than others; thus they should see their calling as one which enables them to serve better, not to lord it over others.

There are tangible contexts in which this can be expressed. Most basic is the role of the local church. What role does the Ph.D. student or the professor play in the local church? Do they consider their role restricted, for example, to teaching the adult Sunday school or leading a Bible study, such that other duties—less ‘sacred’ callings—like the clean-up team or the tea rota or the nursery are considered off-limits and infra dig? On the contrary, the church is the church, and it is a privilege for anyone to be involved at any level in any of her manifold activities. We Protestants have, in a sense, regressed to the Middle Ages with our view that certain tasks (the ones involving brainpower and intellectual qualifications) are somehow more important than others. Just try teaching Sunday School in a classroom that’s filthy and full of litter. A Ph.D. or a place in a graduate program does not exempt you from getting your hands literally dirty for the Lord.

In addition, such involvement in the everyday tasks of the church also helps to ground theology in real life. For example, teaching Sunday school to young children can be both humbling and challenging: humbling, because sometimes young children ask in all innocence some of the most profound and searching theological questions to which the greatest minds might struggle to respond; and challenging because communicating theological truth to young minds can make exacting demands upon both our theological knowledge and our communication skills which cannot be experienced anywhere else; indeed, I have found my poor theology and poor communication skills to have been more ruthlessly exposed in the junior SS class than in the doctoral seminar. And, of course, teaching kids can help to keep us humble: they do not understand academic qualifications, but they do understand boring, irrelevant, and pretentious—and they punish such unmercifully.

The second thing to note is that the title ‘scholar’ is not one that you should ever apply to yourself, and its current profusion among the chatterati on the blogs is a sign of precisely the kind of arrogance and hubris against which we all need to guard ourselves. Call me old-fashioned, but to me the word ‘scholar’ has an honorific ring. It is something that others give to you when, and only when, you have made a consistent and outstanding contribution to a particular scholarly field (and, no, completion of a Ph.D. does not count). To be blunt, the ability to set up your own blog site and having nothing better to do with your time than warble on incessantly about how clever you are and how idiotic are all those with whom you disagree—well, that does not actually make you eligible to be called a scholar. On the contrary, it rather qualifies you to be a self-important nincompoop, and the self-referential use of the title by so many of that ilk is at best absurd, at worst obnoxious.

Third, in training to be a Christian academic, it is important to realize a couple of facts that are part of the universal experience of all Christians engaged in higher theological study. First, at times you will undoubtedly lose to your supervisor in arguments on matters of central importance. That goes almost without saying. What is crucial is to understand that the fact that you may not be able to beat your supervisor in an argument may not mean that he or she is right and you are wrong. It may mean that; but it could also indicate simply that they know more and are better skilled in argument than you. That is, of course, one of the reasons you are studying under them: to learn the hows and whys of scholarship. So don’t despair the first time you lose such an engagement, and don’t simply throw your faith away at the first sign of difficulty. That brings me to the second point: perseverance. Nobody ever claimed that engaging one’s mind and applying it to the deepest things of the faith was ever going to be easy. In fact, it adds just one more dimension to the numerous temptations to idolatry and infidelity: the worship of the mind, or the supervisor, or the scholarly consensus, or even of a particular idea or set of ideas for their own sake. The biblical student faces critical, textual and theological questions every day; the historian faces questions of relativism and epistemology; the ethics student faces questions of morality and pragmatism. Sufficient to the discipline are the intellectual nightmares contained therein! The only way to resist such temptations is by hard work. Don’t waste time by reading the second-best book on any subject; read the best. Don’t be taken in by rhetorical tricks such as ‘Nobody believes that anymore!’ Try to establish what the arguments are, and then see how they have been addressed in the past and how they are addressed in the present. Prayer is important, but it is no substitute for hard work and deep reading and reflection on knotty problems.

