My New Theology
I am going to shock all my readers by announcing that I am starting my own brand of theology. I see many truths in different doctrines, different theologies, different denominations. But I have to question why we have so many differences. Why is each person entitled to their own interpretation? Why do Calvinists see John 3:16 totally differently from Arminians? What does "it" refer to in Ephesians 2:8? Why do dispensationalists see several different covenants, but the Covenant Theology people see only one? Why are fundamentalists so strong on being transformed outwardly as well as inwardly, but the "grace" folks have "freedom in Christ?"
I have a lot of respect for most of my readers here (even those that disagree with me kindly), but I have learned one thing that I never realized until I started writing here: Even truly dedicated Christians will often go to "man" rather than God. I post a lot of Scripture here, and rather than discuss the specific Scripture, I have been surprised at how many times I am "encouraged" to go read what some man has to say about the subject, as if that's God final word on the subject. I have readers telling me to read Edersheim or DA Carson, some tell me I need to read more commentaries, and a couple think John MacArthur will set me straight. Here's an example of one comment to my straight quoting of Scripture:
"You (and Mark) should refer to reliable Christian commentaries to revise this statement. If you mean this, then your understanding of the Gospel in insufficient. ... You will cause harm to everyone who reads and believes your distortion."
I have a feeling this person is a friend of mine, but I am truly concerned when well-meaning Christians go to commentaries rather than God's Word to see what God says. Commentaries are written from the worldview (the spiritual worldview) of the author. Don't we choose our commentaries based upon our already established beliefs and doctrine? Then we are just preaching to the choir, aren't we?
Here's what I've decided: I am starting a new theology - Bereanology. As you might guess, Bereanology is based upon the verse that says the Bereans "received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Luke says that the Bereans were noble for this attitude. Notice that they did not have their own interpretaion of Scripture. They did listen to the apostles (their word wasn't exactly "gospel" back then!), but they tested everything they said. They did not idolize men. They didn't search the commentaries daily, they didn't read the latest fad book, they didn't try to find their purpose in life. They just studied the Scriptures - every day - to find the truth, the truth of God's Word. They didn't read through the whole Bible in one year (although that's not necessarily bad), and they didn't follow a devotional booklet. Their minds were fully open when they listened to the preaching and teaching of God's Word, but they went home and checked it out for themselves - from the Scriptures. Sola Scriptura.
Is there anything wrong with reading other authors? Commentaries? Listening to our favorite preachers/teachers? Not at all. But we must begin at the beginning, by studying God's Word for ourselves, and test EVERYTHING we hear and read - again by the Scriptures.
Here is what I've learned. I've learned to study one book at a time. I read it several times to get an overview and find the main point or so. I like to mark key words then, chapter by chapter, or passage by passage. This has become absolutely critical for me. Then I make a list of exactly what the Scripture says about that word (or group of words or compare/contrast-type words, etc.), a sample of which I posted here earlier. The first time I did this, many years ago, I was very confused about the Holy Spirit, having been taught nothing at all about Him in my churches growing up, then hearing some doubtful ideas in the Assembly of God church we were in (I just couldn't find what they were saying in Scripture), and then hearing all kinds of contradictory teachings about the Holy Spirit. So, I read slowly through the whole book of Acts, marking and learning other things as well, but making a list of only what the Bible said about the Holy Spirit. I had many, many pages of verses that talked about the Holy Spirit when I finished, and I have a strong foundation of what God alone has to say on the subject. As I study other books, I am able to add to my list as well. You can imagine that I have thousands of lists by now. I will not tell you my conclusion because it was such a life-changing experience for me that I wouldn't want to rob you of that joy of discovery for yourself!
Being a Berean can include many other aspects of studying the Scriptures, such as word studies, cross references, and constantly asking contextual questions as you dig deeper, but I remember one surprise that this Bereanology had for me. I was studying Revelation this way several years ago, and I was SO tempted to just read the commentaries and see what they said each thing meant. After I made my lists and all (which really only scratched the surface - I haven't gone in depth in Revelation yet), I was SO eager to read certain commentaries, so I pulled out several. I won't name names here, because sometimes they are very useful, I'm sure, but as I started reading the commentaries, one after the other, I had to say about each one: "But that doesn't line up with what the Bible said." That was when I saw firsthand the value of studying Scripture for yourself.
There are lots of useful tools in studying God's Word, such as the concordance, dictionary, and sometimes even commentaries. There are historical context books that are very useful as well. Use the tools, but use them as tools and not as the finished product.
The ideas I have listed here are not the only way to study Scripture, and I don't claim to either have an exclusive handle on studying Scripture or to know what every verse means. I don't even begin to. But I do love studying God's Word, like a Berean, studying not to obtain knowledge, but to know God. I may attain some knowledge along the way, but my desire is to know God.
Bereanology. Who's with me?