By Fred O. Blakely
"Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the Word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15, ASV).
As we understand the Apostle, this is not primarily an exhortation for Timothy to study the Scriptures, as is often inferred from the KJV. ("Study to show thyself approved.") These the young evangelist had known "from a child" (ch. 3:14-15). The charge here is for Timothy—and all who seek to , preach or teach in any generation—to give great concern and effort to acquiring the ability to so handle God's Word as to meet His approval. It is one thing to know what is actually written in the Scriptures of truth; that is important—nay, indispensable—for those who would minister the Word. But one may have this knowledge and yet be unable to handle it properly, or to so present the Word as to set forth the truth on a given subject. That is one of the great and prevailing faults of our day, as it seems to have always been. As we perceive the many wrong uses of Scripture—even perversions of it—by contemporaries, it becomes evident that many, indeed need "to be ashamed" of their spiritual workmanship. It is for the correction of this kind of situation, or for guarding against its occurrence, it appears that Paul's exhortation was intended—and also is very applicable to today's need.
A fundamental requirement for preachers and teachers who would have God's approval is thus made clear with emphasis by Paul. “The Word of Christ” must not only dwell in them "richly," but must do so "in all wisdom" (Col. 3:16). Not only must they be filled with the knowledge of God's will; that infilling must be "in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." Their walking "worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing" is dependent upon this circumstance (Col. 1:9-10).
Although we are inherently averse to use of the term, it seems that the nomenclature of the day compels us to resort to the word "theology" in order to effectively communicate with the reader in this connection. Broadly, the word is defined as the study of God and His government in relation to the world and man. It has been called "the queen of the sciences," and well it is, since it deals with, by far, the most important themes that can engage the mind of men or angels.
As concerns its relation to the individual today and its employment by him, we should like to elaborate on the dictionary definition of theology. One's theology, as we say, consists of the overall grasp of God and God's kingdom by which he seeks to interpret and apply both Scripture and the experiences of life. This is what Jack Cottrell, in his "Theology and the Church" (Christian Standard, Feb. 7, 1982, pp. 4-5) called one's "theological system." Thus, everyone takes his religion at all seriously has a theology or a theological system, whether he has ever called it by that or not. It may be very elementary—and hence, very inadequate, or it maybe thorough and profound—and more apt to enable him to "handle aright the Word of truth."
The way in which this theology, or concept of God and the things pertaining to Him, is obtained varies. It may be blindly received by tradition from other men, one's alma mater, from one’s favorite theolog, or one’s parents. Something of those kinds of sources probably accounts for most churchmen's theology. Or, one's knowledge of the Lord and His kingdom may be formed by one's own study of Scripture, which is the way it ought to he acquired. But, even here, there is no built-in guarantee of purity and completeness.
The Bible consists of many revelations on the subject of God, His Son, and the divine kingdom. The Scripture-based theology of the individual is the result of the way he has been able to sort out all of this information, and represents his basic governing impressions obtained from the process, or his persuasions concerning God. His purpose, His ways, and His will for man, and men's future with God. The soundness of the theology will depend upon the accuracy with which the person in question has appraised and correlated the information upon which it is based, and the wisdom with which he uses it in the exposition and application of Scripture and life. The theology can be no better than the appraisal and correlation. Thus, the Apostle's exhortation is to give diligence in the matter.
As we have said, very many, indeed, are content to adopt, and throughout their lives employ, the theology of someone else in their interpretation and application of Scripture and of life: That is the easy—the spiritually indolent, but potentially disastrous—way. But the Scriptures declare that “every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:12). Among other things, that means each individual is responsible for his own understanding of God and heavenly things, and the use he makes of it.
As for us, we simply will not consent for someone else to devise our theology, or our determinative view of God. That is a work for us to do, using the available data concerning the Subject. We will permit neither Jacob Arminius nor John Calvin, nor anyone else to be our surrogate here. We are willing to consult the views of devout and able men, and do quite freely. But all the while we must limit our acceptance of them to the extent to which we, from our own study of the Word, are able to perceive their validity. Inasmuch as we in person must appear before God to account for the way we have handled His revelation, we reserve the right to formulate for ourselves the guidelines by which we employ that revelation.
A further observation is needful here, growing as it does out of the foregoing considerations. It is that we must seek to keep our theology in something of a state of fluidity, since it is to be assumed that we are growing in the grace and knowledge of God through Christ. So must our fundamental concept of God and spiritual things remain adaptable to our progress in the apprehension of truth. That is because, if we are to be approved by the divine Father, we must ever seek to regulate our theology by Scripture, and refrain at all cost from endeavoring to circumscribe Scripture by our theology. The adoption of a rigid stance in this connection postulates possession of all spiritual knowledge and wisdom, and such a posture assures arrested development and progress with God.