Finally, to return to the local church, make sure you are involved in the local church and, when you are there, you sit under the word in listening submission, not over the word in judgment. Endless mischief has been done in churches by those who have some formal theological training and yet who think they have never been given the recognition or the strokes which they deserve. They sit in church not so much to be under the word as to rate the pastor’s sermon, assess his theology, offer him oh-so-helpful criticism as to how he might improve his performance or how he should (i.e. how they would) have preached the text. Ultimately, such people are merely divisive, and they are so because their concern is not to have themselves checked by the word of God, or to see the congregation built up in its knowledge of God; rather, it is to see themselves puffed above others, and their theological knowledge, whether real or assumed, is simply the means to this end. Real theologians know not only that they have been given their gifts for service of others but also that they themselves are still sinners, saved only by grace, and dependent upon God’s word for their daily spiritual sustenance. An emphasis upon basic daily obedience, prayer, private Bible reading, and weekly attendance at church where the word is read and preached and where fellowship with other saints can take place might seem awfully mundane; but without these things, the Christian is deprived of the very oxygen of the spiritual life. Indeed, one might add to this that the accountability that church membership involves is also critical, for it not only makes the Christian academic connect with other people but also holds the individual to a level of corporate accountability before the saints as a whole.

The calling of a Christian academic is a high one, for anyone charged with the teaching of God’s truth will, as the Bible tells us, be held to a higher level of accountability than others. The path is marked with difficulties and challenges; but none are insurmountable, and the basic disciplines of the Christian life are in fact more, not less, important and useful. You want to be a Christian academic? Work hard, pray, read your Bible, and go to church.

“What Can Miserable Christians Sing?”

“What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” by Carl R. Trueman

“Having experienced — and generally appreciated — worship across the whole evangelical spectrum, from Charismatic to Reformed — I am myself less concerned here with the form of worship than I am with its content. Thus, I would like to make just one observation: the psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, have almost entirely dropped from view in the contemporary Western evangelical scene. I am not certain about why this should be, but I have an instinctive feel that it has more than a little to do with the fact that a high proportion of the psalter is taken up with lamentation, with feeling sad, unhappy, tormented, and broken.

In modern Western culture, these are simply not emotions which have much credibility: sure, people still feel these things, but to admit that they are a normal part of one’s everyday life is tantamount to admitting that one has failed in today’s health, wealth, and happiness society. And, of course, if one does admit to them, one must neither accept them nor take any personal responsibility for them: one must blame one’s parents, sue one’s employer, pop a pill, or check into a clinic in order to have such dysfunctional emotions soothed and one’s self-image restored.

Now, one would not expect the world to have much time for the weakness of the psalmists’ cries. It is very disturbing, however, when these cries of lamentation disappear from the language and worship of the church. Perhaps the Western church feels no need to lament — but then it is sadly deluded about how healthy it really is in terms of numbers, influence and spiritual maturity. Perhaps — and this is more likely — it has drunk so deeply at the well of modern Western materialism that it simply does not know what to do with such cries and regards them as little short of embarrassing. Yet the human condition is a poor one — and Christians who are aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart and are looking for a better country should know this.

A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party — a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals. Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is — or at least should be — all about health, wealth, and happiness silently corrupted the content of our worship? Few Christians in areas where the church has been strongest over recent decades — China, Africa, Eastern Europe – would regard uninterrupted emotional highs as normal Christian experience.

Indeed, the biblical portraits of believers give no room to such a notion. Look at Abraham, Joseph, David, Jeremiah, and the detailed account of the psalmists’ experiences. Much agony, much lamentation, occasional despair — and joy, when it manifests itself — is very different from the frothy triumphalism that has infected so much of our modern Western Christianity. In the psalms, God has given the church a language which allows it to express even the deepest agonies of the human soul in the context of worship. Does our contemporary language of worship reflect the horizon of expectation regarding the believer’s experience which the psalter proposes as normative? If not, why not? Is it because the comfortable values of Western middle-class consumerism have silently infiltrated the church and made us consider such cries irrelevant, embarrassing, and signs of abject failure?

I did once suggest at a church meeting that the psalms should take a higher priority in evangelical worship than they generally do — and was told in no uncertain terms by one indignant person that such a view betrayed a heart that had no interest in evangelism. On the contrary, I believe it is the exclusion of the experiences and expectations of the psalmists from our worship — and thus from our horizons of expectation — which has in a large part crippled the evangelistic efforts of the church in the West and turned us all into spiritual pixies.

