April 1, 2014 Broadcast

Scope and Purpose of Theology

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Why do we continue to study theology even after many scholars have come up with ideas and systems of thought? Dr. Sproul discusses in this message the scope and purpose of studying and learning theology.

From the series: Foundations: An Overview of Systematic Theology

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    Living for God

  2. article

    What Is the Goal of Becoming a Christian?

  3. devotional

    Doxology: The Goal of Theology

Living for God

Iain Murray

"We are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal [Rom. 14:8; cf. I Cor. 6:19]. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God!" (Institutes, 3.7.1)

On the opening page of every edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion stand the words that were the unifying motif of his life: “True and sound wisdom consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” So he first wrote in 1536, and through all the years that followed, the emphasis remained the same. Calvin saw himself as a sinner who owed all that he was to God. It was God who subdued his mind to the knowledge of Christ. The piety that was recovered at the Reformation has sometimes been caricatured as a life of cold, austere obedience to God. But the caricature rests on ignorance of the connection between the love of God and the gratitude of believing hearts. To glorify this gracious God and not to displease Him are necessarily the desires of those whom He redeems.

Yet there are dangers for those who revere the memory of Calvin, and I will mention two that present themselves to me.

First, in our circles, piety and godliness are not the characteristics of Calvinistic belief to the extent that they ought to be. We believe that divine revelation has come to us in words and in propositions, and for these we must contend. But truth is only rightly believed to the extent that it is embodied in life. The gospel spread across Europe in the sixteenth century primarily through the witness of transformed people.

Too often in our time, beliefs associated with the name of Calvin have been identified with the lecture hall and the academy. I once had the misfortune to hear addresses on “the five points of Calvinism” delivered as though we were attending a chemistry lecture.

It is not by argument or teaching alone that the current scene can be reversed. “The kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20), for the Holy Spirit alone is the source of witness that is not in talk only.

Second, our example needs to be the best argument that belief in divine sovereignty does not weaken evangelistic preaching. There are prominent exceptions to the contrary, but in surveying the Christian scene at large, there is some justification for the idea that Calvinistic belief hinders evangelistic passion. Facing this perception, we would be mistaken to suppose we are free of blame. We have found it easier to be “teachers” and “defenders” of the truth than to be evangelists who are willing to die that men might be converted. Sometimes the impression can be given to other Christians that we regard “Calvinism” as coterminous with Christianity and that we think all gospel preaching can be fitted into the five points. The five points are not to be depreciated, but God is incomprehensibly greater than our understanding, and there are other truths to be preached far beyond our capacity to harmonize.

Calvin cautions us here. In speaking of the indiscriminate invitations of Christ in John 5, he observes, “He is ready to give himself, provided that they are only willing to believe.” He can say that “nothing of all that God wishes to be saved shall perish” and yet warn his hearers lest the opportunity of salvation “pass away from us” (Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, 1:261, 407).

Where Calvinistic truth is presented as though there is no love in God to sinners as sinners — that His only regard is for the elect — it is no wonder that evangelistic preaching falters. The preacher has to be possessed with a love for all or he will not represent the Savior in whose name he speaks. The men of Calvinistic belief who have stood out as evangelists and missionaries have always been examples of this. 

What Is the Goal of Becoming a Christian?

R.C. Sproul Jr.

It is my contention that we spend far too little time thinking through issues of teleology, the study of end or purpose or design. We prefer to leave these questions unexamined, and thus move through our lives less than deliberately. That said, this question comes with at least a potential danger, turning the Christian faith at best, and God at worst into a means to an end. Marva Dawn wisely described worship as a “royal waste of time.” It is royal because we are praising the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. It is a “waste of time” because such worship serves no other end, but is the ultimate end of all things.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with a question of teleology, asking, “What is man’s chief end?” The answer here answers this question as well, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” This is what we were made for. When, however, we are dead in our trespasses and sins, we are not able to ascribe to God the glory due to His name. We cannot safely even come into His presence. We are instead under His wrath and curse. All of us, by nature are children of wrath.

Jesus, however, came and lived a perfectly obedient life, and died on the cross, receiving from the Father the wrath that is due to His own. When the Holy Spirit gives our stone hearts new life, when we are born again, then we are able, indeed must, respond to this work of Christ by embracing it in faith. We repent and believe, becoming Christians, that we might glorify Him. Now, in Christ, we are not only at peace with our Creator, but we are beloved children of our heavenly Father. Now, in Christ, all our lives are lived to His glory. In eternity we will see Him as He is. We will become like Him. And we will glorify Him forever.

Despite the danger of turning the Christian faith into an end, we need to note that the catechism’s answer does not stop at “glorifying.” It speaks also of enjoying Him forever. When we are reborn, and embrace the Christian faith, we are enabled, empowered to delight in Him, even as He, because of Christ’s work now delights in us. This delighting in the tri-une God, is a good and joyful thing. It brings blessing into our lives. It is the very abundant life that Jesus came to give us. We are doing God no favors, (indeed we are failing to properly glorify Him) if we piously refuse the blessing and the joy of enjoying Him on the grounds that our happiness is beside the point.

There are, of course, a host of other secondary goals. When we come to faith we are better able to love our brothers and sisters. We are better able to serve with the church as the bride of Christ the second Adam in His work of ruling over all things, subduing all His enemies. We are better equipped, indwelt by the Spirit, to love our spouses and our children, and our neighbors and our enemies. We are about the business of bringing heaven to earth, as His will is done here as it is in heaven. In the end, however, the end is His delighting in us, and we delighting in Him. That is more than reason enough.

Doxology: The Goal of Theology

One mark of truly orthodox theologians is that their writings always include expressions of doxology. Knowledge of the Lord’s character and His work should inspire heartfelt praise, for why learn about God if we are not moved to fulfill the purpose for which we are created — to worship and glorify the Creator (Isa. 43:7)? When studying theology does not prompt us to adoration, we must question whether we are more concerned to puff ourselves up with knowledge than to glorify God.

As sound theologians, the apostles could not help but include doxologies as they expounded the divine mysteries revealed to them. Paul, for example, bursts into doxology — a word of glory to God — at several points in his epistles, including today’s passage. Having contemplated the great work of God, and prayed for us to be rooted in Christ’s love (Eph. 1:1–3:19), the apostle ends his prayer with praise to God (3:20–21). Like all words of glory, this doxology does not increase the “amount” of inherent glory our triune Creator possesses; rather, it acknowledges His worthiness and extols Him for what He has done, announcing His glories to creation (Pss. 29:2; 96:8; Isa. 42:12).

Besides exalting the name of our God, Paul’s doxology also comforts us with the knowledge that the Lord “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). There is no limit to what God can achieve for His people, and it is impossible to ask Him to do too much, so we should not fear asking Him for too many blessings. He can and will grant us wonderful things — in accordance with His will, of course (James 4:2b–3; 1 John 5:14).

As we rightly approach the study of doctrine, we will certainly break out in doxology and realize that we can indeed ask God for great things. This can be especially true as we consider the writings of those thinkers who have been faithful to Scripture. C.S. Lewis writes in his introduction to St. Athanasius on the Incarnation: “I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

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