Matthew (CBD Academic)
: Beginning in 2002 you published a series of books with WJK on four central theological topics including Eschatology
, and Christology
. How does The Christian Faith differ from these books? How can they be used in conjunction with one another?
Those books really helped me do a lot of the research that formed the background for writing this volume. They're sort of in the "studies in dogmatics" genre, where you get to focus on doctrinal issues that you're already interested in exploring. You can really drill down on some issues and ignore others. A systematic theology, I've learned, is pretty different. You can't dwell on hobby-horses. You can't think out-loud.
After all, you are trying to summarize "the faith once and for all delivered to the saints," insofar as any of us can do that. And all of us who are called to the ministry as pastors and teachers are called to do that regularly.
I had great editors at Zondervan who made sure there was no repetition from these earlier works. So it really is a new book, including new research, from the ground up. These other books can still serve as "for further reading" resources on various topics and I footnote those spots along the way.
If there was one thing you could say to pastors about the need for good theology, what would it be?
We're soul doctors. Not only do medical doctors dedicate years to formal instruction, they are regularly engaged in seminars, conferences, and training programs for continuing education. We all want doctors who not only have good bedside manner and can manage a staff; we look for expertise in the healing field.
Similarly, bad theology can be deadly. According to the latest Pew study, evangelical Christians trailed atheists and Mormons in understanding basics of the Bible and Christian doctrine as well as other religions. Something is wrong, and part of that is the false choice that many assume when it comes to doctrine and life, creeds and deeds, knowing and doing.
If theology is "the study of God," then there is nothing more important for us to explore, especially as pastors. One can't have a personal relationship with someone apart from knowing what that person is like and we can't be good spiritual healers unless we know how to diagnose and treat the illness.
Your Theology is a "top down" methodology that is dependent on revelation. How does your understanding of the trinity play into this paradigm, and specifically how does your understanding of Christology factor into your "top down" construction of a revelatory theological paradigm?
Great question. "The Word became flesh": that's where we begin. Instead of our rising to God in proud speculation, God descends to us in humility and grace.
We start with the particular God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. When it comes to the doctrine of Scripture, I press the importance of a Trinitarian conception of inspiration. If we make our view of inspiration hang entirely on the fact that the Word is spoken by the Father (and therefore cannot err), we can fall into a mechanical view; if we put all of the weight only on the Son as the content that grounds inspiration and authority, we can adopt a "canon-within-a-canon" approach: only that which preaches Christ (or that we judge preaches Christ) is actually Scripture.
Focusing exclusively on the Spirit's work is susceptible to "enthusiasm": separating the Spirit from the Word. So I try to show how a robust doctrine of inspiration is based equally on the Father's speaking in the Son by the Spirit.
Matthew: The Christian Faith
includes study questions at the end of each chapter, why were these included and who will benefit most from them?
Theology is not only done for the church, but at its best it is done in the church. My hope is that it will not only be used as a textbook in classes, but also in group studies within churches. The questions aren't selected with a view merely to recalling my conclusions, but as a springboard for guided discussion of the relevant scriptural passages by others.
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