By excluding the cries of loneliness, dispossession, and desolation from its worship, the church has effectively silenced and excluded the voices of those who are themselves lonely, dispossessed, and desolate, both inside and outside the church. By so doing, it has implicitly endorsed the banal aspirations of consumerism, generated an insipid, trivial and unrealistically triumphalist Christianity, and confirmed its impeccable credentials as a club for the complacent. In the last year, I have asked three very different evangelical audiences what miserable Christians can sing in church. On each occasion my question has elicited uproarious laughter, as if the idea of a broken-hearted, lonely, or despairing Christian was so absurd as to be comical — and yet I posed the question in all seriousness. Is it any wonder that British evangelicalism, from the Reformed to the Charismatic, is almost entirely a comfortable, middle-class phenomenon?”

–Carl R. Trueman, from “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” in The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Christian Focus: 2004) pp. 158-160.

Pastor As Theologian Part III of III

Part 3 of 3 of Carl Trueman‘s thoughts that I see as a call to all who see Pastors as Theologians.

Link

In a way this brings me back to the points with which I started. You want to integrate your faith with your studies? It simply cannot be done in the purely academic environment of the university because the modern university in its very essence is designed to reject the kind of integration for which you seek. It can only be done when theology is given its proper place within the church, within the worshipping community. And that is why it is not just a matter of principled Christian obedience that you are actively involved in a local church fellowship; it is also a matter of sanctified common sense if you wish to pursue your university studies with true Christian zeal.

Why is this? Because church is the place where you will be reminded again and again of what it really is that you are studying and how it affects you. You may debate sin in a theology class, but in a sermon you will be told something you will never hear in a university lecture theatre: that you are yourself a sinner, intimately involved in the very thing you talked about so abstractly at the seminar. You might talk about atonement with your supervisor; but only the preacher will tell you that Christ died for you. You might study eschatology for an essay assignment, but only in church will you take the Lord’s Supper, remembering that you do this until he comes again in glory. In other words, you need not only to supplement the liberal stuff your lecturers teach you with sound, orthodox evangelical theology; you also need to place yourself in an environment where the indifference to and distance from real life that academic theological study engenders can be alleviated. And that place is church.

I hope this prospect excites you. When you hear on Sunday that you worship the God who rules over history, who is sovereign, who is powerful to save, and yet who stoops to take flesh himself, to care for the poor and the needy – does it not make your heart burn within you when you come to deal with issues of theology and biblical studies on a Monday morning? Of course, much of your studies will be tedious, frustrating, antithetical to the faith you hold dear; but the bottom line is, don’t let it grind you down; and don’t let the university set your theological life agenda as it sets your theological studies curriculum. Make sure that your head and heart are filled with enough good stuff to enable you to deal with dross as and when it comes your way. See your theological work as you should see all of your work: an act devoted to the glory of the God who bought you with his precious blood and will one day glorify you in heaven.

I close, therefore, with the words of one much better placed than I am to speak of the theological scholarship of his own day, liberal and conservative, Catholic and protestant; one who was accomplished across a whole range of academic disciplines in a way that would now be impossible; a man honoured by one of the great universities of Europe for his contribution to theology; but also a man who knew the love of Christ in his own heart and who sought through his writings, scholarly and devotional, to shed that love abroad. I speak, of course, of the great Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield. Writing on ‘The Idea of Systematic Theology’, he wrote the following:

The systematic theologian is pre-eminently a preacher of the gospel; and the end of his work is obviously not merely the logical arrangement of the truths which come under his hand, but the moving of men, through their power to love God with all their heart and their neighbours as themselves; to choose their portion with the Saviour of their souls; to find and hold him precious; and to recognise and yield to the sweet influences of the Holy Spirit whom he has sent. With such truth as this he will not dare to deal in a cold and merely scientific spirit, but will justly and necessarily permit its preciousness and its practical destination to determine the spirit in which he handles it, and to awaken the reverential love with which alone he should investigate its reciprocal relations. For this he needs to be suffused at all times with a sense of the unspeakable worth of the revelation which lies before him as the source of his material, and with the personal bearings of its separate truths on his own heart and life; he needs to have had and to be having afull, rich, and deep religious experience of the great doctrines with which he deals; he needs to be living close to his God, to be resting always on the bosom of his Redeemer, to be filled at all times with the manifest influences of the Holy Spirit. The student of systematic theology needs a very sensitive religious nature, a most thoroughly consecrated heart, and an outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon him, such as willfill him with that spiritual discernment, without which all native intellect is in vain. He needs to be not merely a student, not merely a thinker not merely a systematizer not merely a teacher – he needs to be like the beloved disciple himself in the highest, truest, and holiest sense, a divine.2

Such was Warfield’s vision. Impossible, you say, impossible to achieve that level of integration between devotion and study. Well, yes, with us these things are impossible – but with God, all things are possible. Let us pray that the great God of grace might grant us some measure of that Christian experience in our studies and teaching which Warfield describes so eloquently!

