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Pastor as Theologian in the Wesleyan Spirit

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Pastor as Theologian in the Wesleyan Spirit
Student: Ken Miller

Part #1
Simply stated, theology is the study of God. But, it’s much more than that. It’s how God reveals himself to us through divine revelation. To begin our understanding of what theology is, we must examine the deeper question of why theology is. We must consider the purpose of theology…. the why and the how it is done.

Theology can easily be viewed as a discipline with many facets. It is viewed in many ways. These are not necessarily to be considered as “stand alone” explanations, because they compliment each other. Five facets of theology are: explaining reality (often times looked upon as much more than an explanation of how things work, but a view of their place in God’s plan), systematization of Christian doctrine ( the practice of presenting Christian doctrine as an ordered or coherent whole), defending the faith and as a bridge for nonbelievers (this “apologetic theology” strives to help us refute the argument of those atheists who state that it’s not reasonable to believe in God), a critique of the life and proclamation of the church (an evaluation of the church and its teachings - often a cross check to evaluate if our sermons, lesson and writings are true to the gospel), and also contemplation (seeking a deeper understanding and intellectual appreciation).

Theology and philosophy frequently are at times confused by those not actively engaged in either of the two disciplines. The reason for that is that they do share some common ground. They both appear to study the meaning of life, ethical values and the meaning of reality. They are both disciplines that can seem to be abstract. Even though they may seem to have many similarities, the two disciplines must be studied separately. We cannot allow philosophy to influence our discipline of theology because philosophy is influenced by human reason which is distorted as a result of sin and demonic powers. An example of this is the notion derived from philosophy that God doesn’t judge. Nor does he punish or reward. This is in direct conflict with scripture which over and over lifts up that God is a good judge and that there are specific consequences of our actions both good (rewards) or bad (punishment). It’s more

{C.O.S. #112 Ken Miller}

than blatantly clear as we are told by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew of the day that we will be separated as the sheep are from the goats.

Be well aware that there are limits to theology. There is great danger in turning a blind eye to the limits that exist. The two great limitations of theology is that it is always in context and also that theology, by its basic definition, is the human study of God. Theology must at all times be a study within its contextual base. It has its own perspective and historical base, which brings us to ask question too often based on our context and historical base. No theology is perennial. No theology is equally valid when studied in changing times and places. Only God is perennial throughout all times and places. Also, keep in mind that theology is done by man. It is studying God. We are seeking to understand infinite realities with finite minds. As stated by Gonsalez in his book “An Introduction to Christian Theology”: Those who do theology, no matter how much we seek to follow the Word of God - and precisely because we seek to follow it - must recognize the chasm between our words and those of God [1].

Part #2
We know God ONLY by divine revelation. We only know God when and where He reveals himself to us. God can reveal himself to us in a multitude of ways. Five often distinguished ways are: natural revelation (how God reveals himself through physical nature and human nature), revelation in history (realizing that there are patterns or cycles in history, however they are not just repeating time and again, but move toward a purpose) , revelation in Jesus Christ (God made flesh for us - walking among us and showing us the face of God), revelation in scripture (not only being informed of the truth, but being formed in the truth) and through faith and reason (rational order).

The proofs of God’s existence are absolute (for those of faith) however very deniable (for those not of faith). Whether considering the proof of God’s existence from the basis of the created world or on the basis of pure reason, such proofs have two important limits. The first and most obvious is that they can be refuted. And even if they proof the existence of a god, they are not definite proof that the god that is proven is the God of the Christian faith. There are times when I feel the need to explain to someone {C.O.S. #112 Ken Miller} looking for an indisputable proof of God’s existence that “for those of faith, no undisputed explanation is needed and for those not of faith no undisputed explanation exists.”

The word of God is creative (what God says: IS). The word of God IS God (John 1:1) The word of God is communicated through the power of the Holy Spirit as we are in the word (Bible). Most aptly put by Gonzales in his book “An Introduction to Christian Theology”: The Bible is the Word of God because through the action of the Holy Spirit it leads us to the Word of God, Jesus Christ. And the Bible is the Word of God because through the action of the same Holy Spirit the words of the book transform us, so that we become a “new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10) [2]

Gonalez prefers to point his readers in the direction that the best way to approach the Trinity is not to explain it. There are so many different theologians that have wide and varying thought and feelings regarding the Trinity, I can see why Gonzales might take this approach. You have those that would teach a linear concept of first there was the Father, then the Son, and now the Holy Spirit. Others would have you believe that within the Trinity, the Father is greater than the Son and that the Son is higher than the Holy Spirit. Gonzales approaches the doctrine of the Trinity by not trying to explain it, but with encouragement to imitate it. I might paraphrase it in this way: “God is love. How might you describe love? It’s difficult, if not impossible. The best way to describe love is to demonstrate love.”

