On Thursday, I spoke at the Great Commission Churches Midwest Faithwalker’s Conference with Dave Bovenmyer on the topic of the importance and right pursuit of theological knowledge. Enjoy, and let me know if you have any questions!
This last year, several of the pastors and leaders of Stonebrook church got together to carefully study Paulâ€™s letter to the Colossians together. A little â€œmomentâ€ happened for me when we read chapter 1 verses 9 and 10.
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
Upon reading that Dave reflected: â€œdoctrine is important, isnâ€™t it?â€ and I thought: â€œwow!â€
Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is that they would have wisdom and understanding about God’s revealed will. The result of this understanding will be a worthy, fruitful, and pleasing walk before the Lord. In other words: theology (what Paul talks about as knowledge, wisdom, and understanding) is important! Â
And then I noticed that actually has a similar prayer in almost every one of his letters!
- Romans 15:14
- 1 Corinthians 1:4-5
- Galatians – over-arching theme
- Ephesians 1:16-18
- Philippians 1:9-11
- Timothy and Titus – Full of exhortation to sound doctrine, sound teaching, good theology!
Peter also joins in:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,Â and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:3-8
Part of me wants to do an entire message on just this passage from 2 Peter, it is such a complete summary of Christian growth!, but in this session, weâ€™re going focus in on what I feel to be a particularly neglected aspect.
I think we do a wonderful job exhorting each other virtue, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, but donâ€™t believe Iâ€™ve heard much about the pursuit of theological knowledge. In fact, many conversations I have are rather disparaging to the whole field of theology and doctrine, going so far as calling it divisive and unnecessary. Yet, according to the Apostles, it was critical for the Christian life!
Today we are going to discuss the right pursuit of this knowledge: with commitment to God and His Word, in love and unity.
Over the last six years, this pursuit of knowledge has become a very vital part of my walk with Jesus, and has resulted in greater love for Him, greater joy in Him, greater compassion for the lost, greater courage for evangelism, greater tools in discussion with skeptics and atheists, and greater success in the pursuit of holiness. Not that I have achieved high levels of any of these things, but pursuit of theological knowledge has helped me greatly here.
So I want to urge you: Get knowledge, humbly, lovingly, and in community
There are 40 Proverbs that have to do with the benefits of knowledge. Here are a sampling:
- 8:10Â – Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold,
- 10:14 – The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.
- 15:14Â – The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
- 19:2Â – Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.
- 23:12 – Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.
Yes there is a difference between knowing facts about God and knowing God personally, but you canâ€™t have one without the other!
An Analogy from Marriage
The marriage analogy is a good one. I am absolutely fascinated by my wife. I have been since High School. My second greatest driving force in life is to know her. Really know her. To cultivate and grow this relationship with her. But I cannot do that apart from knowing facts about her.
If I praised physical attributes, her beauty for being 6â€™ 3â€ tall, brown haired and brown eyed, with exotic olive skin… if I extolled her athletic prowess, and love for action movies, she would probably smack me and suspect me of adultery! Knowing true facts about her is an intimate and necessary part of knowing her! Yes, it is not enough to simply know facts about her! If I simply knew facts about her, I would be a stalker! But I cannot know her apart from facts about her.
There are many falsehoods about God out there. Many many many… this is what Paul labels as â€œwhat is falsely called knowledgeâ€ This is why it is so important to study, to research, to get knowledge. Go after the hard questions. Donâ€™t be satisfied with simple answers. Most of the time, itâ€™s not that simple! Continually question the answers.
Get knowledge humbly
The one warning (that I hear thrown around as if it were the only statement on theological study made in the New Testament) made in the Bible about knowledge is that it has the tendency to â€œpuff upâ€. The warning is usually given in such a way as to discourage pursuit of knowledge, but this is not at all Paulâ€™s intention in the verse.
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that â€œall of us possess knowledge.â€ This â€œknowledgeâ€ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.
1 Corinthians 8:1-3
This statement is not made by Paul to tell the reader to avoid knowledge and instead pursue love, but rather to humbly pursue knowledge with the goal of love.
