Introduction—The Theological Method
Perhaps no other single word has been so successfully twisted by the devil today as has the biblical word doctrine. In the minds of millions, doctrine involves the following concepts:
- Doctrine is that silly and useless practice of arguing (in the spirit and tradition of medieval monks) such things as: "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" "Could God create a stone so heavy that he couldn't lift it?" "Could he plant an immovable post in the ground and then throw an unstoppable rock at it?"
- Doctrine divides, whereas love unites.
- One cannot mix doctrine with soul-winning.
- Doctrine is dull and impractical.
- Doctrine is over the heads of most people.
- Why learn a lot of doctrine when we don't live up to the light we already have?
- The key goal is to let the Bible master us, and not spend our energies mastering the Bible.
In answering these charges, one could say that they are as far removed from the truth as the Babe in Bethlehem is from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Each argument needs but a brief refutation.
- True biblical doctrine has nothing whatsoever to do with dancing angels, massive rocks, sturdy posts, and speeding stones. The word doctrine, as found in the Bible, refers to the systematic (and often simple) gathering and presentation of the facts concerning any great body of truth.
- True doctrine does indeed divide. It divides light from darkness, right from wrong, and life from death. But it also unites, for God's love cannot be known or appropriated by sinful men without the involvement of doctrine.
- These two not only can be mixed, they must be mixed if God's commands are to be followed. It is thrilling to note that the greatest soul winner of all time and the greatest theologian who ever lived were one and the same—the Apostle Paul. The same man who went door to door, pleading with tears for men to accept Christ (Acts 20:20-21, 26) also wrote some 50 percent of books of the New Testament, including that most profound of all doctrinal books, the Epistle to the Romans.
- To the contrary, doctrine will put both a fire and a song in the hearts of those who read and heed its tremendous truths. "And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:32). "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand" (Rev. 1:3). "Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book" (Rev. 22:7).
- This is simply not true, as refuted by Christ himself. "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou has hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. . . . Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:25, 28-30).
- To follow this twisted logic would mean never to go beyond the first commandment (Exod. 20:3), which says we are to have no gods or interests placed before the true God. But who has not on occasion been guilty of this? Should we therefore conclude that the sixth and seventh commandments ("Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not commit adultery," Exod. 20:13-14) should not be kept simply because we do not always obey the first commandment?
- This statement is pious nonsense, for one cannot possibly be even remotely influenced, let alone mastered, by that which he or she knows nothing about. It is true that the goal of Bible study is to become Spirit controlled. But the fruit of the Spirit can never come apart from the root of personal study.
Having listed and answered those objections to studying doctrine, let us now give some important advantages for doing it.
- Doctrine will help save us from theological food poisoning. "Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (1 Tim. 4:13-16). "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. 4:1).
"I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:1-4).
- Doctrine will help settle us. "That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Eph. 4:14).
- Doctrine will acquaint us with the details of God's eternal plan.
- Concerning the history of Israel—"Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea" (1 Cor. 10:1).
- Concerning the restoration of Israel—"For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in" (Rom. 11:25).
- Concerning spiritual gifts—"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant" (1 Cor. 12:1).
- Concerning the Rapture—"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13).
- Concerning the destruction of this earth—"But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Pet. 3:8, 10).
- Doctrine helps us edify ourselves. "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).
- Doctrine helps us equip ourselves. "But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:13-17).
"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:10-17).
The Doctrine of the Trinity
Some 1,500 years b.c. an arrogant pagan in Egypt demanded from an 80-year-old Jew: "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice . . . ?" (Exod. 5:2).
Nearly 1,000 years later a similar question was raised by another pagan in Babylon, this time addressed to three young Jewish men: "Who is that God, that shall deliver you out of my hands?" (Dan. 3:15).
As both Pharaoh (the Egyptian pagan) and Nebuchadnezzar (the Babylonian pagan) would soon learn, the God they had reviled was able to punish his enemies (through the ten plagues), and protect his elect (in the fiery furnace).
This chapter provides a simple but systematic study of that God, the Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Judge of all things and all men.
- I. Non-Christian Views of God Non-Christian Views of God
- A. The Atheistic View The atheistic view—This denies the existence of any God or gods.
- B. The Agnostic View The agnostic view—This holds that the existence and nature of God are unknown and unknowable.
- C. The Polytheistic View The polytheistic view—This holds that there are many gods.
- D. The Dualistic View The dualistic view—This assumes that there are two distinct, eternal, irreducible realities (one good and the other evil) that oppose each other.
- E. The Pantheistic View The pantheistic view—This believes that all things are merely aspects, modifications, or parts of the one eternal self-existing being or principle; that God is everything and everything is God.