Pastor As Theologian Part II of III

Again this is the second part of a two-part presentation of Carl Trueman‘s essay on the Pastor as Theologian.

Link

How does this play out in practice? Well, first, we must rid ourselves of any notion that we are, so to speak, God’s gift to the Christian church. We may know more theology than the person sitting next to us on the pew at a Sunday morning service; we may well be able to beat them hands down in any debate which may erupt concerning some theological point in the context of a church meeting or even an informal discussion over coffee; but that does not mean we are in any sense a more effective, God-glorifying Christian than they are. If Christianity involves the intimate union of belief and practice, of knowledge of God which finds its being through piety, as Calvin would say, that is the godliness of the true Christian, then technical mastery of the niceties of scholarship does not in any sense count by itself as genuine Christianity. As a result, mere technical accomplishment does not qualify you to take a leadership role within your local congregation, or provide an occasion for you to lord it over others. Many of us are quite capable of reading and mastering the ins and outs of a car maintenance manual; but I would hesitate to recommend myself as capable of changing the brake blocks on my own car, let alone that of someone else. Thus, knowing what prayer means is not the same as knowing what it means to pray; knowing what, say, the Chalcedonian definition says is not the same thing as knowing the Chalcedonian definition’s personal significance.

Luther captured this truth nicely when he distinguished between his own theology and that of his opponents by contrasting the existential impact and personal demands of Christian doctrine as he understood it with the position of others. His enemies, he said, knew that Christ had died and been raised from the dead; but he knew that Christ had died and been raised from the dead for him. The difference is between, a scholar sitting in a library and reading a note from the archives saying that the cavalry are on their way to save the beleaguered troops, and actually being one of the beleaguered troops who receives the note.

The outcome of the Enlightening of the universities was devastating for theology precisely because the Enlightenment demanded that theology give an account of itself not in terms of itself, its own inner dynamics and ultimate purposes, but in terms of the universal criteria which had been established for judging what was and was not plausible within the university framework. Basic to this, of course, was the loss of the idea that the Bible was a supernaturally inspired book and that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. As Stephen Williams has persuasively argued in his book Revelation and Reconciliation,1 the former offended Enlightenment epistemology, the latter outraged Enlightenment morality. At the time, this was not considered to be too serious to the Christian faith: the self-confidence of the Enlightened Christians, bolstered by the fact that Christianity was, after all, utterly dominant in the cultural realm, led them to continue to believe that Christianity was self-evidently superior to other religions and belief-systems, even without a supernatural Bible and saviour understood in terms of Chalcedon.

That the theological toothpaste was well and truly out of the tube at this point only became evident later. Nobody at the time ever thought that Christianity would have to justify its special place in life and thought, so obviously superior did it seem to all the other alternatives. Indeed, the fact that the Bible was not inspired in the traditional sense of the word, and that Christ was not saviour in the traditional sense of the word, did not mean that both were not still that much better than the rest. Nevertheless, in conceding these two points, Enlightenment theologians conceded the two points which actually supported the pursuit of theology as one discipline possessing its own integrity. Now, without any epistemological or soteriological centre to hold it together, the stage was set for the discipline to fragment hopelessly, not just as a result of the external pressures created by the rising tide of information and of sub-disciplinary specialisation in academic culture in general, but also by its own lack of any internal basis for providing coherence and unity. The result is that today, it is rather misleading to speak of theology or divinity as a university discipline. More often than not, it is a disparate collection of various subjects, methodologies, and philosophies that just happen to be in the same department for reasons which have more to do with institutional history and administration than any inner-coherence or mutual relationship.

