“Destructions are planned by your tongue;
As a sharpened razor, you work treachery.”
(Psalm 52:4 [verse 2 in English translations])
Normally, we are not used to seeing the word “destruction in the plural.” Destruction is more or less total and the idea of repeating a destruction over and over seems rather redundant. At the same time, as David writes these words, he is communicating a great and deep truth when dealing with wicked people: wickedness feeds on itself. The wicked do not simply find their satisfaction in tearing you down once, but repeatedly they delight in kicking you down as you try and stand up. The question does not so much lie in whether they will be there with a boot to kick you in the head, but whether you are going to continue trying to stand as they continue trying to beat you down. Jesus said:
If the world hates you, know that it hated me before you. If you were from the world, the world would love as one in the same. But because you are not from the world—rather I chose you from the world—for this, the world hates you. Remember the word which I spoke to you—a slave is not greater than his lord. If they drove me out, they will also drive you out. If they treasure my word, they will also treasure yours.
To drive the word-picture home, David continues by speaking of the tongue’s work of planning destruction as being like a sharpened razor, slicing away all that it touches and being the tool of treachery. The word that we render as “treachery” comes from the Hebrew root hAm∂r (ramah), which means “to abandon” or “to betray.” Of course, the ultimate betrayal of all time is that of Judas betraying our Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, how often the actions of the world are marked by betrayal when dealing with believers in Christ Jesus.
More importantly, the contrast between the world’s oppression and the faithfulness of God should be made. While the world seeks destruction and betrayal, God builds up his own and promises never to leave or abandon us. It is sad that so often when people desire to be nurtured and treasured they turn only to those places that will betray and destroy. Of course, it is also sad that often the Christian church follows the world’s lead and betrays its own rather than demonstrating the love and faithfulness of Christ even when such things are difficult. Jesus said that the world will know that we are his disciples on the basis of our love for one another (John 13:35) — when we choose not to live out that love in fellowship, what does it say about the quality of our witness?
Of the tools at the devil’s disposal, it would seem that ignorance and vague generalities are most commonly in his hands in the landscape of the American church. Here is not simply an indictment of the unbelieving culture at large, for who should expect them to know all of the details of our Christian faith apart from an academic curiosity, but my indictment is against professing Christians who have been lulled into the false notion that they need not bother themselves with knowing the details of our most holy faith. Herein is the site of the devil’s great activity.
I read a recent set of surveys that stated that the majority of the church-goers polled could not name all four Gospels, let alone all of the Ten Commandments. Even fewer were able to name all of the books of the Old and New Testaments, let alone in order. How does one find a word in the dictionary if one does not know the order of the letters of the alphabet? How will you find a reference in Micah or Jude if you do not know where in the Bible to look? How will you know whether an idea is right or wrong if you don’t understand the basic grammar and vocabulary that is being used to communicate it? And when a bad idea is being introduced from the pulpit, how with the believer know the error if the believer does not know the details of the theology he professes?
The devil has lulled people into a sense of security within their pews and he has convinced pastors and church leaders that the most important thing in church is to keep people happy (and in most cases, entertained). Even seminaries have taken this tact, putting more emphasis on practical theology and classes in church growth than in Biblical knowledge and understanding. It would seem that a clear exposition of the Biblical text is about as unwelcome as active application to life even though such is what is most lacking in most church-goers lives. “Does it work?” tends to be asked long before the question, “Is it true?”
Yet what does the Bible expect of us on this matter? To Aaron and his sons, God instructs:
“You are to make a distinction between the holy and between the profane, between the ceremonially unclean and the ceremonially clean. You are to instruct the Sons of Israel in all the laws which Yahweh spoke to them by the hand of Moses.”
It should be noted that while God is directly giving this rule to the Levitical priests, as the people began to be dispersed into exile, it is a task subsumed by the Rabbi in a local community—a role that is arguably the forerunner for the Christian understanding of a pastor. In addition, since in the Christian era there is a priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5,9), the task of instructing others in the things that God has taught falls squarely upon our shoulders. This would apply not only within the context of the church where the pastor and elders are to be the teachers of the people, but also in the homes where the father is to be the primary teacher of his family. Since there are levels of authority described in this model, it is worth noting that the Father’s job is two-fold. It is first to study himself so that he can teach his family how to distinguish between the holy and the profane and secondly, to study so that he can ensure that the pastor is teaching doctrine consistent with what the Scriptures present. Not too that this principle applies not only to what his family may learn in church, but it applies to what his family learns in every aspect of their educational process (hence the difficulty with educating children in the secular, state-run school system).