Part #3
In direct conflict with the true creation of the world is the Gnostic teachings. The followers of Gnosticism claim to have special knowledge (gnosis) which has been revealed to them. Their belief is that only the spirit has any significant value and the human spirit trapped within us strains and yearns to return to heaven. They further believe that only those endowed with this special knowledge will be able to break free of the earthly bonds and go to heaven. This entire belief structure totally is in conflict with scriptural teaching of the word of God. It denies almost all scripture from creation to resurrection.

{C.O.S. #112 Ken Miller}

As we encounter original sin or sin as an inheritance, it is too easy to believe that we are doomed. Not to deny original sin, but to acknowledge the saving grace of Jesus, are are not for ever to carry this burden. There is hope. We have been given the gift of being shown to live a life rejecting sin. Jesus not saves us from sin to allow eternal life, but also to live in imitation of His life. Focusing to sin as an inheritance, we may miss the beauty of what is offered us in Jesus Christ. We must never lose site that when God created heaven and earth and gave us humans dominion over this creation, that position came with responsibilities. We are to be good stewards of what has been entrusted to us. Our relationship with God and our relationship with his creation (including other humans) is centered on our behaviors and actions toward this creation. The positive learning that we need to realize is that to this point, we haven’t done too good of a job being stewards of God’s creation. Especially, in our relationships with each other. We need to focus to how God would direct us treat our world and all of his creatures with special emphasis on our brothers and sisters. This is the great “take away” that I derive from this particular segment of Gonzalez’s book.

Part #4
The approach taken in this type of situation must be one of providing comfort and compassion. This must be accomplished without denying scripture. You want to bring peace into hearts that are not only broken and hurting due to the loss of a son, but are obviously seeking comfort as to the proclamation made by the couples preacher that the boy is “lost”. It is nearly impossible to write a manuscript of what will be said during this conversation. However, the assumption exists that these are parents that are reaching out to God at this time. After welcoming the couple to your office and extending condolences, the couple is asked to join in prayer for the son’s resurrection to eternal life through Jesus as well as their comfort at this time of sorrow. Always reminding them that it is right ands proper to grieve their loss.

Moving on to the topic of their preacher declaring the son to be “lost’. They need to know that it is not the right, responsibility, duty or place of any human being (clergy - lay - or any other status) to declare anyone to be saved or lost. That is of God and God alone. He is a loving God who desires nothing more than to be near us in this life and in eternity. He is a forgiving God and a restoring God. Regardless of their son’s {C.O.S. #112 Ken Miller}

actions or behaviors in his final hours, we need to remember that salvation is by the grace of God through faith and faith alone. It’s not only the 75 year old that lived the righteous life and taught Sunday School for over a half century that will spend eternity with God. The person that comes to know God, regardless of what stage of life they are at (moments of human life left or possibly even when our human bodies contain no breath) are welcomed into the Kingdom of God. The story of the workers in the vineyard is a great scripture to refer to.

It would be proper to relate a witness to the situation if the couple would appear receptive to such. My personal witness would be that of knowing the agony of living several decades in active addiction and knowing the hurt and pain of being distant from God. I was blessed to have come to know the Lord and have many years of living and being comforted by His presence in my life. I’m equally convinced that had I not come to know God until the very end of human life, that I would be welcomed by the opened arms of God. Much the same way as the prodigal son was welcomed back by his father after a long absence filled with a lifestyle not approved of by the father. Upon his return the father not only welcomed him home, but threw the party of parties to celebrate.

We can’t say with any certainty that your son came to know God in those last moments of his life here on earth, or some time after. We just don’t know. When we contemplate that “time of passing”: is it an instant? a fraction of a second? Or longer? How long does it take to accept God into your heart? I know that the ability to accept God into your heart can and often times is done within the time it takes for a heart to beat. The important thing to keep close to our hearts is that God loves us all. We are all sinners. None of us are deserving of God’s grace. That’s why it’s called grace = unmerited favor. God loves your son. He loved him from before the time he was conceived. It may or may not be a good time to open the topic of the parents’ relationship with God. Approach appropriately. Session ending in prayer and open invitation to visit again.

footnotes: An Introduction to Christian Theology - page 31 - Gonsalez
An Introduction to Christian Theology - page 49 - Gonsalez

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