Theology is not just a question of content it is also a question of context; and if we simply replace liberalism with evangelicalism with regard to content whilst remaining happy with the overall context, we will have failed.

Let me elaborate this as follows using a silly, but I hope pointed, analogy. Let’s imagine that at some point in the future it is decided that the discipline of medicine needs to be reformed. This is done first of all by denying that certain medicines had curative properties which others lacked. Initially it is assumed that while antibiotics are obviously superior to baking soda in curing infections, the difference in curative power is one of degree, not kind; but gradually, over time, all compounds come to be regarded as having equal power to cure. In addition to this first claim regarding curative powers, the reformers also deny that there are any diseases out there that need to be cured. Again it is initially assumed that the very ill person is actually not very ill but simply in possession of less health than others; gradually, however, the logic of the position works itself out and it becomes an act of cultural imperialism to claim that any one person is more or less ill than any other. Indeed, such a claim will certainly lose you your job within the medical faculty. The results, of course, are predictable – the discipline of medicine, whose very purpose was reflection upon and the curing of human diseases, fragments because there is nothing to keep it together, no central concern or conviction which can provide a positive base for disciplinary integrity. In addition, the hospitals run by the students of these great men of medicine gradually empty as their patients are either killed off by the treatments offered, and other people simply go elsewhere for treatment, knowing instinctively that what is on offer is not adequate for their needs.

Then along come a group of students who, for whatever reason, gradually become disillusioned with what they are being taught. For some it does not match up to their own experience; for others it is singularly useless when they themselves are ill; for yet others it is because they have been reading of some other books on medicine which, while not featuring on any reading list they are ever given in medical school, yet seem to make a good deal of sense. Over time they formalise themselves into a Pharmaceutical and Medical Students Fellowship, where they meet once a week to discuss medical questions and to attack the received academic orthodoxy. Indeed, once a year they even arrange a conference where the speakers are a bunch of crazed fundamentalists who have somehow managed to get jobs on medical faculties despite being committed to the outlandish ideas that medicine is good for you, poison is bad, and people actually suffer from diseases (though, interestingly enough, many of these speakers hold faculty positions in the history of medicine, or the interpretation of medical texts, not in medicine proper).

There is a problem with this group, however: yes, they are intellectually committed to the old reactionary notions of disease and cure; yes, they want to think through the medicinal issues for

[p.44]

themselves; but at the end of the day, all they do is talk. They consider their task done when they demonstrate to Professor Smith and Dr Jones that it is plausible even within the setting of the medical school to believe in disease and cure; and at base, all they really want is for Smith and Jones and their ilk to accept them and their viewpoint as having a legitimate place at the discussion table. They don’t actually want to go out and apply what they have learned to themselves or to the sick lying in hospital; they are fearful even in their fellowship groups of ever using the old offensive terminology ol illness, cure, poison, and remedy; and they certainly don’t want to imply that Smith and Jones don’t make interesting and legitimate contributions to debate. Indeed they often laugh loudest when Smith cracks a joke about ignorant medical fundamentalists of the past such as Louis Pasteur and Alexander Fleming; these students just want to be known as clever men of medicine who, despite their intellectual commitment to curing people, are nevertheless on the whole perfectly decent and user-friendly and not going to rock the boat by actually trying to cure people. They have rejected the shibboleths of contemporary medical theory, but they have done so within the same context and culture as their opponents: not that of curing people, but that of juggling with clever and interesting ideas.

Pastor As Theologian Part I of III

I’d like to post a few snippets from a larger article by Dr. Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia concerning the role of the Pastor in undertaking theological study. I find the central problem with the mainline church is the ignorance of both Pastor and Elder as to not only basic Christian Doctrine and how it works together to understand the development of our identity in Christ but how “Knowing God”, as J.I. Packer put it, delivers for us a much richer and fuller worship and prayer life. I have separated the article into three posts.