Many object saying that faith is primarily about a relationship with God, not about facts, propositions, and doctrines as revealed in the Bible, thus seeking to justify some degree of ignorance in the faith. It is agreed that faith in Jesus Christ is about a relationship, but note that every relationship in which we engage is one where there are ideas, facts, and propositions that are known about the one in which we are in relationship. In fact, the deeper the relationship, the more we tend to know about the individual. The facts do not make the relationship, but without these facts, no true and lasting relationship will exist. Note too, the way that God speaks of the connection between knowledge and obedience through Moses:
“You stand here with me and I will speak to you in all of the commandment and the prescriptions and judgments which you shall learn that they may obey in the land which I give them to inherit.”
Moses and the leaders must learn these things (with the aim of teaching them) so that the people will put into practice the command of God in the Promised Land.
The assumption, though, that is being made is that knowledge of the law yields obedience. On one level, there is the obvious principle that you cannot obey the things you do not know. Yet, Hosea builds this idea further:
My people are ruined for they are without knowledge. For as you refuse to accept knowledge; I will refuse to accept you from being my priest. You forgot the Torah of your God, so I will also forget your sons.
Notice the comment that is being made. When there is a lack of knowledge amongst the people it is not simply because it is unavailable, but it is because the people have chosen to reject the knowledge of God as it is presented to them. And as the people reject the Law of God, so too, God turns away from his people. The principle is that it is not as if God has not made his word known to his people, but that they have chosen to set their minds and hearts on other things, being satisfied with only a passing knowledge of what God teaches.
It has been my contention for some time that the relationship that the majority of American Christians have with God is one-sided and unfocused. We tend to focus our praise of God on what he has done for us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Certainly, this is a right and a proper thing for us to do and, especially for a new believer, this is something that is tangible in their lives. At the same time, we ought not stop there. Our aim should be to worship God for who he is and for his great excellencies of character.
When I was courting the woman who would become my wife, much of our relationship revolved around the special things that we did together. At the same time, as our relationship grew, the love was built less on our common activities and more on loving the person for who she happened to be. In married life, this is an essential transition, not because the common activities cease, but because those long romantic evenings tend to become more spread out during the activity of life and raising a family. Yet, after thirteen years of marriage, our love is deeper and richer than it was when we were first courting.
In terms of our relationship with God, it works in the same fashion. Early in our Christian walk, often the passion of our love for God is built on those “mountaintop” experiences that we have, yet as the Christian walk progresses, often those mountaintops seem to become further apart. If our faith is built solely on our experience of God and not on our knowledge of God, then the Christian life often becomes a pursuit of the next mountaintop. Yet, maturing takes sanctification and sanctification takes place most commonly in the valleys of life. David relates his time in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4) as a place of darkness where he cannot see God at work. Yet it is the knowledge of God’s character as the shepherd and that the rod and staff are yet in the shepherd’s hand that gives him courage and is the basis of his trust. It is the knowledge that keeps the sheep from panic and flight.
Our culture has bought into the model that when they read scripture, the first question they typically ask is, “How does this relate to me?” or “What can I learn from this so I can have a better life?” My contention is that the first question we must always ask is, “What does this passage teach me about God and about His character?” The shift is an important one for two reasons. First, when we are focused only on personal application, we will not tend to read the whole counsel of God, but only focus on those things that can easily be applied to today. Why spend time reading the seemingly endless genealogies of the Bible, for example, if your focus is only on personal application. Yet the Apostle Paul insists that all scripture is both God-breathed and useful to every aspect of the life of the believer (2 Timothy 3:16-17)—even the genealogies! The second problem that arises out of reading the scripture primarily for personal application is that our motivation to study decreases in proportion to the comfort-level of our lives. If everything is going well, we often assume that we have gotten the principles right, so why bother challenging them?
My argument is not that we do not apply scripture to life, indeed, we must. Yet this ought not be where we begin, we ought to begin with a focus on God and then secondarily toward application and his works in our life. And since God is infinite, his word will provide us with infinite depth of reflection on his character to satisfy and strengthen our souls. And when we fail to pursue the character of God, our relationship with Him remains shallow. And when we fail to teach the character of God, the people’s knowledge of Him will be vague at best.
