“As One Who Had Authority”: A Reminder to Theology Lovers

I am a theology lover. It all began the fall of my senior year of college, when I enrolled in a class titled History of Christian Thought. The class was an introductory historical theology course taught by the inimitable Doug Weaver. We read a fine survey of historical theology by Roger Olson and an anthology of primary source readings. Dr. Weaver deftly combined informative lectures with insightful class discussions. That course was my second favorite class in all of college and my favorite class related to Christian Studies. While I had been very appreciative of theology prior to that time, after History of Christian Thought, appreciation had blossomed into romance.

I have remained a theology lover to the present. I love reading classic works of theology, which, of course, is part of the job description for a historical theology professor. But I also love reading recent theology as well, especially constructive evangelical and/or Baptist theology. Since 2010, I have convened a Theology Reading Group with some handpicked Southeastern students; we work through (mostly) recent theology together, making application for doctrine, ministry and spirituality. The fires of my romance with theology have never gone cold. But like every love relationship, there is always room for growth.

In recent months, I have been focusing my devotional Bible reading on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7. Recently, I was drawn to the words of Matthew 7:28–29, which Matthew uses to close Jesus’s teaching: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (ESV).” Though I have read these verses hundreds of times—and dozens of times in the past couple of months—I was struck by the words “as one who had authority.” And I was convicted.

It is tempting for theology lovers, and perhaps especially seminary students and professors, to so love theology that they inadvertently delight in theological “scribes” more than the One who has authority—indeed, who “has all authority in heaven and on earth,” as Matthew reminds us in the Great Commission. I know that I am tempted sometimes to spend far more time reflecting upon the writings of uninspired theologians while implicitly shortchanging the writings of the theologians who wrote the Scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. My Augustinian colleagues would point out that this reflects a disordered love. After all, while many uninspired theologians are immensely helpful doctors of the church, they do not possess authority in and of themselves. As the Abstract of Principles reminds us, “The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.”

Matthew 7:28–29 remind lovers of theology that Scripture trumps uninspired theological writings because only the Bible is a sure and authoritative revelation of Jesus Christ. Theology is wonderful, and frankly, more pastors and other ministry leaders should carve out the time to intentionally read works of theology. (That is a topic for another day.) But theology is not an end unto itself; theology is a tool to help us think rightly about God and live rightly before God. And if that theology is not tethered to the Scriptures and does not drive us deeper into the Scriptures, it is not a very useful tool. In fact, it might just be a distraction.

So for all of those folks out there who, like me, are theology lovers, let’s be careful to love the Bible more than non-canonical works of theology. Aquinas is great, but a half hour with Paul is infinitely more important for life and ministry than a week with Aquinas. Barth is informative, but fifteen minutes with Isaiah is more helpful to our souls than fifteen years with Barth. Vanhoozer is always theologically stimulating, but a quiet time with John is infinitely more authoritative than a quiet evening with Vanhoozer. I strongly suspect Aquinas, Barth and Vanhoozer would agree.

The One who has all the authority in the universe speaks to us from the pages of his written Word. May we love it more than we love works of theology that, even at their very best, are but pale reflections of the Holy Scriptures.

Andy Davis on Christ’s View of the Bible

Regular readers may know that I serve as one of the elders of First Baptist Church of Durham, North Carolina. My fellow elder Andy Davis, who serves as our church’s senior pastor, has recently finished writing an eleven-part series of short essays on Christ’s view of the Bible. He also serves as a visiting professor of historical theology at Southeastern Seminary, where he teaches courses on Jonathan Edwards, the Puritans, and John Calvin. Andy’s series was published at Two Journeys, a blog sponsored by FBC Durham that focuses primary on matters of practical theology and church health. Many of the elders and ministry staff contribute to Two Journeys.

In a day when a growing number of evangelicals seem confused (again) about the inspiration, authority, and truthfulness of Scripture, Andy makes the case that Jesus suffered from no such confusion. Even Southern Baptists, who endured our own “battle for the Bible” in the 1980s and 1990s, need to be reminded about Jesus’ view of the Scriptures. To that end, I hope you find Andy’s series helpful.

What is Christ’s View of the Bible? Introduction

Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture

Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture

Christ Taught the Unbreakable Permanence and Authority of Scripture

Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment by All Scripture

Christ Staked His Life on the Word of God

Christ Proved His Deity by a Single Word of Scripture

Christ Proved the Resurrection by a Single Verb Tense in Scripture

Christ Instilled Passion for the Scriptures in His Followers

What Scripture Says, God Says

What is Christ’s View of the Bible? Conclusion

If you would like to read a helpful book that presents a traditional evangelical doctrine of Scripture, I would highly recommend D. A. Carson’s Collected Writings on Scripture (Crossway, 2010).

(Image credit; Note: this post was cross-published at Christian Thought & Tradition)


Four Helpful Books on Scripture

In the past year, I have read four excellent books on the doctrine of Scripture. I thought I’d pass some recommendations on to you.

D.A. Carson, Collected Writings on Scripture, compiled by Andy Naselli (Crossway, 2010). This book brings together a variety of essays, articles, and even book reviews that Carson has written over the years. Carson deftly addresses such issues as inerrancy, hermeneutics, and the relationship between biblical and systematic theology. I had a chance to review this book for Southeastern Theological Review, and in my review, I wrote “Carson’s book deserves widespread adoption in college and seminary classes and universal inclusion in pastoral and even local church libraries. It is that good. Whether read in its totality or spot-read along and along, Collected Writings on Scripture is that rare volume that is essential to any minister’s bookshelf. I give it my highest recommendation.”

Mark D. Thompson, A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture, New Studies in Biblical Theology (IVP Academic, 2006). I recently read this helpful book as I was considering the best way to teach on the clarity of Scripture in my systematic theology class at First Baptist Church of Durham. Thompson discusses this perennially controversial topic from a biblical, theological, and historical perspective. He engages modern challenges raised by philosophical hermeneutics, as well as classic arguments against perspicuity raised by Roman Catholic thinkers such as Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine. He also critiques unhelpful approaches to biblical clarity that some Protestants advance, particularly versions grounded more in modern views of private autonomy than biblical theology. Thompson concludes that God has given us human language as a gift. When we read the Bible in faith and in conversation with the community of faith, we can understand the Scriptures.

Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (IVP Academic, 2009). Ward’s book, which I led a group of students through in my weekly Theology Reading Group, is a constructive appropriation of speech-act theory by an evangelical and inerrantist pastor-theologian. His view of Scripture is robustly Trinitarian and is in dialog with the best of the Protestant theological tradition, with emphasis on the Reformed Orthodox thinkers of the seventeenth century, the Princeton theologians of the late-nineteenth century, and the Dutch Reformed theologians of the early-twentieth century. If, like me, you like Kevin Vanhoozer’s Drama of Doctrine, then I suspect you will appreciate Ward’s creative restatement of the historic Protestant doctrine of Scripture.

John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge University Press, 2003). Webster’s short monograph was also served up to the Theology Reading Group. Webster’s view of Scripture is also thoroughly Trinitarian and emphasizes the role the Bible plays in the believing community. His emphasis on the holiness of Scripture is also a welcome contribution. His chapter on how the Bible should be used in theological schools is perhaps worth the price of the book. Unlike the other authors, however, Webster is far more Barthian in his understanding of inspiration, making him hesitant to identify the very words of Scripture as God’s word. Nevertheless, for the discerning (and patient) reader, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch offers many helpful insights about Scripture, tradition, and the church.