Doing Theology – February 2018 “Tabletalk”

TT-Feb-2018The February 2018 Tabletalk is out, with this month’s issue being devoted to a favorite subject of its founder, Dr. R. C. Sproul. That subject is “Doing Theology,” and Sproul is referenced often in this issue, in particular, his book Everyone’s a Theologian.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces the issue  and its theme with his article “Doers, Not Hearers Only.” This is part of that introduction:

Doing theology means studying Scripture and studying the words of our faithful forefathers who faithfully studied Scripture. It means studying the historic creeds and confessions of the church, which serve as helpful summaries and explanations of what Scripture teaches. It means studying not only books on systematic theology but also biblical commentaries, as well as books on hermeneutics (the method of interpreting Scripture), church history, historical theology, and even Christian living (how to apply theology in all of life), for theology rightly understood is theology rightly applied in life. It also means studying theology as we sit under the ministry of the Word in our local churches, week in and week out, through worship, song, and the sacraments. For when we study theology, we are studying God, that we might rightly know, love, worship, and proclaim the triune God of Scripture, not the god of our own making.

The first featured article on the theme of the issue is “How Not to Do Theology” by associate editor Robert Rothwell. In the course of his article he distinguishes between solo Scriptura and sola Scriptura (notice the single vowel difference in the two solas):

To fail to recognize that we are actually doing theology all the time and especially when reading the Bible is one aspect of what it means to practice solo Scriptura. In essence, we may define solo Scriptura as the belief that we do not need the assistance of the church, the creeds, and teachers throughout history in order to rightly understand the Bible. The practitioner of solo Scriptura thinks that he is not bringing any preconceived notions to his study of the Bible. He believes that simply studying the Word of God on his own is sufficient to guide him into all truth.

Sola Scriptura, on the other hand, says that while the Bible is the only infallible authority for the church, believers actually need the help of subordinate, fallible authorities to understand divine revelation rightly. Creeds, theologians from the present and past, and one’s local church all provide useful guidance in understanding the Word of God. They provide a way for us to measure the accuracy of our private interpretations of Scripture. Christ has promised to be with His church and to guide His corporate people in the understanding of His truth (Matt. 28:20; Eph. 4:11–13). Among other things, that means that He does not speak in a code that only a few can understand, and He does not grant insight to us as individuals that He fails to give to other people. If we think we have discovered something new in Scripture, it is probably not true, and it is probably not a new error either.

As Protestants, we have to think carefully about the right of private interpretation and how we as individuals relate to the wisdom of the church. The story of the Reformation is sometimes told as a story of rugged individualism, of individuals who came to independent conclusions and who resisted error because they had the courage to stand for the truth when no one else would. Certainly, many of the Reformers reached points at which they felt as if no one was standing with them, but they also recognized that they were, in fact, not really teaching anything new. Martin Luther advocated for justification by faith alone and for Scripture as our only infallible authority, but others came to the same conclusions as he did independent of his work even though Luther’s personality shaped the Reformation decisively. And Luther and others came to these conclusions by recognizing that the final authority of Scripture does not mean other subordinate authorities have nothing to teach us. In fact, one of their criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church was that it is not catholic—universal—or ancient enough. The Reformers appealed to the church fathers, medieval theologians, and earlier creeds to show that it was the papacy that had struck out on its own, not the Reformers.

So are you a theologian? Indeed you (we) are! The question is, What kind of theologian are you and am I? Are we theologians whose foundation is the holy Scriptures, God’s only source of authoritative and infallible teaching? And are we theologians in the context of a church that holds to this inspired and infallible authority?

Of course, we also “do theology” in accordance with the historic creeds of Christ’s church. There’s an article on that too in this issue! So, we will also consider that aspect of our theology later this month.

For now, let’s get busy with our theology by reading and studying God’s holy Word!