Any area of study requires the teacher and the student to chase after precision and clarity. My father taught math and science for 40 years, which caused him to be a a man of precision and clarity. There is no doing math with a dash of "nuance" or widening gray areas such as the famous Orwellian 2+2=5. My mother taught English for the vast majority of her career in teaching. When it comes to grammar, there are rules and parts of speech don't go bouncing from category to category. A noun is a noun, verbs are verbs, and diagramming a sentence was quite simple once you understood the parts of speech. Learning boundaries, defining rules and categorizing is a part of all learning and subjects. Even in the seemingly subjective world of Psychology, there are rules, standards, categories and definitions. There is a study of both the conscious and the unconscious. Within the unconscious there is the collective unconscious. There is also the study of the personal unconscious. It is important to be clear and to understand categories within subjects if you want to be understood.
It is absolutely amazing how precise we are, and how we demand precision and clarity in math, science, English, literature, even art (which is seemingly subjective *yet has rules as well) but when it comes to theology (learning about God) and doctrine (what God has to say) we tend to act like there are not hard and fast categories, rules, standards or definitions. *I would dare say that we have come so far as to despise rules and standards and any form of Dogmatism in the church or in our spiritual lives. Partly because we think that the more we understand about God, the harder our life will then be. We think if we learn that He will take away our fun! If this is the case, then I would contend that the person who thinks like this does not know God at all. Nor does He understand His need for a Savior.
But there is a sense of freedom in learning. Part of learning is that there are rules and making those rules clear brings one to become more enlightened. And so it is for all of life. The more we learn about God, the more free we will be to understand what it is that our benevolent Creator not only requires for us, but actually how much He wants us to know Him and enjoy Him and this life that He has given. The purpose of theology is not necessarily how much you know but who you know. In the last days, what separates people is the pronouncement which has to do with whether or not you know God and He knows you. And it is through careful understanding of God's Word that we come to know God.
I absolutely love the book of John. I love the "I am" statements and I love seeing who Jesus is through this whole book. So I just want to take a minute to look at John 10:10 because I think we not only learn something about Jesus, but about our perceptions towards Him at times. And this has everything to do with the way you approach God's Word and the study of God's Word as well.
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10
We see that Jesus' intention is that we have Life (Jesus Himself) and when we have Jesus himself, we begin to experience Jesus and this world that He spoke into existence. He was the Word (Logos). He is Truth. He is Life. He speaks into us Life through the Gospel (Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God). So when we Have Truth, we have Life. And this Life we now live, we can live experiencing (with a restored understanding) all the things He intended for us. The emphasis here is not on acquiring stuff, but on experiencing Jesus. The dead world can only accumulate junk and things that fade. Christians learn that this life is so much more than eating, or what we are wearing or how much we are making. It is about who not what. It is about God and others, not stuff and things. This is the restored perspective that the Gospel brings to sinners made saints. Jesus wants us to have life (him) and understand life the way He does.
But I want to talk about the first part of the verse as well because this connection is so crucial. The thief comes to kill, steal and destroy. Sometimes, the reason we don't want theology, or to study to know God is that we believe it will restrict us from enjoying life. Isn't that interesting? So, the way we are perceiving God (knowing Him more) is to think of him more like the thief. Like God is going to take away all my fun if I study His Word and begin to see how much He hates sin and loves righteousness. We think of God like the thief instead of the One who gave His only Son (abundant Life) to us. Theology applied carefully and systematically does not take life, it gives life.
Do you think of theological study and time with God as a task or duty rather than fun and delight? Do you find religion constricting and complicated rather than freeing and simple? Or are you just afraid that if you do understand what it says then you will be bound to obey it?
Gone are the days where everyone studied theology and doctrine. Up until the 1950's it seemed that almost everyone could talk intelligently at length about theology, doctrine and the Bible in general. No longer do we see this.
But I hope to see a continued 2nd Reformation take place where everyone is pouring over the Word along with commentaries, and Calvin's Institutes, Bavinck, Kuyper, Barth, Bonhoeffer, etc..., We are in a time of more books than we can ever imagine and yet very few are actually reading. We have Bible after Bible in our home and they far too often sit idly by collecting dust. As in another earlier post, as Huxley predicted, we are drowning in information.