- F. The Deistic View The deistic view
This holds the existence of God but rejects his having any relation to the world or self-revelation. As pantheism accepts the immanence of God to the exclusion of his transcendence, so deism accepts the transcendence of God to the exclusion of his immanence. For deism, God is an absentee landlord who, having made the universe like a vast machine, allows it to operate on its own by inherent natural law without his personal supervision. It claims that all truths are discoverable by reason and that the Bible is merely a book on the principles of natural religion, which are discernible by the light of nature. (Floyd Barackman, Practical Christian Theology, p. 24)
- II. The Existence of God The Existence of God—The greatest and most profound idea the human mind can ever conceivably entertain concerns the possibility of the existence of a personal God. The sheer importance of man's response to this idea cannot be exaggerated, for it will not only govern his life down here but will also determine his ultimate destiny. Unless one satisfactorily answers the who question, he cannot possibly solve the how, why, when, and where problems of his own existence.
- A. Some Philosophical Arguments for the Existence of God Some philosophical arguments for the existence of God—Throughout the centuries certain extrabiblical arguments have been advanced to confirm the existence of a supreme being. While there is a valid place for them, it must be kept in mind the only acceptable approach to God is by faith and faith alone. "But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6).
Thus, in a real sense, the following arguments apply more to the believer than the unbeliever, serving to confirm that which has already been accepted by faith.
- The universal belief argument—The universal belief argument says that all mankind has some idea of a supreme Being. This argument has often been challenged, but never refuted. While the concepts of God found among many cultures and civilizations differ greatly on the number, name and nature of this supreme being, nevertheless, the idea remains.
A classic example of this is the amazing story of Helen Keller (1880-1968). From the age of two, Miss Keller was blind, deaf, and without the sense of smell. After two months of agonizing and fruitless attempts on the part of her teacher to communicate with this young girl, a miracle occurred. One day Helen suddenly understood the concept and meaning of running water. From this humble foundation Miss Keller built a lofty tower of thought, including the ability to use her voice in speaking. She became an educated and articulate human being. Sometime after she had progressed to the point that she could engage in conversation, she was told of God and his love in sending Christ to die on the cross. She is said to have responded with joy, "I always knew he was there, but I didn't know his name!"
- The cosmological argument—This argument says that every effect must have an adequate cause. Robert Culver writes:
One of the great names in British science, mathematics, and philosophy is Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Sir Isaac had a miniature model of the solar system made. A large golden ball representing the sun was at its center and around it revolved smaller spheres, representing planets—Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and the others. They were each kept in an orbit relatively the same as in the real solar system. By means of rods, cogwheels, and belts they all moved around the center golden ball in exact precision. A friend called on the noted man one day while he was studying the model. The friend was not a believer in the biblical doctrine of divine creation. According to reports, their conversation went as follows:
Friend: "My, Newton, what an exquisite thing! Who made it for you?"
Newton: "That's right! I said, 'Nobody!' All of these balls and cogs and belts and gears just happened to come together, and wonder of wonders, by chance they began revolving in their set orbits with perfect timing!"
Of course, the visitor understood the unexpressed argument: "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth." (The Living God, pp. 29-30)
- The teleological argument—This argument says every design must have a designer. The entire universe is characterized by order and useful arrangement. This is readily seen by the constant speed of light, laws of gravity, the arrangement of the planets around the sun, the complexity of the tiny atom, and the amazing makeup of the human body. All this design literally cries out for a divine designer.
- The ontological argument—This argument says:
Man has an idea of a Most Perfect Being. This idea includes the idea of existence, since a being, otherwise perfect, who did not exist would not be as perfect as a perfect being who did exist. Therefore, since the idea of existence is contained in the idea of the Most Perfect Being, the Most Perfect Being must exist. (Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 32)
- The anthropological argument—This argument says that the conscience and moral nature of man demands a self-conscious and moral Maker. This built-in barometer supplies no information, and the information on which it passes judgment may be incorrect. But nevertheless, conscience tells us we ought to do what is right regarding the information we have. Robert Culver writes as follows:
This sense of duty may be weak (1 Corinthians 8:12), good (1 Peter 3:16), defiled (1 Corinthians 8:7), seared (1 Timothy 4:2), strong or pure (1 Corinthians 8:7, 9). But it is never absent. The only accurate explanation is that the great Moral Being, who created us all, planted the moral sense in us. No other explanation is adequate. (The Living God, p. 31)
The following letter, reportedly received by the Internal Revenue Service, underlines this argument in an amusing way:
Some years ago I cheated on my income tax return by failing to report a large sum of money I had made that year. As a result, my conscience has bothered me terribly. Please find my enclosed check as part payment on my debt. . . .
P.S. If my conscience continues to plague me, I'll send you more money at a later date!
- B. Scriptural Arguments for the Existence of God Scriptural arguments for the existence of God—None! The Bible simply assumes the existence of God. "The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good" (Psa. 14:1). "But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6).
Clark Pinnock aptly summarizes all this when he writes:
For the Scripture then, the existence of God is both a historical truth (God acted into history), and an existential truth (God reveals himself to every soul). His e