Tag Archives: Study

When Challenges Are Opportunities

Study Time!

Studying for the Structural Engineering exam is forcing me to tab and highlight and underline and make margin notes and explore and systematize my steel manual (and most of my other reference books) like I never have before. Why? Because I’m about to be challenged on my knowledge of it like I never have before. But that challenge is a good thing, because it’s forcing me to take the time to study hard and become a better engineer. I may not need to have have every bit of knowledge memorized, but I do need to know where to find what I need and how to correctly apply it when I find it. In the process, I’m learning about seldom-used tables and provisions that are outside of my normal practice. Yet, even in the areas I’m more familiar with, working through practice problems without the aid of the computer programs we engineers have, for better or worse, become reliant on, is helpful. And I think there’s a parallel here for Christians as well, so let’s work through that today.

I remember getting challenged about my Christian beliefs by a colleague several years ago. “How can you call yourself an engineer and a Christian at the same time? Aren’t those mutually exclusive?” I knew that Christianity and science weren’t incompatible in the least, but I’d never prepared for a challenge like that, and it took me by surprise. That challenge exposed a lot of “comfortable Christianity” in my life. What do I mean? I mean that it hadn’t been challenging to be a Christian for most of my life. I hadn’t had to really “count the cost” as Jesus had advised [Lk 14:27-28], like so many Christians around the world have had to do over the centuries, and still do today in around 50 restricted nations. I grew up in the church, and all of my friends were Christians (or at least claimed to be). My first job out of high school was working in an engineering office where many of the employees didn’t just go to church, but went to the same church. I pursued my engineering degree at a Christian college, and came back to that same Christian-friendly workplace every time school was out. It simply was not uncomfortable to be Christian (or at least to play the part), so there was little motivation to really know what I believed and why. It wasn’t like my life depended on it; my family wasn’t going to disown me for choosing that path; my employer wasn’t going to fire me over it; my professors in college weren’t going to fail me or ridicule me over it. It was easy to just float along in the stream of a predominately Christian culture.

But that challenge several years ago woke me up from my slumber, and helped me understand the importance of being able to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”[1Pet 3:15 NIV] So, for me, my Bible and a lot of my apologetics and theology books and commentaries look like my steel manual – highlights and underlines and margin notes everywhere. That’s how I learn, but regardless of how you process what you read, the main question is if your Bible is well-studied or just casually skimmed? Like the old Gatorade commercials asked, “Is it in you?” For a casual skimming won’t suffice when challenges come, whether that’s one’s own doubts, or sincere questioners, or cruel torturers. When the apostle Peter wrote to his readers that they should be able to give an answer – a reasoned defense – for their hope in Christ, he was writing to people for whom this wasn’t just an intellectual exercise; he reminds them in that same letter not to be surprised at the severe persecution they were experiencing.[1Pet 4:12-16] They needed to know that what they were getting tortured for was true, and be able to articulate why to those around them, maybe even to the very people persecuting them.

The subject matter in the Bible is simply too important to blow off, both for your own life, and the lives of those you may meet. This is why Paul encouraged Timothy to be diligent to show himself approved before God, rightly handling the word of truth. [2Tim 2:15] This is why King David would talk about meditating on the law of the Lord day and night [Ps 1:2, 63:6, 119:15,48,97,148]. So ask yourself, will I be prepared to answer those who ask before or after the opportunity has passed? And whether it’s a friendly question or a snarling challenge, it is always an opportunity to be an ambassador, so get started preparing. Familiarize yourself with the areas you’re weak in. If you like to hang out in the New Testament, study the Old Testament. If you’re a theology nerd, dig into some biblical history. Learn about the different genres, the historical settings, and the original recipients’ culture. Find a more mature Christian who can disciple you. Set aside time each week for uninterrupted study. And talk to the Author of the Book you’re studying: God. God gave us this amazing revelation of Himself in the form of the Bible, and He will honor the prayers of those sincerely seeking to understand His Word. There’s a thousand lifetimes worth of learning in there, so what are you waiting on? Dig in!

The Dangers of Ignoring Theology

“Young Scholar in His Study, Melancholy” – Pieter Codde, 1630

“I don’t need theology; just give me Jesus.” Ever hear someone say that, or something similar? This sounds very sincere – very spiritual even – but how do you live out a statement like that? Theology is simply the study of God. Now, if you’re a Christian, why on earth would you not want to study God? He is our Creator, our Savior, our Redeemer. Consider an example: if you’re married and you love your spouse, you always delight to learn more about your spouse, don’t you? It’s hard to pick out a gift for them or make a special dinner for them if you have no clue about their favorite colors, foods, etc. It’d be an odd marriage where you could say you knew your spouse, but knew little to nothing about them.

