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Theology Is Life

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
December 26, 2022 12:01 am

Theology Is Life

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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December 26, 2022 12:01 am

We live in a day when people say theology doesn't matter. But if we love God, we will want to know all we can about Him. Today, R.C. Sproul explains why every Christian should study theology.

Get R.C. Sproul's Teaching Series 'What Is Reformed Theology?' on DVD with the Digital Study Guide for Your Gift of Any Amount: https://gift.renewingyourmind.org/2419/what-is-reformed-theology

Don't forget to make RenewingYourMind.org your home for daily in-depth Bible study and Christian resources.

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Have you ever heard someone say, it really doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're sincere? That idea communicates that what God is really concerned about with us is that we be religious. Doesn't matter what the religion is as long as we're sincerely religious. Well, that idea is on a collision course with biblical Christianity. Well, it does matter what you believe. Just a cursory examination of Jesus' teaching leaves no doubt about that.

That's precisely why Dr. R.C. Sproul devoted his life to studying and teaching God's Word. He believes strongly that Reformed theology best summarizes what we read in Scripture, and he's going to explain those foundational doctrines this week here on Renewing Your Mind. This is from his series, What is Reformed Theology? A few years ago, a professor from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, north of Boston, Dr. David Wells, published a book that fell like a bombshell on the playground of the nation's theologians, and the name of the book was No Place for Truth. Now, the subtitle, I think, is significant as he wrote in the subtitle, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? And in this book that caused quite a stir in the evangelical world, Dr. Wells outlined his concern for the demise of confessional theology in the life of the church today.

And I'd like to begin our series by reading a brief comment from that book by Dr. Wells. He makes this statement, the disappearance of theology from the life of the church and the orchestration of that disappearance by some of its leaders is hard to miss today, but, oddly enough, not easy to prove. It is hard to miss in the evangelical world in the vacuous worship that is so prevalent, for example, in the shift from God to the self as the central focus of faith, in the psychologized preaching that follows this shift, in the erosion of its conviction, in its strident pragmatism, in its inability to think incisively about the culture, and in its reveling in the irrational. I recently attended a meeting in Philadelphia of the board of an organization known by the acronym ACE, which is the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, which was brought together in the first place largely through the stimulus provided by Dr. Wells' book, for this group is concerned to help call the church back to its confessional foundation, understanding that Christianity has a theology. Now, the purpose of this series that we're beginning today is to give an overview, kind of a glimpse of the essence of that theology that is called Reformed theology, as distinguished from other branches of historic Christianity. Now, we won't have the time or the opportunity to go into all of the details of Reformed theology, but I want to give sort of a compendium, an introduction to the main ideas that we find in Reformed theology. And the first thing I want to say today is that Reformed theology is a theology.

Now, that sounds rather redundant, I realize that, but I want to make this distinction clear, that there is a difference between religion and theology. One of my favorite illustrations of this comes from a personal experience that I had several years ago when I was invited by the faculty and the administration of a college in the Midwest that was a Christian college, and they were without a president at the time, and as a result the school was going through a period of self-evaluation. And they asked me to come to address the faculty on the subject, what is a Christian college? And when I appeared on the campus, the dean greeted me and gave me the cook's tour of the facilities, and as we were going through the faculty office building, I noticed one of the office doors had the name stenciled across the top of the door, Department of Religion. And I didn't say anything, I just sort of fouled it back in my mind for a few moments, and then later on that evening as I addressed the faculty on the question, what is a Christian college?

Before I began my message, I asked them a question. I said, I noticed this afternoon that you have here at this institution a department of religion. And my question is, has this department always been called the Department of Religion? And there was an elderly professor in the back of the room who raised his hand and he said, no, it used to be called the Department of Theology. But we changed it about 30 years ago to the Department of Religion. And I said, well, why did you change it?

And he didn't know. And I asked the rest of the faculty and they began to guess why they changed it. They said, well, maybe to make it easier for our students to transfer their academic credits from our institution to other universities and so on. But I took off on that point to address the question, what is a Christian college? Or what is Christian education? And I reminded my colleagues that evening that there is a profound difference between the study of religion and the study of theology. Now, for those who are watching this presentation, I have put on my blackboard a brief diagram where I distinguish between two approaches to the question of faith.

One I call God-centered and the other I call man-centered. And the illustration that I use here has a circle with the word theology in it and a line coming underneath it to a subcircle which says anthropology. And the purpose of my diagram is to show that in a God-centered approach to faith, the discipline or the study of humanity, the science of anthropology, is subsumed under the science of theology. This reflects something of the way in which university courses were structured in the Middle Ages when it was said that theology was the queen of the sciences, the idea being that all other disciplines in education are subsumed under the search for ultimate truth that is found in the study of the nature and character of God. And it assumed that the study of humanity was always to be pursued in light of in light of our understanding of God.

