MODEST THEOLOGY: Theological KNOWLEDGE verses Theological PRACTICE (by Brother Armstrong)

Posted by Gabriel (G²) on February 5, 2008

 This is an articles by Brother Armstrong, specifically on the issue of what true relationship with Christ (and thus our THEOLOGY) should look like…and moreover, how true knowledge of Christ does not come by merely KNOWING CORRECT THEOLOGY…..but in PRACTICING IT!!!!! 


      Specifically, it deals with the concept of how many tend to believe that ORTHODOXY is the solution to all of the theological problems of our day. If you know correct doctrine, then you’re cool with Christ. However, as the Word makes clear, CORRECT DOCTRINE apart from continually seeking the ONE WHOM DOCTRINE IS BASED OFF ON….as welll as being content in merely KNOWING is an issue:



  God’s Word also says that merely hearing the Word of God but not seeking to live consistently with what you’ve read (i.e. merely having intellectual assent to it or a set of Christian teachings) is wrong…and from a different angle, acting as if saying all the right things but not doing them can also be considered a false doctrine…..AND dangerous as well

James 1:22-27

22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.


Pray everyone enjoys:


I have been making an argument, over the past three weeks, that the place to begin our journey with Christ, and the place to go back to again and again in order to continue our journey, is humble faith in Christ. I have also argued that faith must always begin with a proper object. Only when faith is in Christ does it make a difference. I concluded the last article by noting that such faith is a living, active trust that should rightly be called “the obedience of faith.” In this final article, we shall see that a proper theological procedure will always lead us to a truly humble and modest evangelical theology, a theology that is solus Christus, centered in Christ alone.

A Great Danger for Theology

A significant danger for all orthodox theology is to claim too much. For sure, we can claim too little. Minimalism is hot with many young evangelicals today. I stand squarely against it, especially in the pluralistic context of much that falsely calls itself evangelical. This approach, which casts doubt on everything from the Trinity, to the centrality of the bodily resurrection of Christ, is “Christianity lite,” In the end it will lead to something that is not distinctly Christian at all. (We still need a J. Gresham Machen to remind us that such liberalism is not really Christianity!) I do believe that there are real dangers in some brands of evangelicalism that will lead people back to the existential dangers of the older liberalism. These dangers may be without the obvious social trappings of the triumphalistic era at the beginning of the twentieth century, dubbed by some as “The Christian Century.” But there will always be a real danger-the danger that we deny truths that are central to knowing Christ. But I am more interested, in these four articles, to show how orthodoxy can go to seed, a problem not recognized enough in modern evangelicalism.

The place to begin is with the Apostle John’s magnificent prologue to the fourth gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5).

This statement should be followed up by words from the same apostle, words which demonstrate that faith, granted to us by the Holy Spirit who gives us true freedom, affirm the objective and factual reality of God’s special revelation in Jesus Christ. This is why I previously noted that our faith is not in propositions but in Christ alone, to whom all the truths of the gospel bear witness.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete (1 John 1:1-5).

Romans 1 makes it abundantly clear that humans do possess a real knowledge of God. This knowledge is more than intuition or deep feelings about the divine. It is an objective knowledge about “his eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20). As people look at God’s works they gain this knowledge. But this knowledge does not lead people to truly know God since “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21).

This is why Paul addresses the leading thinkers of Athens in the way that he does in Acts 17. What he claims is “that something new, innovative and altogether revolutionary is needed in order to overcome people’s disregard for and perversion of this objective revelation in nature: ‘What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you’ (Acts 17:23).”

John Calvin, the great Reformed theologian, called this knowledge of God the sensum divinitatis, an innate knowledge that men and women have of the reality of God. Calvin says: “To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the presence of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty.”