That distinction reminds me of taking Spanish in high school and college and learning about the 2 words for “to know” in Spanish: “saber”, and “conocer”. The first is to know facts or knowledge, while the second is to know someone in a relational sense. I think Spanish does better than English at differentiating these 2 types of knowing. Now, you can know a lot about someone (like being a celebrity’s “biggest fan”) without knowing them personally. And maybe that’s where the aversion to theology and apologetics comes in for many Christians. We do recognize that key difference in those two types of knowledge. And yet, while knowledge about God isn’t sufficient (the demons know about God, after all, but still reject Him [Jm 2:19]), some amount of knowledge about  God is still necessary if we are ever to know Him relationally.  But we need to understand that you can’t really know someone relationally without knowing something about them; otherwise, you’re loving more of a concept in your mind, one that may not really match up with the actual object of your love.

R.C. Sproul once wrote a book called “Everyone’s a Theologian“, and the title is spot-on; the only question is whether your theology is accurate or not. Learning good, accurate theology is important so that you are not deceived. I like to think that if someone tried impersonating my wife on the phone, I would recognize it wasn’t her voice. But even if I didn’t, hopefully, I know her well enough to pick up on discrepancies in an imposter’s story. Learning good theology helps us to recognize spiritual imposters [1Jn 4:1].  When someone says, “I don’t worry about all that stuff – I just want more of Jesus,” I have to ask, “Which Jesus?” The Jesus of Mormonism? The Jesus of Islam? The Jesus of Judaism? The Jesus of the skeptics? The first is a man who became a god; the 2nd is a revered prophet who was definitely NOT God and never claimed to be; the 3rd was a blasphemous, possibly demon-possessed rabbi, who stayed dead after he was justly executed by the Romans; and the 4th is simply a legend who may or may not have even existed. Only the Jesus of Christianity is the real, living, eternally-existing 2nd Person of the Trinity, “very God of very God” [1], who died as the perfect atoning sacrifice for the sins of humanity, and rose again to live forever, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep {i.e. died}” [1Cor 15:20], our sure hope, our Mediator between God and man [1 Tim 2:5], our Lord and Master, our Savior – Jesus, the Christ. There’s a lot of wrong answers out there, but only one right answer. That’s why theology matters.

Studying theology is often not light work, but it is extremely rewarding work. It is like the work required in building a relationship with our fellow humans:  it requires time, diligence, and patience. But the reward is a deeper, more mature love of God, grounded in a more confident knowledge of who He is,  His nature, and His will for us. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” [Jn 14:15] Our love for Him is shown by our obedience to Him, and yet you can’t obey Him without a knowledge of what He asks of you.

Now, am I trying to say you need to get a degree in theology to have a  sound relationship with God? No, of course not.  But I am warning about the danger of being spiritually lazy, unwilling to invest in this unfathomable privilege of knowing our Creator, for He is not the distant god of Deism whom we can never really know, who sets our world in motion and walks away, abandoning us to our own devices. On the contrary, God has revealed Himself to us so clearly if we only take the time to learn what He has shared with us! I am warning of being content with chasing an ever-shifting emotional high instead of resting in the secure knowledge of His nature that come with meditating on His word day and night like King David [Ps 119:97,148] and being diligent, like Paul, to  present yourself approved before God, a workman unashamed and rightly handling the word of truth [2 Tim 2:15]. And I am warning about the danger of being flippant and casual with a treasure worth more than all the riches of the world, the “words of eternal life” as the apostle Peter would say [Jn 6:68]. Never in human history has so much godly teaching been available to the masses of humanity. The “pearl of great price” that a man would sell all he has to obtain [Matt 13:45-46] is available at our fingertips online or in print in a few days through places like Amazon. Much of it is available for free. The average American has access to more teaching about God than the giants of the faith like Augustine and Aquinas and  Edwards could even imagine. Due to public domain works on the internet, the average person could assemble a more impressive theological library than most seminaries of years past. If we drown in a sea of ignorance, it is only from pushing away an endless expanse of life preservers.

So let me ask you, do you know Him? Would you like to know Him better?


[1] http://creeds.net/ancient/nicene.htm