15 March 2015 by Lim Poh Ann-
Sound doctrine is essential in the life and ministry of a believer. One way by which we can cultivate sound doctrine is by pursuing a theological education. Has the study of theology been overrated?
A proper understanding of biblical truths can only be achieved when we have a healthy respect for in-depth study of the Bible.
There is no short cut to attaining a strategic grasp of the Word other than taking the time and effort to go into serious study, be it self-study or seeking formal theological education. This is a task God will not undertake for us.
- May we learn from Ezra who had spent his entire life studying and obeying the Law of the Lord and teaching it to others (Ezra 7:10)
- May we be diligent in presenting ourselves as God’s approved workers—those who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).
To rightly handle scripture, we need to tap into the whole counsel of God and not just selected portions of the Word. “Cherry picking” is not only an unhealthy practice but it’s dangerous as it may lead us to draw faulty conclusions (Acts 20:27).
Sound doctrine forms the basis for holy living (Psalm 119: 9). It acts as a lamp and road map to guide us in the correct path (Psalm 119: 105). It also equips the man of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).
Apart from its positive applications, scripture is also relevant for reproof and correction when we sin. It also equips the man of God to refute and rebuke false teaching.
- “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
From the above, we learn that sound doctrine is essential in order to escape the clutches of sin and the deception posed by false teaching.
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
When we are well-grounded in scripture, we will not be so easily fooled by the many false teachers who go around twisting and “cherry picking” the Word.
One way by which we can cultivate sound doctrine is by pursuing a theological education.
However, we need to remember that the study of theology is only a means to an end. It is only a part of our Christian education. We can also learn much from obedience, experience and social interaction.
Furthermore, theology cannot be lumped under the same category as the sciences and arts. Because we are judged not necessarily by how much theological knowledge we have but how effectively it has transformed our lives as well as the people around us.
In my opinion, formal theological education is helpful in equipping someone for ministry but it must not be put on a pedestal. The danger is that we might “expand” our mind so much that we become cocky.
Accredited qualification certainly is an important criterion when it comes to choosing those fit for ministry. But we must also consider character (such as humility), emotional maturity, communication and social interaction skills.
Many great servants of God have no formal theological education and yet have a thriving ministry. However, they may be able to serve better if they had gone for formal theological education as exposure to others also plays a part—iron sharpens iron.
The study of theology can work out either positively or negatively for a believer. It depends on the person who pursues theological studies. Sometimes a person may end up even more confused after being exposed to so many different schools of thought.
Need for balance
Whilst renewing the mind—through theological education—is an important key to spiritual transformation, we must not put intellectual pursuit on a pedestal and neglect other key areas such as love, obedience and the role of the Holy Spirit.
George Verwer of Operation Mobilisation recalled the time when he went with someone to the office of Billy Graham. None of the office staff noticed them except the receptionist. They were too pre-occupied with an evangelistic campaign to pay attention to outsiders. Then Graham walked in and started shaking hands with everybody. He went over to greet both Verwer and his friend. Though much busier than the office staff, he had time to spare for others. He was full of warmth and love. Similarly, theologians must remain down-to-earth and be able to connect with ordinary folks.
For all his scholarship (he wrote most of the books in the New Testament), Paul was neither cold nor aloof. He demonstrated unconditional love for the believers at Corinth: “I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me” (2 Corinthians 12:15).
Jesus was equally at home whether he was preaching, attending a wedding, dining with sinners or blessing the children — equally spiritual and human.
Recognising the role of the Holy Spirit and being able to sense His leading are just as important as renewing our mind through theological education. Someone rightly puts it: “Too much Word and you dry up, too much Spirit and you blow up, the Word and the Spirit and you grow up”.
We need to check ourselves if we have been long on doctrine and short on practice. At the end of the day, head knowledge must grow in tandem with loving acts and practical ministry.
Is the impact we make in this world directly proportional to the number of theological degrees we have under our belt?
Serious personal Bible study a la the Bereans is needed so that we will not be deceived or put to shame. However, there is no harm learning from others who are gifted in teaching.
Teachers are specially gifted in the study and exposition of scriptures. That said, is it possible to have understanding that surpasses that of teachers?
How to develop discernment and escape the clutches of destructive heresies.
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