Since man is created by God and that we are the image-bearers of God, to have a proper understanding of what it means to be human, we have to first study the prototype rather than looking at the reflection of that. And then below the center line I have the man-centered approach to things indicated by a circle that reads anthropology, and then under that is a smaller circle that says religion. If we go to secular universities today and study religion, usually that study will take place in the context of the department of sociology or of anthropology.

And the difference is this. The study of theology is the study of God Himself first and foremost. The study of religion is the study of a particular type of human behavior. We notice that there are all kinds of religions in the world, and when people are involved in religion, they're involved in certain characteristic things like prayer and worship and sacrifice and singing and devotions and that sort of thing, all of which belong to the trappings of human religion. And when we study religion from a human perspective, we are examining how people who have certain beliefs about the supernatural behave in their personal lives and in their cultic lives. But when I say at the outset that Reformed theology is a theology, not a religion, I mean by that that it is not simply a way of behaving that we can determine by studying the affairs of men, but rather it is a belief system that is indeed an entire life and worldview with God at the center.

Now, we live in a culture that has certain axioms and adages that are popular in the nomenclature of the day. You've heard it said, it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. And that idea communicates that what God is really concerned about with us is that we be religious. It doesn't matter what the religion is as long as we're sincerely religious. Well, that idea is on a collision course with biblical Christianity, because in the first instance, the Bible acknowledges that man is incurably religious.

He's homo religiosus, and that wherever we look in the world, we find all kinds of manifestations of religion. When the Jewish people were called by God and consecrated and set apart to be a holy nation, they were not the only religious people in the world. All the nations around them had their peculiar religions. But when God made His covenant with His people and called them to be holy, to be different, at the very beginning of His law, He made certain things absolutely clear. The first thing is thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

And the second, thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image. At the very beginning of the Old Testament covenant of Sinai was an emphasis on faith that was to be different from other religions, a faith that would be focused and centered on the character of God Himself. Now, we know what happened very early in the history of Israel in the Old Testament. We recently had a conference in Orlando on the essentials of the Christian faith, where I called attention to an incident that is recorded for us in the 32nd chapter of the book of Exodus, and I'll read a part of this episode to you beginning at verse 17. We read this, Now, when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. It is not the noise of the shout of victory, nor the noise of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.

Now, imagine this scenario. Moses is just now returning from Mount Sinai. He has been alone with God, conversing with God, as it were, face to face. And when he comes down from the mountain, he meets Joshua, and Joshua comes to Moses and he says, I hear this loud noise coming from the camp. And Joshua's first instinct was to guess that there was some kind of war going on, because you don't hear this kind of hooping and hollering and shouting from a mass of people except on the field of combat.

But as he drew closer, he said, Wait a minute. It's not the sound of victory. It's not the sound of defeat.

It's the sound of singing that I hear. And he realized that he was approaching the whole assembly of the people of Israel as they were gathered for religious observations, singing lustily in their celebration of their religion. But it was a celebration that centered on a golden calf, a golden calf that the people had imposed and begged the high priest Aaron to make for them, that they could have a God like all of the other nations, a God that was tangible, a God they could see, a God that was contemporary, a God that was relevant, a God they could get excited about. And the first high priest, consecrated by God Himself, exceeded to these demands from the people and built them a golden calf. Now, in the meantime, while this was going on initially, Moses, you recall, had been on Sinai in a relationship with God.

And God knew what was going on at the foot of the mountain. Moses didn't. Listen to what God says to Moses in verse 7. And the Lord said to Moses, go, get down, for your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.

They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. And they have made themselves a molded calf and worshiped it and sacrificed to it. And they said, this is your God, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt. And the Lord said to Moses, I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people.

Now, therefore, let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them, and I will consume them. Now, the people were engaged in religion. But the religion they were celebrating was a religion that had a theology of this world, a theology that distorted and corrupted the very character of God, a theology that moved away from true and honorable worship of God to the worship of creaturely man-made things. And God said to Moses, look at this. They're worshipping this calf, and they're saying, this is the God who brought us out of the land of Egypt, as if that calf made by their own hands could have delivered them from anything. They prayed to the calf. They offered worship and sacrifices to this calf, and the calf was deaf. The calf was dumb. It couldn't see anything.

