This was a position paper I wrote back in October 2000 for a Theology class at Dallas Theological Seminary on my “My Personal Approach to Theology.”
Upon entering Dallas Theological Seminary, I have had a butterflies-in-my-stomach sense of overwhelming anxiety that I don’t have the self-discipline, brainpower or motivation to succeed in theological studies. My fear in attending seminary has been that I would become a “theological egg-head”, and have a great working knowledge of how to dissect the Bible to its minutiae while not being in ministry and using what I’ve learned to affect me or people I connect with. My approach to theology is similar to some, and yet may be so distant from others.
I grew up in a caring family of five. My parents are moral, but Jesus Christ was a good expletive and sometimes a distant figure to be feared and remembered on holidays, but only by singing Christmas carols or watching an Easter parade. Growing up in Ramona, California (a town in San Diego County), I was a “good” small-town boy who never went to church except to go to Boy Scout meetings in the early to mid-1980’s. Honestly, I never noticed I had a void in my life. My parents were stable and my dad was always the rock that many people looked up to and I was his biggest fan. My dad and I were close, in fact, the way I view God as my Father today as a 25 year old man is still very affected by how I saw my dad while growing up. Having been born-again at age 17 by putting my faith and trust in Jesus Christ to forgive me of all my sin—past, present and future—through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, I now realize I have a new family. This family has become much closer to me than my earthly family; not being raised in a church environment, I didn’t know what it meant to have an extended family that weren’t even blood relatives.
Upon graduating high school, I attended a public university in San Diego for a year, and then moved on in 1994 to Christian Heritage College in El Cajon, California. It was there where I fell in love with systematic theology, which until that point, I had never even heard of the word. I would be so annoyed by the Bible majors, of which I was one, because a large majority of them would bicker back and forth in these seemingly useless arguments about things that made no sense to me. I would watch young men yell at each other and get upset over theological issues. I guess because of my easy-going personality, I never saw it as an alluring desire to join them in these mealtime dialogued flagellations over theology. I graduated with a B.A. in Biblical Studies with an emphasis in Youth ministry in May 1998.
Upon graduation, my 4 year youth ministry internship at a local church ended and they sent my new bride and I to a nearby church about 20 minutes away in order for me to be the Director of Youth and Worship. For two years we served there, and endured much hardship, being newly married and already attacked and beat up from people who could define ‘grace’ for you on paper, but not manifest it in their lives.
It was at this church where I sensed a need and desire to further my theological education at DTS, honing my hermeneutical and homiletical skills in order to be a sharp and excellent Senior Pastor. I don’t perceive I’ll gain a love for the church innately from classes, but that is an internal love from the Lord cultivated outside of formal education. This is the direction we are headed, realizing that God is Sovereign and can change our plans at His whim and desire.
My primary method of theology is the definition of the term: the study of God. It is my goal not only to “study God” while in seminary for formal education, but for the rest of my life attempting to follow Jesus Christ. Being a “theologian”, in my mind, up until the beginning of my seminary career, has had a negative connotation due to negative experiences with the Bible majors at college. I am a theologian, not in the traditional scholarly sense, but as one who seeks to study God’s word and creation and allow the Spirit of God to transform me by its truth.
Perhaps my favorite resource in systematic theology has been the book Basic Theology, by Charles C. Ryrie. It is such a readable, clearly categorized and stimulating work, that I have used it for many of my sermon preparations and personal study times. It does not claim to be an exhaustive work on systematic theology, but is an extensive overview of it.
For several years in my high school career and into my first two years of college, I was involved in several musical groups and ensembles, which cultivated within me a strong skill for performance, stage presence and musical ability. With excellence comes its antithesis of perfectionism, which spawns the sin of a critical and judgmental spirit. When a perfectionist observes anything less, that lesser object is demeaned. It is also indicative to pass judgment without educating myself on the particular matter being judged. I’m learning to search for myself what I believe, rather than passing blind judgment on it or ignorantly believing it. For instance, rather than giving my opinion on something without having any working knowledge of its subject (which is lazy), I am taking initiative to learn about the subject and forming an opinion afterward rather than before.
I realize I do have inherent biases, which have been cultivated both from within, due to personal experiences, and from without, where I heard another person’s opinion about a subject and took their word for it. I’m learning to examine beyond my own biases and vantage point to be able to gain a broadened perspective, as I research a particular subject. This will be my greatest challenge, as I am growing through my inadequacies of dangerously believing something because someone convincingly said so. In other words, I am placing myself in the “student” or “apprentice” role of learning from others.
I hope my theology guides my thinking and my actions for the rest of my life. Since that is the standard I am trying to attain, then it is also my goal to seek to be correct in my theology, according to the Bible. In my teaching, both currently as a Junior High Pastor, and in the future (Lord willing) as a Senior Pastor, I hope my theology guides my shepherding—the way the Elders and I care for the flock, the way the Elders and I lead, as well as the way we “feed”, or teach. Whether it is the topics I choose to teach on, my expository preaching, or my emphases in teaching, I want to major on the Majors and minor on the minors.
My desire in theology is to be orthodox—correct in doctrine, correlative—always seeking the principle, and practical—allowing the Holy Spirit to shape my life by the word of God in this day and age. Jesus Christ is the Master, I am His student.