I began this reflection with the impoverished state of the church when it comes to Biblical knowledge. One would expect that if my supposition that Biblical knowledge is directly related to obedience (as the old song goes, “to know, know, know him is to love, love, love him”—and as Jesus states, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” [John 14:15]), the lack of knowledge that exists in the church today would betray a lack of obedience to God’s word in the church today. When one looks at the state of our country, our depraved culture, and the anaemic church in America, my point is made. When you realize that more than three-quarters of the American general public identifies themselves as “Christian” yet at the same time immorality fills our streets and rules our governments, we must conclude that something is horribly amiss.
The solution? It is not more programs or more gimmicks to get people to come to church, nor is it to water down the gospel so that everyone feels comfortable under its teaching. The solution is to combat the tactic that is being employed by the enemy and instruct people in the knowledge of God. Peter reminds us that we are to add knowledge to virtue as we seek to grow in our sanctification, building upon what God has initiated in our life.
Recently, I was asked for some input on how I would structure a discipleship program if I were to have about 6 months of fairly intensive time to work with a small group of men. I thought that I would share my initial thoughts here.
When I began doing homeless ministry, I spent some time looking at some of the sermons found in the book of Acts to gain some insight into a model to base evangelistic preaching/teaching on. The model I came up with covered things in this order: 1) God’s glory, 2) man’s fallen state, 3) the work of Christ, 4) the promise of salvation coupled with the hope of ongoing sanctification in this life.
Unpackaging this in terms of a longer study would look something like this:
I. God’s Glory
a. Who is God?
i. names of God which reflect God’s character
ii. character traits of God
b. What has God done?
ii. Ordaining and Governing history
II. Man’s Fallen State
a. What does it mean to be made in God’s image?
i. the doctrine of the Imago Dei
ii. human dignity as a result of the Imago Dei
iii. the doctrine of the Imitatio Dei (how do we imitate God?)
b. What happened when Adam and Eve sinned?
i. Genesis 3
ii. The promise of a redeemer in Genesis 3
iii. Inherited sin guilt and the impossibility of our paying God back that sin debt on our own merit
c. How has the fall corrupted and contorted the Imago Dei?
i. Our aversion to the things of God and suppression of the truth
ii. The problem of pain–why do bad things happen to good people?
III. The Work of Christ
a. Who is Jesus and why is a Savior important?
i. the person and character of Christ
ii. the names of Christ
iii. the Old Testament prophesies of Christ
iv. The work of a mediator and paraclete
b. How Did Christ save us?
i. the preexistence of Christ
ii. the humiliation of Christ in life and in death
iii. the exaltation of Christ and his ongoing work as mediator at the right hand of God the Father
IV. The Promise of Salvation and the Hope of Sanctification
a. Who is the Holy Spirit?
i. the person of the Spirit
ii. the work of the Spirit
b. What is Faith and how is that tied to salvation?
i. The nature of Faith (Hebrews 11:1)
ii. Regeneration, Conversion, Repentance
c. What does it mean to be saved?
d. What happens next once I am saved?
i. Sanctification as a means to prepare for glory
ii. Living all of life “Coram Deo” or “Before the Face of God”
iii. 2 Peter 1:3-11 and adding to the faith as “Partakers of the Divine nature” (untwisting the Imago Dei–like having broken bones set)
iv. The fruit of the Spirit
v. The gifts of the Spirit
It would be unwise for us to end our preliminary discussion of theology by simply defining theology on the basis of what it is not (see Pitfalls); thus it is prudent for us to add marks that define what a good theology looks like. A biologist might begin a discussion about a bumble-bee by explaining the differences that it has with a wasp or a hornet, but until the characteristics of what does make a bumble-bee a bumble-bee are known, the student will still be at a loss to identify a genuine one out in the wild with any mark of surety. Thus, we lay before us key elements that are marks of a good theology, and though they may not be exhaustive, such elements are so fundamentally necessary to good theology that no good theology can exist without the things we will mention below.
