25 June, 2008

Orthodox - To What End?

William Ames, the renowned and influential Puritan theologian of the 16th and 17th centuries, opened his Marrow of Theology with the words, “Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God.” To our contemporary ears, this definition sounds out of place to a degree. Isn’t theology the study of God? The systematization of divine truth? I do not think Ames would disagree with such sentiments rightly understood. The whole of the Marrow testifies to his appreciation of gathering the truths of Scripture into a coherent system, thus providing an overview of the whole teaching of Scripture on a given doctrine.

However, it is clear in his definition above, as well as in his handling of the various doctrines, that Ames is not content to leave theology as a mere knowledge about certain truths. Rather his aim is to procure a right understanding of divine truth in order to a right response and enjoyment of our Triune God. In other words, he lays out the comprehensive teaching of a given doctrine for the sake of gaining understanding that will affect the way we live our lives.

For instance, after spending a fair amount of space laying down the teaching of Scripture with relation to God’s attributes and subsistence he notes, “Hence God as the object of our faith is in every way sufficient to impart salvation to us. For all love, grace, and those things which pertain to living well come from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Thus we find that though Ames labors the right knowledge of truth, it is in order for our right practice and response.

It is a fearful thing to survey many debates that go on today. There is undoubtedly a place for precise and laborious debate in the midst of the church. If indeed the truth is necessary in order for right living and glorifying of God, then it is mandatory that we labor to understand the truth. However, there are many times when it seems that debates, whether formal or informal, are merely for the sake of winning and standing victorious over a conquered foe.

Whereas we must not neglect our responsibilities to stand for any portion of God’s word, however great or small, we nonetheless must be sure it is done for the right reason and in the right manner. As J. I. Packer notes in his Knowing God, “To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception.” Packer further notes that the Psalmist in Psalm 119, “was interested in truth and orthodoxy, in biblical teaching and theology, not as ends in themselves, but as means to the further ends of life and godliness. His ultimate concern was with the knowledge and service of the great God whose truth he sought to understand.”

Is this the description of the church today? Is our concern for orthodox teaching a means to fellowship with God, godliness and bringing glory to our divine Savior? If so, does it show not only in our zeal for the truth, but in our great concern for those who might differ from the truth? It is interesting that the apostle Paul exhorted us to have our “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Is it so with us? Though we wage war against principalities and everything which raises itself against the truth, is it done ultimately to bring glory to God and enjoyment of him – both in our lives and the lives of others?

Every believer ought to make great efforts to understand Scripture. This takes place by regular Bible readings, systematic study, regular attendance upon the means of grace, fellowship, and the reading of helpful uninspired books. All of these things ought to be done by every believer, in so far as he or she can. But let us approach it with a clear purpose in mind. It is not merely that we might grow in knowledge about certain things. Rather, it is in order to grow in our knowledge so that we can better enjoy and glorify God.

Thus, during at after our times of study, reading, attendance upon the preaching of God's word, etc., let us not only think upon the intellectual growth that we hopefully gained. Let us add to this the analysis of our own lives in light of these truths. Was there instruction upon the attributes of God? Then ask whether we have been remembering this in our praise, if we have been acknowledging such attributes in our day to day lives. Was there instruction in the way of salvation? Take time and see if this is the way you have embraced. Ask yourself if you have evidence in your life that you are indeed on this way. Never let a new truth pass without taking hold of it in such a way that it affects your "living to God." Is this difficult? Certainly. However, the benefits are worth the effort.

Perhaps the best uninspired summary of this was framed by an assembly of men who met at Westminster Abbey in the 1600’s, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever."


Lori Shaffer said...

Good reminder, Jonathan. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Well said!