Faith Basics: Doing Theology

Posted by Dan Jarms & John Gardner on May 3, 2023
Faith Basics: Doing Theology
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In this episode John Gardner join Dan Jarms to discuss the basics of learning about God through studying theology. Topics include systematic theology, Biblical theology, and some tips on books and resources to try out for yourself.

  • Automated Transcription
  • Dan Jarms 0:00
    Today on faith matters, we're going to continue our series faith basics. John Gardner is going to be with me and we are going to look at the topic of doing theology.

    Dan Jarms 0:15
    I'm Dan Jarms, and you're listening to faith matters a podcast to help update you on matters of faith Bible Church, as well as equip you in matters of the Christian faith.

    Dan Jarms 0:23
    Well, we're here in the back in the studio, and we are working through our Basics Series. I'm here with John Gardner today, Hey, John,

    John Gardner 0:41
    hey, hello, everyone listening,

    Dan Jarms 0:43
    and we are transitioning from the basics on the Bible, to the basics on the doctrine of God. And we're going to start a four or five part series on what we call theology proper, or the doctrine of God. And I'll tell you what I mean, like the first thing when we do theology, we have to know how we're doing theology, and that's the subject that theologians call theology proper. So how do we do theology? And then how do we know who God is? What we want to do is start today by helping us think through just the basics of doing theology. So the title of this podcast is doing theology. So John, let's, let's start with some questions for you. Why do we do theology?

    John Gardner 1:34
    We study theology, because it is just Just what the word means it is knowledge about God, and we want to know him. He is word calls us to know Him, and we want to, to the best of our finite ability to be able to comprehend an infinite God. And that takes a life of study. Yeah.

    Dan Jarms 2:00
    Yeah. And you were mentioning something that's always impacted you that RC Sproul said about theology and doing theology.

    John Gardner 2:07
    Yeah, our she's probably the book called everyone's a theologian. But I love even even more than the book itself. Just that concept that it's impossible not to do the ology it's impossible not to have some intellectual conception of God, everyone has some sort of concept of God. And so what we need to do is make sure that our concept of God is is correct, we need to make sure that our theology is sound and being right on the question of who is God is? Literally, question that has life or death consequences, and we want to take that seriously.

    Dan Jarms 2:49
    Yeah. So some people think that theology is for the intellectual Christian, the real serious Christian, John, what would you say? You know, when when somebody feels like, man, that's just for the really smart people?

    John Gardner 3:03
    I would say, first of all, that's, that's just not not true. You can, can and should do good theology. And I think even just looking at the people that Jesus entrusted to tell the world about himself, we're not intellectual people. I mean, there were there were a few. You know, Matthew was probably a pretty smart guy. But, you know, he's got fishermen, and, you know, young guys who are just wanting to be excited about the gospel and go tell people, like, Here's what he said.

    Dan Jarms 3:38
    Yeah, yeah. So doing theology is for everyone. You may like to read a lot, you may want to read a little, but everybody is doing theology. It's not just for the, the overly intellectual. So the Why do it we want to know God, we want to be able to be equipped to to help other people. No, God, we want our we want our thoughts to be refined, not random. So lots of reasons to do theology. But the best is to give worship since theology leads to worship, we will give truer and better and more robust worship, the more we know God, and the more aligned with scripture, that our thinking is about God. Let's let's talk about what theology is, what comes to your mind when we ask the question what is theology?

    John Gardner 4:30
    Etiology is the study of God's revelation of Himself. It's taking and taking what he's told us about himself, and and squeezing every bit of truth out of it that we can find.

    Dan Jarms 4:42
    Yeah, that's really good. So that does that does bring up questions often people have. There's something called natural theology, which is the idea that we look at nature. And we try to deduce things from God about God and Bible tells us that God reveals Himself through nature. What are the limits to natural theology?

    John Gardner 5:07
    Limits of natural theology are what Paul tells us in the Book of Romans that we can see things about God's attributes, there are things that are apparent about who God is and what he is like from the things that he has made. But natural revelation, natural theology cannot show us how to be saved, it can't show us how to live. We need God's word for that.

    Dan Jarms 5:33
    Yeah. So you can, you can go on a hike in the Dishman Hills, you go up to the, the rocks of Sharon, and it's beautiful. And you say what God is amazing for making these things. But that doesn't tell you what his will is. It doesn't tell you why he's made, what he's made. You haven't have to have an interpreter of natural to really develop natural theology. So there's some different parts of theology when we were saying, we want to study and know God. John, what are the different kinds of theology? What are some of the big words we throw around about the kinds of theology

    John Gardner 6:09
    kinds of theology probably the most, the two most well known forms of theology study would be systematic theology, which is breaking down technology by topic, and, and digging in that way. And then there's biblical theology, which is looking at the doctrines in their historical context. What What would each biblical author mean by this? How would they apply this truth in their situation that they're writing about? Yeah,