It Must be Biblically-Accurate:
Though this may seem to be a rather obvious first mark, the presence of many bad theological strains in our culture demands that this principle be laid before us. How may a God who is infinite be known apart from the way he reveals himself to his creatures? Ultimately, while God has revealed many of his characteristics in nature, it is only when we come to his divine word that we find the complete and perspicuous revelation of his being. Ultimately, God has revealed himself in his Son, Jesus Christ, and the Bible is a book that is eminently about Jesus Christ. Though our place in this introductory chapter is not to defend the plenary inerrancy of scripture, that position will be stated and defended vigorously in the chapter on Prolegomena, let it suffice to be said here, that the things which come directly from God—that are “God breathed”—are incapable of being at fault. Thus, for a theology to not be scripturally accurate is defeating the purpose of doing theology at all. Good “God talk” must be consistent with the “talk” that God has uttered about himself from on high.
One final note about a theology that is Biblically Accurate: there is always some degree of proof-texting that is done when doing any kind of theology. We will always cite this verse or that group of verses in support of this position or another. If done well, this adds a level of credibility to theological arguments as it always reminds the reader that the theologian is not the authority upon which a particular argument stands or falls—but scripture is. Yet, when proof-texts are taken out of their context, they can be made to mean things that they are not stating at all. Careful exegesis must be done before any proof-text should be used or considered valid; one must always endeavor to understand any given text in the broader context of the larger argument or passage that it is a part of, in the context of the particular book that it is located within, and in the context of the other writings by said author. In addition, Even a book’s location within the revealed canon of scripture must be taken into account as well as scriptural teaching as a whole. D.A. Carson is fond of reminding his students, “A text taken out of its context is a pretext for a proof-text.”
It Must Accurately Describe the World Around Us:
As we will discuss further in the section on Prolegomena, God has revealed himself not only in the scriptures but also in the created world. Certainly God’s word, being the revelation of an inerrant God, is the lens through which we must view the world around us; to do otherwise would be foolish. God’s revelation of himself in creation is mediated through our senses and through our understanding—both of which can be demonstrated again and again to be fallible; God’s word is not. At the same time, God has given us reasonable minds with which we can study the world around us. We can observe through our senses, recognizing that though there is a significant degree of error within our sensory observation, we do live in a world with a benevolent God who does not play tricks upon our senses. Thus, the theology that we have must be consistent with the things in God’s created order that we can observe, though recognizing that there are limits upon our senses and that there are no limits upon God’s senses.
For example, when many of us were younger, particularly if we attended a government-run school, we were taught by our teachers that Christopher Columbus discovered that the world was round and that prior to Columbus’ discovery, most people still believed that the earth was flat and that we were capable of falling off the edge of the earth if we sailed too far. Though many of my Elementary School teachers passionately affirmed this falsehood, it simply was not true. The Pythagoreans, more than 2000 years before Columbus, had demonstrated mathematically that the earth was round and had even estimated its diameter with a fair degree of accuracy. Now, when my young mind was first confronted with this truth by a mathematician and scientist, I had a choice to make: do I believe my elementary school teacher or do I believe one who is a trained authority on these particular matters. The answer was obvious: I submitted my previous knowledge to the teaching of one who was an authority in his field. In the same way, is not God the ultimate authority on the creation that he has brought into being? When there is potential for our own errors in observation, ought we not submit ourselves to the teaching of one who is the authority on every subject? Thus God, in his word, provides us with a lens through which we can see and properly understand the world—yet there is still a world out there that we are looking at. As mentioned above, we must not do theology “in a vacuum;” rather, when doing theology, we must always understand it in reference to how it relates to life and the world that God has created around us.
It Must be God-Centered:
This principle is the counter-point to the mark of a bad theology, that of man-centeredness, that was mentioned above. Theology must always be God-talk and not man-talk. Scripture begins with the words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” There can be no doubt that the scriptures begin with the assumption that God exists and that he is primary over his creation. Of course, were there no God, there would be no revelation in scripture, and then the Bible itself would be the greatest farce ever perpetrated by men, for the Bible itself claims to be God’s word, not men’s. Thus, our theology must always reflect the glory and majesty of the one who created us and must genuinely be speaking of the one true God.
