“Watch your life and your doctrine closely.” – 1st Timothy 4:16
I’ve heard it said that academic theology and spiritual Christianity are on two separate ends of Biblical living. If one studies the backgrounds of theology and the origin of theory – they are accused of being nothing more than critics of everyday Christian living. If one relies only on the guidance and inspiration of what the Holy Spirit reveals without verification through academics, they are accused of being ignorant in their doctrine with nothing more than a folk theology faith – only accepting what is spoon-fed to them from behind the pulpit.
So which is true?
Is it an insult to God if we do not only rely on what the Holy Spirit reveals to us without doing study of our own? Is it an intelligence depravity that we force ourselves to live in if we do lean only on His guidance and nothing else?
Such extremes are what I’ve grappled with a lot lately. I count myself to be blessed to be able to grow both spiritually and intellectually during my time at Southwestern, don’t get me wrong. But at the same time, I fear that there is a growing urge to be critical of those who are not lined up in accordance to what true Biblical interpretation is – and thus they profess false doctrine eisogetically from behind the sacred desk.
But the question arises to my conscience – is such a criticism even criticism at all? If my whole intention is only a reaction to the challenge presented to Timothy from Paul to combat false doctrine – are my actions or thoughts bad? Does it mean that I do not have faith in the Holy Spirit if I desire to research, uncover and diligently pursue an academic explanation to countless presented doctrines?
I submit that such a passionate pursuit of truth is what God would desire. All truth is God’s truth. One might ask – so then is it possible that someone can be deep in academic study while at the same time submitting to the Holy Spirit’s revelation? I believe so. For it is during these moments of study that God’s character is more revealed to the heart of the studier. Should we draw the line at reading the Bible and praying for revelation? I would say no. I believe it is vital to fully understand the time and context in which passages were written. Without full knowledge of the author’s intention or the background of a passage, how could one honestly call themselves teachers of truth?
I am reminded of a particular ministry that was raising funds for a missions trip. They organized fundraisers, sent sponsor letters and worked effortlessly to make a number of trips possible. But there was one flaw – their Biblical interpretation. They made banners with their mission team’s slogan on them, and they quoted this verse – “Bow down and worship me and I will give you the nations of the world.” – Matthew 4:9.
Right away, anyone who has any Biblical knowledge will recognize that this text is not used properly. Those were the very words spoken by Satan to Christ in the passage that talks about the temptation of Jesus — yet, a missions ministry was attempting to use the devil’s words to endorse their expeditions. I would only assume this was done unintentionally, but it it points to a very important and crucial need to be sound in correct doctrine and interpretation.
Does this mean that every time a minister of God’s Word gets up to preach that we should look blatantly for false doctrine? Absolutely not. My challenge to you, as well as Paul’s challenge to a growing mind in Christ, is to know your doctrine correctly – sound doctrine – and know it well enough to recognize when there is something out of line with God’s Word. Does this mean you sacrifice community with the Holy Spirit and reliance on His revelation for academic study of previous theologian’s findings? Absolutely not. Paul instructed Timothy to study to show himself approved (2nd Timothy 2:15). Study. Research. Learn. Grow. By doing so, you not only grow in the foundation of what God has rooted to be the truth – but you also learn so much more about His identity and who He is – beyond the pages of Scripture. And I believe that such study requires even more dependency on the Holy Spirit’s guidance to find ultimate truth.
Academics. Spirituality. — Opposing ideologies? On the contrary. I believe they go hand in hand – and as the first grows, the latter will flourish. To choose one over the other only cheapens the call that God has upon your life.
Challenge yourself. Challenge your mind. Challenge what you’ve been taught.
And remember – “… watch your doctrine closely.”