It couldn't do anything. It was not omnipotent, but impotent. But it was a substitute for the living God. Now, in the first chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul says that God has revealed Himself through the things that are made so clearly and so manifestly that everyone in this world knows the eternal power and deity of God. And yet the primary sin of the human race is to take that knowledge of God and to push it down, to do what the Apostle says in Romans, to suppress the truth and hold it in unrighteousness, and then exchange that truth for a lie and serve the creature rather than the Creator.

The exchange is between the uncorruptible, transcendent, holy God who is for the corruption of creaturely things. In other words, friends, the most basic sin that we, not just pagans in far-off Aborigine lands or in primitive tribes commit, but that we commit is the besetting sin, the proclivity for idolatry. And idolatry involves religion, but even the Christian religion can be idolatrous when we strip God of His true attributes and place at the center of our worship something other than God Himself. Now, if we're going to look at the essence of Reformed theology, I have to say to you that the most strict focus of Reformed theology is on theology, on the knowledge of the true God. We live in a day when people say theology doesn't matter.

This is what David Wells was decrying in his book, No Place for Truth. What counts is feeling good, being ministered unto in our psychological needs, having a place where we can feel the warmth of fellowship and have a sense of belonging and of relevance. And theology is something that divides, something that stirs up controversy and debates. We don't need doctrine, we're told.

We need life. Well, at the heart of Reformed theology is the affirmation that theology is life, because theology is the knowledge of God. Knowledge of God.

And there's no more important knowledge that exists to inform our lives than the knowledge of God. This is what the Protestant Reformation was all about. There were scandals in the priesthood. There were problems of immorality, both among the Roman Catholic people and among the Protestant people. And Luther at that time said, Erasmus attacked the pope in his belly.

He said, I have attacked him in his doctrine. And Luther even admitted, he said, we find scandalous behavior among our own people, but what we're trying to do first is come to a sound understanding of God, because our lives will never be Reformed. Our lives will never be brought into conformity to Christ until we first have a clear understanding of the original form, of the model, of the ideal, of true humanity that is found in Christ. And that's a matter of theology. So, we start with the clear acknowledgement that the Reformed faith is a theology, a theology that permeates the whole structure. If our understanding of the foundation is flawed, everything that's built upon it is flawed as well.

That's why we're featuring Dr. R.C. Sproul's series, What is Reformed Theology? Thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind.

I'm Lee Webb. And, you know, as we survey the Christian landscape, we see a trend toward dismissing theology and concentrating more on emotional experience. This teaching is a biblical rebuttal to that line of thinking.

There are 12 lessons in the series on three DVDs. Our offices are closed today for the Christmas holiday, but you can still make your request online. You'll find us at renewingyourmind.org. In our latest State of Theology survey, we can see tragic results of the lack of a theological foundation. For example, among professing evangelicals, there is a great misunderstanding even about who Jesus is. More than 50 percent of evangelicals believe He is a created being, and nearly a third of evangelicals believe that Jesus was merely a good teacher, but not God. We encourage you to look at more results from our latest survey.

You can find it at thestateoftheology.com. One of the frequent nicknames that we will hear used to define Reformed theology is the term covenant theology. To be candid with you, I almost never use that designation.

It's not that I'm opposed to it for any particular reason. It's just that I think it can be a little bit misleading, because I think all Christians recognize that the concept of covenant is obviously front and center in both Testaments. In fact, when we talk about the Old Testament and the New Testament, we are talking about the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, and we're all aware of the reality of covenant language that is sprinkled throughout the Scriptures. We hear about lots of covenants in the Old Testament, the covenant that God makes with Noah with the sign of the rainbow in the sky, and the covenant with Abraham with the sign of circumcision, and the covenant at Sinai with Moses, and we hear of Jeremiah speaking about a New Covenant, and we know that in the upper room when our Lord is celebrating the Passover with His disciples the night before His execution, He institutes the New Covenant and speaks of the New Covenant in His blood, and so on. And so we have this repeated motif of covenant in Scripture. But the reason why Reformed theology is often called covenantal is because it sees the structure or format of covenant in the Bible as being a crucial element in which the whole plan of redemption works out and becomes kind of a key to understanding and interpreting the whole of Scripture. And because of that, Reformed theology stresses this central motif of covenant as the framework in which redemption is carried out. Next time, Dr. Sproul discusses where Reformed theology agrees with other Christian traditions, and where it disagrees. Christians are quite willing to affirm the sovereignty of God. But if we push the discussion to the relationship of God's sovereignty, for example, to the doctrine of election in a very short period of time, there will be a very serious controversy about the nature of God. We'll continue Dr. Sproul's series, What is Reformed Theology, Tuesday, here on Renewing Your Mind. I hope you'll join us.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-26 02:33:12 / 2022-12-26 02:41:13 / 8

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