It Must be Christ Centered:
As mentioned above, the scriptures also are given for the purpose of pointing toward, speaking of, and proclaiming the glory of Jesus Christ: God the Son. All of the Old Testament points toward Jesus and all of the New Testament is a result of Jesus’ work, or, as the Apostle Paul records it, “All of God’s promises (speaking of the Old and New Testaments) find their yes in Him.” The answer that scripture presents to all of the problems of man is Christ and him crucified. It is through Christ that our sins are atoned for; it is through Christ that God becomes propitious towards believers; it is by Christ that we are brought into the presence of God the Father and adopted as sons and daughters, as the church, being made the very bride of Christ. It is through Christ that we know the true meaning of sacrificial love and it is only when we observe the majesty of Christ that we can understand what is genuinely beautiful and pleasant in this world. It is in Christ Jesus that we can find peace and hope not only for this life, but for all eternity. It is in Jesus that we can finally find meaning for our lives and freedom from the bondage that sin places us in. It is in Christ that we become “blessed,” and any theology that does not prominently present Jesus Christ is a theology that has no value to the lives of men and women, who ultimately need him more than they need life itself. Good theology is centered on Christ.
It Must be Doxological:
The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins by asking the question: “What is the chief end of man?” In other words, “What is mankind’s reason for being on earth?”, or more succinctly, “What is the meaning of life?” The answer that the catechism brings forth is, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” What a wonderful statement! While philosophy sends many a man on lifelong and frustrated quests to try and discern the meaning of life, the catechism presents an answer that is so simple that a child can understand it and yet so profound that it will take a lifetime to live it out and enjoy its implications. And this is the purpose for which man was created—to glorify God with the aim of enjoying him eternally.
Jonathan Edwards loved to deliberately misquote this catechism question. “What is God’s chief end?” Edwards would ask. The answer? “To glorify himself with the aim of bringing us to enjoy him forever.” Some have suggested that such a stance would be rather an arrogant one on the part of God, yet, in all of God’s manifold perfections, is he not worthy of all praise? Indeed, do we not find the greatest pleasure in life by enjoying God fully? If God is infinitely satisfied in himself, and he is, can we not also be infinitely satisfied in him? When we center our theology on God’s Triune person, our theology cannot help but be doxological.
The bottom line is that if your theology does not drive you to worship God in all of his fullness and majesty, it is not a good theology at all. Heaven is described as being a place where believers, surrounded by creation and myriads upon myriads of the heavenly host, will be wonderfully and gloriously singing praises to God on high and to the Lamb. If we are not finding our ultimate joy in worship here in this world, what does that say about our hope for an afterlife? Has the fall made us so schizophrenic that we will want then what we detest in this life? May it never be said! As a believer, the fullness of our joy in this life and the next must come through worship, and if our theology does not aid us in that end, our theology falls woefully short of its goal.
It Must be Both Eschatological and Protological:
Good theology must be both eschatological in that it anticipates the return of Jesus Christ and protological in that it looks backwards to see God’s hand ordaining the events of history. God is the God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and we must never lose sight of the fact that he is a God who has demonstrated his might in the events of history. He has raised empires and he has crushed them into the dust and God has given us his word through history so that we might understand all that he has done. To forget this is to live in denial of the greater portion of God’s revealed word. At the same time, we are not to be a people who always are looking backwards, but we are to be a people of anticipation, looking forward to the great culmination of history in the second coming of Jesus Christ. The scriptures themselves close with the promise of Christ, “Behold, I am coming soon!” Our theology must reflect the truth of that great promise. In a sense, we are to be people always actively engaged with the tasks of the day, yet with one hand looking to the sky, wondering and waiting, when our Lord will return as he left us.
It Must be Ecclesiastical:
Christians are not to find themselves as believers in isolation from one another. As appealing as that may sound at times, given that sometimes other believers are the ones who can drive us mad, God has ordained that we are part of one church—one body in Christ Jesus. Though we may constitute many parts based on our giftings and backgrounds, we are meant to understand ourselves as interconnected with other believers—rejoicing together and weeping together during the highs and lows of life. All of this has one great and wonderful end, when the Church, described as the bride of Christ, is presented to her groom as one, unified, clean, and perfect whole, and all to the glory of God. John sums up this principle in his first letter, when he writes that our fellowship with one another is what “makes our joy complete.” Our theology must reflect that sense of a believer’s connectedness with other believers.
It Must Encourage Sanctification:
By piety I mean that union of reverence and love to God which the knowledge of his benefits inspires. For, until men feel that they owe everything to God, that they are cherished by his paternal care, and that he is the author of all their blessings, so that nought is to be looked for away from him, they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience; nay, unless they place their entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves to him in truth and sincerity.
