A Knowledge that Puffs Up

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
(Eph 3:20–21)

Recently I’ve been doing some “brushing up” on my studies of Reformed Theology.  I came to the realization that it had been 14 years since Seminary;14 years since I had seriously sat down and written out my understanding of key theological doctrines, with Biblical and Confessional references.  Over that time in ministry, I have picked up various habits and views along the way, some Biblical, some simply pragmatic.

And so I started reading and writing.  I wanted to keep my studies limited to a particular branch of Reformed Theology, and so I committed to just reading the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.  I’ve been exploring doctrines such as the Authority of the Word of God, Covenantal Theology, Election and Free Will, Justification and Saving Faith, the Sacraments, and the End Times (millennialism).  I’ve been pouring over several resources that, I’ll have to admit, have sat on my shelf gathering dust this past decade and a half: Charles Hodges’ Systematic Theology, G.I. Williamson’s Westminster Confession of Faith Study Guide, and some even found some great online resources at www.reformation21.org.

Through this course of study, I realized some pretty telling things.  First, going to a “prestigious” seminary doesn’t ensure a “prestigious” education.  I will readily admit that the quality of and educational experience is just as much the responsibility of the student, and I am thankful for the time I spent at Princeton Theological Seminary. It was a great experience that taught me to think theologically.  My only frustration is this: Has Princeton forgotten its past, or is it trying to deny it?  Just looking at the reading lists for my theology courses (yes, I still have them): great theologians from Princeton such as Hodge and Alexander are never once assigned.  The only reading from Jonathon Edwards, yes The Jonathon Edwards, was a chapter on “Natural Theology.”  The Puritans were completely ignored, Owens, Baxter, Flavel, Sibbes.  I am grateful for my experience there, but also grateful that I have had reading groups over the years that have helped point me in the right direction for my growth in Reformed Theology.

Ok – sorry – I hadn’t intended this to become a rant – on to other things.

The other thing I realized is that, for me anyway, the study of theology oftentimes awakens in me an idolatrous desire for approval.  Let me unpack that.  As a Pastor, I am called to defend the faith and preach the gospel.  I must be led by and lead others to the truth of God as revealed in Scripture. To teach something other than God’s revealed truth is to be “the blind leading the blind,” or worse, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and I know I will be held accountable for every word.

What I realized, in the midst of all my studies and writing, I was writing to please men, to please myself, rather than to bring glory to God. I find that there is in me a craving to be seen as “orthodox.” I long for the approval of others, to be sought out, for it to be said of me, He was a good teacher who really knew his stuff.” In these moments I am seeking a knowledge that puffs up (1 Cor 8:1).

This is not what the study of theology ought to do.  I shared a couple of months ago that all theology must be doxological – that is, it should lead to the praise and glory of God – or else it is of no use whatsoever. All knowledge of God, right knowledge of Him, will lead us to praise.  When we study God’s work of Creation we are led to praise Him for His power, wisdom, providence, and sovereign reign over all things seen and unseen.  When we study the Covenants, we are led to praise God that He would make a way for us to know Him. When we study God’s eternal decrees of salvation in Jesus Christ and our security in Him, we are led to give all praise and glory to God all that He has done for us.  When we study the Sacraments, we come to praise God for His promises signified and sealed and for His Spirit that makes those promises real in our lives.

From an earlier post –

All theology should produce a humble and gracious response of love.  If you study this Golden Chain, or the 5 Points of Calvinism, or any other theology for that matter, and come away with an air of superiority and self-righteousness, you have completely missed the point.  If your theology leads you to sit in judgment of others who are lost in sin rather than compelling you to demonstrate for all to see the very grace, mercy, and love of God that delivered you from sin and death, then your theology is of no use to you, to the world, and does not bring God glory. The theology of the church does not exist to puff up the pride of man, but to exalt and glorify God.

If ever your studies about God lead you to think how great you are, or diminish the glory of God, you’ve got it wrong and need to start over at the beginning.

So let me give you this encouragement.  Keep studying.  You may not be moved to pour into the depths of the Reformed Faith, but we are all called to be students of the word, to continue to know and love God more. Keep reading.  Keep learning.  Keep growing.  But do not study, read, learn and grow just so you can saw to everyone else, “Look how much I know!”  Let your studies, your reading, your learning, your growth lead you to a fuller and richer love of God and a greater understanding of His glory and a desire to worship and praise Him in all you do.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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About reveds

Occupation: Pastor, Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, Lennox, SD Education: BS - Christian Education, Sterling College; MDiv. - Princeton Theological Seminary Family: Married, with Four children. Hobbies: Running (will someday run a marathon), Sci-Fi (especially Doctor Who and Sherlock), Theater, and anything else my kids will let me do.
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