    Dan Jarms 6:39
    so let's be really practical. If you want to know, if you want to know what the Bible says about lying, you're going to look up references in the Bible about lying, and then you're going to organize them in some some way that is logical to you. That's just systematic theology. Systematic Theology books are usually bigger and broader topics, is usually 10, big, systematic topics. And all that means is, an author or a set of authors, has thought about some of the biggest topics and organize them logically, from what they believe, are most important and most clear. And because that's a human endeavor, it is the even approaches fallible. What what some person gets out of a set of verses and another person gets out of a set of verses is often often different. So biblical theology might take those topics and go through a book that might also cross the whole storyline of the Bible. And in the current era, people love to get the whole storyline of the Bible on a topic. So you'll find people writing books on a biblical theology of worship, just walking through worship through the whole Bible, sometimes book by book, covenant, by covenant, and so on. What makes those work? What? So when when you're going to borrow somebody's book, John? How do you test it out? What makes those things faithful?

    John Gardner 8:08
    When I'm when I'm reading a theology book, I want to always have my Bible open, and to be cross referencing looking looking things up. There are systematic theologies that I believe are better in line with what Scripture teaches. There are systematic theologies that might be largely good, but we would differ in some areas and, and wanting always to have the Bible be our, our first source for truth, and and comparing what other books say, to work out towards us.

    Dan Jarms 8:52
    Yeah. And it's okay to say I can learn from people who have different takes on certain things. In fact, they can challenge my own exegesis. So it's sometimes useful. You shouldn't only study guys that you always agree with because then your your conclusions aren't tested. John, why don't you walk us through how you do theology.

    John Gardner 9:16
    I guess my journey in doing theology really started when I was about 20 years old. Where I was intimidated by the idea of studying theology and, and exploring big books. And I just had an older man in the church just pulled me in a couple other guys aside and said, Hey, let's, let's sit down, let's spend the summer and we're gonna go through this book on systematic theology and we're gonna, we're gonna talk about it, we're gonna study it together. We're gonna ask questions, and and giving us all a chance to interact on on some of those topics and to see what God's word said was was really formative for me helped me get get started. Since then, now I feel a little more competent to study some of those things on my own, but, but always wanting to bounce ideas off of other people, my wife and I talk about things that we're reading together. And so, just the process of doing theology, a lot of that involves just reading or listening to just different sermons or talks on theological topics. And, and but always coming back to the word to evaluate, we've heard,

    Dan Jarms 10:37
    yeah, what would be some beginner sources that you would say be helpful?

    John Gardner 10:42
    There are a lot of, I guess, most real thick seminary level. Systematic theologies have a smaller way level version of them. The first systematic theology I read was Wayne Grudem, systematic theology, he's got a more accessible version that he just calls Christian beliefs. It's like 20, essential doctrines that every Christian should know I think, is the subtitle, John MacArthur, his his big biblical doctrine has a smaller version, that's called a central Christian doctrine. Another one that I've used a lot in our home is by Bruce ware has a book called Big truths for young hearts. It's a systematic theology that's designed for, you know, kind of younger teen years, that's, that's super clear in his thinking, but accessible for younger, younger people, to the parents will find value in it, but also something they can read with their kids to help as a first introduction to it.

    Dan Jarms 11:43
    Yeah, if you're, if you love to read, and you don't mind carrying around a 10 pound book, then you could start with MacArthur and may use biblical doctrines or group items, systematic theology, if you need a reference tool that's a little quicker for you. I think a lot of people should start with the big Truth book. Because you start simple. And you gain a simple understanding instead of being overwhelmed by it. So I would almost recommend the the wear book as a starter book, that's your first book. For me, the first book on systematic theology that I got was, well, I got a pair, I got basic Bible doctrines. It was a Dallas Seminary one, and that was really, really helpful. And it was from a dispensational perspective. And then we also got our sea scrolls essential truths of the Christian faith. It's basically a devotional type systematic theology, I think there's 104, two page articles. And RC Sproul has the gift of clarity, with the ability to use really good analogies. So that's a great starter.

    John Gardner 12:57
    I think going to catechism can be a really good way to study as well, as we've done the new city catechism with our kids, and several others that are really valuable ways to kind of systematize and learn key doctrines.

    Dan Jarms 13:15
    catechizing was the way that the church for centuries and centuries taught at systematic theology. So people have been doing systematic theology from the beginning. There's biblical theology, all the sermons of acts are tracing through themes about Christ. And you can see them the combination of that in the book of Hebrews. Can you think of any other examples?

    John Gardner 13:36
    Yeah, the the first one that came to mind, outside of, you know, some of particularly Peter sermon, like access to Hebrews 11 is basically a biblical theology of faith. You know, he gives you a definition of what faith is and then goes through all the Old Testament saints and how their faith was applied and rewarded.