The Importance of Being Earnest: Approaching Theological Study

Carl Trueman

Themelios 26.1 (Autumn 2000): 34-47.
[Reproduced by permission of the author]

There can be no more pressing question to be addressed by the theological student than that of how academic theological study proper is to be related to the everyday life of that same student as a Christian believer. Now this is a vast subject, and scarcely one that can be covered adequately in this paper. It is, after all, an issue with which some of the church’s greatest minds have wrestled with for a lifetime and yet never come up with a fully satisfactory answer. It is important at the start, therefore, that I clarify precisely what specific issues I intend to address in this paper in order, as the advertisers would say, to prevent disappointment later on. My aims will be modest. I shall not deal with specifics, merely with the general framework within which your studies should be approached…

…My first basic point, then, is this: don’t imagine that you can successfully integrate your theological studies with your daily Christian walk unless you have first established the latter on a sound footing. Are you praying daily for spiritual help, not just for your work, but for your life in general? Are you reading God’s word every day not simply to pass your examinations but to familiarise yourself with salvation history, with God’s revelation of himself, so that you yourself can understand more fully the God who has redeemed you and your own identity as one of the redeemed? Are you attending a local church regularly (and I must stress at this point that CU is no substitute for church) where the word is faithfully preached and the Lord’s Supper is duly administered? If not, then you might as well stop now, for I have nothing more of use to say to you here; if you have not laid such basic foundations for integrating your studies with your faith, then you are simply not ready to address the more specific issues which academic theology raises for the Christian…

…At this point I confess my debt to John Calvin who, at the start of his Institutes, while not using the word ‘theology’, highlighted the fact that knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves are intimately linked to the extent that it is not easy to see which precedes the other. Calvin’s definition is useful here because it highlights the fact that theology has two poles which stand in relation to each other: on one side, there is God who reveals himself; on the other side there are human beings who receive that revelation. As Calvin will go on to say, that revelation of God is accommodated to human capacity – not that it is an imperfect, misleading and inadequate synthesis of the human and the divine, but that it is divine truth expressed in a manner which human beings can grasp. In short, the nature of theology is determined both by the God upon whom it depends and upon the humanity that receives it. This means that whatever model we develop to understand how theological study and Christian devotion are to be integrated must proceed on the basis of who we understand God to be; who we understand ourselves to be; and therefore the relationship that exists between the two…

…We must always remember that human beings are not simply intellectual automata. Our beliefs are not simply the result of value-neutral logical processes working from self-evident truths. This is something which the collapse of Enlightenment rationalism in the wake of postmodern critiques has made very clear indeed; and yet this is something which Luther and Calvin could have told us five hundred years ago, which Paul had spotted way back in the first century, and which the serpent so brilliantly exploits in Genesis 3. Christian belief is therefore a moral as well as an intellectual stance. The reason that individuals do not believe in Christ is because they are in a state of moral and intellectual rebellion against God. This is not to say that non-Christians are as bad as they could be; but it is to point to the fact that objections to Christian belief all contain a fundamental moral element which refuses God’s claims. After all, Christ points us to our sinfulness, our moral turpitude; he stands in judgement on our self-righteousness; he calls us to repent, die to self, and live for him, though every instinct in our minds and bodies militates against this; and surprise, surprise, we do not like this at all. Furthermore, while we remain on this mortal plain, we will continue to struggle against our basic human desire to be free of God. Loss of faith, like lack of faith, is thus never simply a problem of epistemology; it is also a problem of morality. In the same way the failure to integrate any particular aspect of our lives into the larger reality of our union with Christ, from our studies in the university library to our behaviour within the marriage bond, is not simply a problem of technique but also a problem also of morality…

…All this is to leap ahead of ourselves, but it does underline the fact that knowledge of an abstract, impersonal kind should never be mistaken for that personal, doctrinal knowledge which lies at the heart of the Christian life, faith, and church. The simple point, therefore is: when you leave the lecture theatre and walk through the door of the church, remember first, who you are – a sinner saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, nothing more, nothing less. Second, remember that while you may have gifts, great gifts, to offer the church – that is for the church to recognise and for you to offer in all humility. Your attitude should be that of the servant who sees his or her skills as an opportunity for the more effective serving of others than as a basis for exalting yourself above the level of those who have not had the privilege of a theological education.As a result the next step towards getting theological study right, after the foundation of personal and corporate worship, is involvement as a servant at whatever level in the day-to-day running of the church, whether as a Sunday School teacher, a Youth Club leader, or even as a church cleaner. Even Christ stooped to wash feet – and we should be prepared to make ourselves no less humble…