In the fall, we not only found ourselves separated from our intimate communication with God, but the image of God, the Imago Dei, within us was warped. In God’s wonderful graciousness, he loves his people so ddeply that he not only justifies us through the saving blood of Jesus, but he works his Holy Spirit in us to restore the Imago Dei little by little. In other words, God is at work in the lives of believers to change them and to remold them, making their lives more and more reflect that of Jesus Christ. If our theology is not encouraging us to want to be sanctified, if it is not encouraging us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the work of sanctification, it falls short of its intended goal.
It Must Encompass All of Life:
The final mark of good theology is that it must encompass all of life. Abraham Kuyper once commented that as Sovereign Lord of creation, there was not an inch of the life of man that Christ did not put his finger on and declare, “Mine!” Modern man has a tendency to “compartmentalize” his life, living one way in church and another way before a watching world. Good theology does not allow one to do so. Theology is meant to be applied to all things that we do, and thus unify our life in a meaningful way before the throne of the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything that we do in one area or venue of life has an impact on what we do in every other area of life and our theology must be the thing that governs it all. Our theology must also engage both our hearts and our minds as well, challenging us to shape our very lives according to God’s revealed word. God is perfect by the very definition of who he is; should we not expect that he can perfectly order our steps? Indeed, that is the kind of God we have and that is the kind of God that our theology should always reflect.
It is worth noting that in the Old Testament alone, “thus says the Lord” is uttered more than 600 times. God is without question a God who talks to man—it is in the fall, though, that we lost the intimacy of that talk being face-to-face—something that Jesus came to undo.
Though little is known about the actual man, Pythagoras, the Pythagorean school was established in Samos, of southern Italy, about the year 525 B.C. Pythagoras was reportedly Ionian by heritage, having moved to Italy, and there is documentation that his disciples traveled as far as India, perhaps influencing their idea of reincarnation.
In 1643, a group of more than one hundred preachers and theologians representing the Scottish church, the Anglican church, and the Separatists, met in Westminster Abbey to begin what would be a five year discussion, endeavoring to articulate a concise statement of Biblical Doctrine. In 1649 the first edition of what are known as the Westminster Standards were published, complete with longer and shorter catechisms for the training of youth and directories for the application of this doctrine to life. Though different denominations have made many revisions of this doctrine over the years, the original language has rarely been improved upon, but has simply been nuanced to fit a particular denominational preference.
Edwards was one of the most influential American theologians of the 18th century, and along with George Whitefield, the English, Methodist preacher, paved the way for the first “Great Awakening” in America.
Much theological confusion comes as a result of people ignoring one or both of these aspects. We must look to the future, but at the same time remember that an understanding of the imagery that is employed to speak of the future is found rooted in the Old Testament. The book of Revelation, in other words, cannot be understood apart from the prophets in the Old Testament Canon. At the same time, the Old Testament cannot be properly understood unless it is understood in light of the revealing of Christ in the New Testament. How many Jewish scholars lay frustrated because they are unwilling to see this great truth!
The first pitfall that must be deliberately avoided is that of a “dead” orthodoxy. In the year 164 BC, the Jewish people celebrated the rededication of the temple after they had thrown off their Seleucid Syrian oppressors. Antiochus Epiphanies had not only looted the temple of its gold and silver, but had gone as far as to sacrifice a pig on the temple altar and set up a phallic symbol of Zeus in the Holy Place. This sparked the Maccabean revolt, let by Judah, Jonathan, and Simon Maccabees. After this victory, the Maccabeans assumed the role of kings, establishing what is referred to as the Hasmonean Dynasty. Remembering that the Maccabees were Levitical priests by decent, this joined the role of King and High Priest into one office, causing a great deal of resentment within the more orthodox Jewish community. The power of this combined position also led to corruption within the rulership. As a result, two groups emerged during this time: the Essines and the Pharisees.