But there is a new wave of pastor/theologians coming that desire to see their people learning, understanding and applying God's Word not only to certain areas of their life, but to all their Life. Will you be a part of this 2nd reformation taking place? This must be done through a return to a theological thirst and learning theological precision. So then, pick up your Bibles, read often, and read a book by a great theologian once in a while as well. You may just enjoy it and your Life may just Reform to the Word.
Over the past months I have been re-acquainting myself with various writers that I missed during my years of theology books and commentaries. One such writer that I have found myself enjoying of late is Aldous Leonard Huxley. He lived from July 26, 1894 to November 22, 1963. He was best known for his novels including Brave New World and a wide-ranging output of essays. Huxley also edited the magazine Oxford Poetry. He published short stories, poetry, travel writing, and film stories and scripts.
Often times I am interested in what these men believe and appreciate the connection made to principles I highly value as a Christian and "early existentialist" (Kierkegaardian). As such, I value self examination. God's Word tells us to highly value self examination, so I do. Deep introspection done properly will bring us through Life Reformation (aka "Gospel transformation."
In general, Huxley wrote about the problems of creating illusions, kidding ourselves and living a lie. He believed that we often construct walls where we consequently imprison ourselves, closing ourselves off from the very truth we were once seeking.
Along these lines Huxley writes, "If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion."
1. Huxley believed that self knowledge is painful
Huxley rightly notes that being honest with ourselves is extremely painful. This is becoming a greater issue in our day in age. Most people can't handle the truth. We live in a world where we get only somewhat positive feedback. And if we don't like the feedback we're getting, we can block them. If someone disagrees with us, we don't know how to handle it emotionally. Well, if we do that in our relationships, imagine what we are doing in the conversations of our heart!
The difficulty of being honest with ourselves is that it hurts. But it is meant to be that way. Part of seeing who we really are (our total depravity) brings about what is called "guilt." We should not be content or happy with our current conditions as long as sin and rebellion remains in our hearts. So guilt will be there when we are truly honest with our hearts. As a reformed Christian, we are not into morbid introspection, where the fear or guilt cripples us to the point where we wallow like Eeyore all day long. So, we need to approach this Biblically in view of the Gospel. So, the bigger question is, what do we do with that guilt?
What are we to do with this issue of "feeling badly" about ourselves? For Huxley, it gets a bit nuanced and hazy at this point. He believed in being honest about the human condition, but he did not have the answer for guilt and sin. He believed in being honest for the sake of self empower-ment and to experience life more realistically. But this falls short of a Gospel telos and lends itself to self-worship.
So for the Christian, guilt is meant to show us that we cannot uphold the Law of God. It shows us that we can never measure up! It goes to show, that (*contra the new age cry of "the answer lies within") the answer for guilt lies in the power of the cross. I cannot change me! I cannot do better, try harder or do more to earn grace. I am completely dead, broken, sinful, and need a Savior. Guilt is meant, like the Law, to drive us to the Grace and Freedom that is found only in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unlike Huxley who believed this condition was to drive us to self, honest assessment is meant to drive us to a Savior.
2. Huxley believed that we tend to prefer the pleasures of illusion
Huxley also contended correctly that the natural impulse for humans is not to be honest with ourselves, but to run from the very truth that can save us. Most prefer to remain in ignorance. And so it goes that truly "Ignorance is Bliss." People do prefer the pleasures of illusion. The one creating that illusion desires to be something they are not! As the Bible writes, the heart is deceitful. We often are the ones deceiving ourselves. The Bible also writes that a part of God's natural law is "the one who deceives will himself be deceived."
What we learn from this is that the one who is unable to rightly discern within will naturally lose the ability to discern those things without. Huxley notes correctly that the sad part is people enjoy the illusion. They celebrate their fake world that they have created. They enjoy being deceived. What they don't realize is that they lose the ability to discern truth. This affects their entire life, and they are living in an imaginary world.
This is the world that we are living in now. We enjoy fake news (right and left), fake friends, fake gospels, fake religions, fake food, fake marriages, etc..., We delight in fantasy and fiction over facts and truth.
This world is crying out for Gospel authenticity, something true and real. The first place to start is by being honest with ourselves. One by one, as we wake up from our slumber, stand face to face with our own heart and deal with our deception, we will begin to see the Gospel light brought about from guilt moving to grace through honest self examination and confession, which truly brings about Gospel celebration and life reformation.
I am a great sinner saved by far greater grace. God has blessed me with a wonderful family and a beautiful Gospel congregation at Twin Lakes Bible Church.