But Calvin was rightly insistent that this knowledge of God would never, in and of itself, lead a person to a correct, full and proper faith in God. Only in Christ can God be truly known. The semen religionis, or the seed of religion, is in all humans. But this seed is not living faith. It appears that God’s natural revelation is repressed, or pushed down, and finally rejected. This revelation is a good thing. It can be corrected and brought into the light so that it reveals God, but only by the gospel. Because this is true a more comprehensive, a more particular and a clearly historical revelation must take place. This is found only in Jesus Christ as he is witnessed to by the Spirit working through the Holy Scripture. The locus classicus of this revelation is the Canon of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments. These writings, deemed authoritative by the Spirit’s work and the church’s tradition, witness to Christ. And in Christ God speaks clearly to true faith. This truth is plainly set before us in Hebrews.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he also made the universe (Hebrews 1:1-2).

This is where some well-meaning orthodox Christians actually start to go bad, or go to seed as I put it. They mistake knowing the Bible, and knowing texts from the Bible, for actually knowing God. And then in defending the Scripture as infallible and authoritative, as over against various existential views of the Bible that speak of it as “becoming” the Word of God, they miss the central point-that the Scriptures witness to God’s activity in Jesus Christ, “the Word made flesh.” Life is not found in words or studies of words. It is this Word which is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). It is this Word that we must trust. This does not mean that the Bible is full of errors. It does mean that the Bible is not the Word in the full sense that Christ is the Word.

What this means for faith is critical. If faith is “a humble acknowledgment that the truth of the Word of God lies outside us and that it becomes ours only when we take up the cross and follow Christ in lowly discipleship,” then faith does not provide us with the type of certainty that evangelicals demand from their doctrinal systems and apologetical debates. Real faith, vital living faith, is rather “continually becoming sure as we return again and again to the wellspring of life and meaning-the Word of God, which is both hidden and revealed in Holy Scripture as well as in the broken yet relatively dependable witness of the fathers and mothers of the church through the ages.”

The reason true evangelical theology is modest is really quite simple. Christians confess that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ assures us of God’s grace and loving kindness. “We would know nothing of any substance and assurance about God” if Christ had not revealed him to us. This conviction, which is absolutely essential to true Christianity and real faith, must be expressed and lived as the “touchstone for our understanding” in an increasingly postmodern age.

The fact that all Christians have universally claimed that this self-revelation of God has occurred definitively and finally in Jesus Christ has never led the church to conclude that all the mysteries of life, or even all the mysteries and questions of the biblical testimony, are completely resolved. In John’s prologue we have the right measure stated in this way: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known (John 1:18). And we have St. Paul’s witness that “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great . . .” (1 Timothy 3:16a). And Jesus himself taught the Samaritan woman at the well this same truth when he said: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). D. Densil Morgan is correct to conclude:

Even within the context of its underlying clarity, revelation will always retain an element of elusiveness and ambiguity. God can never be domesticated or possessed or (by us) fully understood. The New Testament gospel is regularly referred to as a mystery (1 Corinthians 2:7; 4:1; Colossians 2:2; Ephesians 1:9), that is, it is not self-evident or readily understood.

This is what humble Protestant evangelical theologians like Calvin, Luther, Forsyth, Bavinck, Kuyper, Barth, Bonhoeffer and Bloesch have all contended for down through the centuries since the church in the West was sadly divided at the Reformation. And this is the truth of Isaiah 45:15: “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” God is both a revealing God and a hiding God.


A modest theology will finally recognize that more is hidden than disclosed. And it will conclude that the God of the Bible is always beyond our ability to fathom his ways: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thought than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). This God that we know in Jesus Christ is a God who is “unsearchable in his judgments and inscrutable in his ways” (Romans 11:34).

This is why the biblical wisdom of Karl Barth led him to grapple with this elusive element in divine revelation and to finally conclude that our theological understanding is always, and necessarily, very limited. Therefore it was Barth who put this best: “Evangelical theology is modest theology . . . because it is determined to be so by its object.” The object of all true theology is God. Theology is, properly speaking, the study and contemplation of God. Such a human pursuit should always humble those who have a deep and growing faith.


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