The Essines were a separatist group that withdrew from their Jewish communities and established their own fortified communities, training in theology and warfare, and preparing themselves to be the army of the Messiah when said Messiah came. The Pharisees were a more moderate reform group, seeking to bring religious reform working within the Jewish society. They established rules for behavior and piety and they lived lives that were deliberately structured to promote obedience to the Law of God. When Jesus taught that the people’s righteousness had to exceed that of the Pharisees to enter the kingdom of heaven, this was not said tongue-in-cheek, but was a comment that would have shocked the people, as the Pharisees were perceived to be the holiest people that most Jews had ever encountered. The problem, though, within this sect, was that in their zeal for personal holiness, they had turned the law of God into a legalistic system of rules to check off. If you just did this and that and did these things in the prescribed way, the Pharisees taught, you are guaranteed heaven. They forgot the intent of the law, which is to demonstrate our total inability to be holy before God, and were expecting eternal life as a reward earned by the works of men. For this, Jesus would rebuke them in the strongest language.
Yet, this provides for us a good illustration of what can happen when one’s orthodoxy becomes dead and lifeless. The word orthodoxy itself means “right or sound doctrine,” coming from the Latin, “orthodoxos,” and begs the question—can “right thinking” about the things of God ever truly be without life? God is the source of all life, and thus, proper and right teaching about God must too be filled with the life of God. How sad it is when individuals and churches loose sight of the heart behind God’s word and fail to point to the life that comes from the God of light, whose very word is given as a light to our paths. As C.S. Lewis also warned, beware when the God of the “God talk” is lost or forgotten. Such happens when your orthodoxy becomes legalism.
The second mark of bad theology, and the exact opposite of “dead orthodoxy,” is an uncontrolled passion that burns like a wildfire, consuming all that it touches. This is not to deny the importance of passion in terms of faith—it is essential, but just as genuine orthodoxy builds up the believer, strengthening him with the truth of God’s word, so too does genuine passion. And just as there is a counterfeit orthodoxy that brings with it nothing but cold and stale death, so too there is a wildfire passion that might burn hot for a time, but which burns out the individual (and often those around them) and leaves nothing but a smoldering zone of death.
We must always remember that our passions are part of our divinely created makeup, and thus, as we grow in grace, our passions and our actions ought to better and better reflect the nature of God himself. Are God’s passions uncontrolled? Does God act out of a sense of emotionalism? Does God’s Spirit destroy those within whom he dwells? Certainly not! God’s Spirit brings life to the one in whom he dwells! So too, theology and religion, while it must address and move the passions, must not set them out of control, burning like a wildfire amongst dry timber.
The Hebrew term for vain is lb,h, (hevel) and is used to describe things that are empty and insubstantial like one’s breath or an idol. Sometimes our theology becomes so speculative that it looses its substance all together. Sometimes our theology becomes so influenced by ideas of men (rather than scripture) that it loses any solid foundation that it might have once had. We can ground theology in scripture because scripture itself is qeo/pneustoß (theopneustos), or “God-breathed,” but that which is the breath of men, that which is anqrwpneu/stoß (anthropneustos), is lb,h, (hevel). While good theology does at times enter into a degree of reasonable speculation, good theology is never founded upon speculation or wild ideas, but is consistently and perpetually grounded in the inerrant truth of God’s revealed word. One further note: in a post-modern era, we live in a culture that is ready and willing to affirm multiple, mutually-exclusive ideas as truth. As a result, many professing Christians have a theology that is a mixture of orthodox Christianity as well as non-Christian religions and ideas. Many professing Christians also have a proclivity to adapt their theology to fit new ideas that appeal to their minds rather than judging the new ideas through the lens shaped from a solidly scriptural theology. When theology becomes fickle, it becomes vain.
Our final category of bad theology is a man-centered theology. As theology and religion did not originate in the mind of man, as liberal and natural theologians would suggest, it is not the right of mankind to determine how God is to be understood or worshiped. Indeed, that right belongs solely to God himself. And, as God is the source of the “God-Talk,” it is to be rightly assumed that God should be the center of such talk. The only man that should ever be exalted by our theology is Jesus Christ himself, who, while fully man, is also fully God. A theology based upon the works and glory of men—even one designed to give man comfort where no comfort is warranted – is a bad form of theology, and is truly no “God Talk” at all, but “man-talk.” Man exists to glorify God, not the other way around.
Their father, Matthias, was an elder priest in the temple who fled Jerusalem with his family, rallied the people to himself, and began the revolt against the Seleucid governors. Matthias and his sons Eleazar and John would die early on in the fighting, leaving his remaining three sons to continue the battle and overthrow the oppressors. The Maccabees proved themselves to be tactical geniuses in guerilla warfare and are still studied today as a model for how a smaller force of soldiers can overcome a larger, more organized foe.