    Dan Jarms 14:00
    That's a great example of biblical theology. Yeah. Yeah, that's good. Then, systematic theology the church did from the beginning. So when I think of something like an elder, an elder qualification, in Titus, one, eight and nine, that a person must, must have sound doctrine, he must hold a sound doctrine and the idea of doctrine really is teaching. That is of the systematic nature. It's, it's the summary truths. Paul exhorted to Timothy to pay attention to the public reading of Scripture, to the exhortation which is preaching and the teaching, which was this body of doctrine about the gospel and and how the Bible unfolds that. So the Bible is talking about all the time. One of the forms that was early so if you if you think of Creed's in catechisms. The first kind of systematic theology that's done in the Bible Pull like that pulls it all together is like creating catechism. So in First Timothy three, First Timothy 316, it says that the church's job is to hold up and hold high the gospel. He then he says, great indeed we confess is the mystery of godliness. And so here's an early church confession. They culminate these things together. And this is about Christ, he was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit. So we have an indoor incarnation, and there's exultation, seen by angels, which is his rule and reign, proclaimed among the nations believed on in the world, taken up in glory. So we have these essential truths about Christ put in a confessional statement. So confessionals were the first systematic theology to help. And are other examples that we've used on especially in public worship,

    John Gardner 15:50
    we have used the Nicene Creed, the Apostles Creed is probably the most common that we've used. That's the oldest one that we have record. That is just a, I think it's 12 bullet points of I believe this. The Nicene Creed really develops that a little further, there's the Athanasian Creed, which gets a lot more into the doctrine of the Trinity, which, by the way, is a good example of systematic theology. It's the word trinity doesn't appear in the Bible. And a lot of people like finding a verse that says that well, that's, you're looking for a verse that says, that is a bad wave doing theology, but what the Trinity is, or the Incarnation, some of these words that we use theologically are taking what all of what the Bible says, as true, and synthesizing that into a doctrine that we can, can help us understand what we're reading.

    Dan Jarms 16:47
    Yeah, that's good. So those those are examples. We have it in the Bible itself. We have it in church history of how to do theology. And we're always do well, to follow the Bible's lead in in how we approach God. So God tells us in a sense, or shows us how we can approach him and study him. One of the things that's very common when a person gets really excited about theology, is they they start getting argumentative and proud. Because knowledge puffs up. How do we avoid that when we do theology?

    John Gardner 17:19
    It's, it's interesting, a lot of times to talk about when people first start using theology, you should lock them in a cage. For that reason, for me, the more I study, the more I realized how much I still don't know. Yeah. And you know, there's there's almost a little bit of an exhilaration to, to gaining knowledge at first, like, Oh, now Now I understand things that I never understood. And I probably understand things nobody else understands. Yeah. Which is a very a prideful way to do it. But it's, it's it's a natural human reaction. But the deeper you dig, the more you realize just how great God is great as an enormous and and beyond our comprehension, you could never stop learning more about God. And that that should be a very humbling experience.

    Dan Jarms 18:12
    Yeah, the analogy, a preacher used early in my life, he was preaching at church here. And he said, the knowledge of God is is like the ocean and worth symbols. So what happens when you try to pour the ocean into a thimble? He says that there's spillage. He just, we that's how we have to remember ourselves that there's so much to God and so little about us, that we can know things truly about God, but we can never know things exhaustively. And that that keeps us humble, humble. It keeps us humble in that keeps us allowing theologians who may have a differing take on something, or they really love the Bible. They're really trying to use the Bible. I don't want to say just any theologian, but Bible loving theologians disagree on things. And why would you listen to somebody who disagrees with you because you're fallible? Like you're a thimble, so you're trying to get everything inside. So that helps us stay humble, and teachable, looking at how other people look at scripture. So alright, thanks, John, for joining us, glad to be here.

    Dan Jarms 19:34
    Thanks for joining us today, John and I worked through what is really the first issue when you personally study systematic theology that we talked about, which is the doctrine of God and theology proper. If you have other questions about theology, we would love to hear them. We're already getting some future podcast ideas about questions people have so email us at info at FB Let us know how we can help you
Dan Jarms

Dr. Dan Jarms is teaching pastor and team leader at Faith Bible Church in Spokane Washington, as well as associate dean at TMS Spokane. He has been married for over 30 years to Linda, and has three adult children. He earned his B.A. in English at the Master’s College, B.Ed. at Eastern Washington University, M.Div and D.Min in Expository Preaching at The Master’s Seminary. His other interests include NCAA basketball, gardening, brick oven cooking.

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John Gardner

John is the pastor over Music Ministry at Faith Bible Church. He is a coffee aficionado who loves most kinds of music, but has a particular fondness for big band (especially when he's playing trumpet in the band). He and his wife, Laurie, have 3 kids who enjoy reading, hiking, and the symphony.

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