Sir Isaac Newton said that he felt â€œlike a child on the seashore gathering pebbles from the vast ocean of knowledge.â€
A word to us fellow Theology Geeks:
We need to do a better job here. There is something about being a young guy or gal in your 20s or 30s, who have recently had a particular aspect of truth, a particular aspect of theology opened to them, that tends to make us very proud, and very loud about our newfound knowledge. There is something about knowing more than someone else that makes us feel a certain power over them. There is an air of superiority that comes with this knowledge that makes us mean! But as Paul says, this knowledge ought to make us stand in awe, humbly before our great God. Stay humble.
Get knowledge lovingly
Perhaps one the best known passages in the whole Bible is absolutely critical here. In addition to what we just read from Paul
…if I have a prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:2â€¨
Without a loving attitude, your knowledge is not simply dangerous, it is worthless. It doesnâ€™t matter how much you know, how much you understand, how much insight you have. Itâ€™s worthless. Get it? As in wonâ€™t help you at all. You are not smart, you are nothing. This is a strong warning.
Paul told Timothy that the whole purpose of pursuit of knowledge is love in the first place, and if you lose sight of love in the pursuit of knowledge, you shipwreck your whole path.
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
1 Timothy 1:5-7
We could go on here, but I need to wrap up here with my final point that helps keep us on track with pursuing knowledge in love and humility.
Get knowledge in community
God designed the Christian life to be lived in community, and He designed the pursuit of knowledge to happen in community. No one single person has all the tools necessary to completely understand the whole council of God. There are different gifts, different areas of expertise, and different areas of competencies. There are many places in the New Testament that talk about this. Ephesians 4 is one Iâ€™d like to look at.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
There are a variety of gifts in the church, each are needed in order to grow the church into maturity, and the result result neglecting these different gifts is bad doctrine which Paul also calls deception. So where only a single gift or couple gifts are emphasized and exulted and trained into the community, you will have deception! The gift of evangelism is not the only important gift, nor is it somehow superior. The gifts of teaching and pastoring are just as vital to the health of a believer and a church community.
Benefits of pursuing knowledge in community
Accountability – The pursuit of theological study is hard and godly work, and as with all such godly work, the tendency is to be lazy in it. Studying together, setting up regular study groups lets us encourage each other toward this good work.
There is also accountability to practice what we know! When you study with a group, you know what each other knows, and can hold each other accountable for acting according to that knowledge!
Safety – There is so much bad information out there, and so much bad information and incorrect thinking that is prevalent in even our churches. Pursuit of this kind of study by yourself will not only be less effective, but it can actually be dangerous if you latch on to bad teaching.
Unity – This is the biggest place I fell down when I took off on a ravenous pursuit of theological knowledge. I forgot to bring anyone with me! Before I knew it, I was far down a track and no one in my local church was with me. I had to do much back-tracking to re-pave ground I had covered, and bring others along to help them understand my thinking, and also to make sure I was thinking correctly! In some ways I wasn’t.
This unity aspect is still something that is honestly in process, and probably always will be. Seeking a genuine unity around truth takes hard work and consistent effort, but it can be done.
Mutual Edification – If you study only on your own, you are the only one benefiting from that time spent! When you are sharing what you have learned in community the benefit of that time is amplified!
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
Iâ€™m not talking about pluralism here. I believe that there is only one, legitimate meaning of any given scripture. Maybe multiple applications, but only one meaning. The tricky part is working past our personal bents and biases, and working around our personal weaknesses and lack of abilities to get at the full and accurate meaning of the scriptures. More tools and more gifts in play lead to more effective and more powerful pursuit of knowledge.
All that to say, in order to fully understand the full revelation of God, it takes much more than the NIV, the Holy Spirit, and Me.
We need to pursue knowledge in community. And one final thought here, is that Iâ€™d encourage you to think bigger than your small group, bible study, or even your local church, or even your church region or association when thinking about studying in community. Take advantage of other authors, speakers, and conferences out there.
(Dave Bovenmyer concluded the session with some great thoughts about the necessity of extra-biblical tools and knowledge in the pursuit of biblical knowledge, and some helpful question and answer time followed and clarified some points. I’d be happy to engage discussion in the comments section here)