An information packet from Western Seminary came in the mail yesterday. Yes, that same seminary I said I was going to apply to almost two years ago is again heavily on my mind. Only this time I’m simply going for it. Like several of my friends have advised, if I were to wait any longer, I’d most likely wind up never going at all. So I find it most reasonable to go when it is fresh on my mind and heart.
Something stirred in me, though, when I read through the brochures in the info packet. On one of them, there’s a line that reads, “Create your own doctrinal statement, instead of using ours.” Normally, my instinct is to cringe at the word “doctrine.” Ever since Calvary Fellowship went through at least two church splits, “doctrine” left a really bad taste in my mouth. But this time, something sort of clicked.
A few weeks ago I sat down with Scott Lamb (pastor of Emmaus Life) to talk about various things – football, politics, my chances of winning the U.S. Open next year, etc. One of the things that came up, though, was the importance of having your own theological system. Ah, “system,” another word that sends uncomfortable tingles up my spine. Some of its synonyms include “conformity,” “fixed order,” “rule,” and “routine” – all words that sound confining (and boring) more than they do liberating. And this is America; we’re all about liberation. We can’t have confining things.
But not to have a theological system would be contradictory. It’d be saying “I choose not to have a systematic theology,” which is actually laying a foundation for a theological system. And yet this is where I feel I’m being challenged; to develop my own set of beliefs, my own system.
I’ve written several mission statements throughout the last few years, but never really anything regarding my beliefs. A big reason for this is because, in several areas, I’m still figuring out what I believe. I think all of us are, to some extent anyway. No, I don’t mean we’re all questioning the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus (though some of us may be), but to say that we’re figuring out how to put our beliefs into our own words, rather than regurgitate something we were once told (like the Western Seminary brochure said).
“But what about sticking to ‘sound doctrine’?” you might ask. And it’s a good question. In theory, if we’re all off developing our own theological systems, then shouldn’t we all come up with something different? And if that were true, wouldn’t we be straying from ‘sound doctrine’? I don’t think so. I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, diligent in our studies, and forever seeking to be like Jesus – always returning to the cross – then we’d wind up looking very much alike.
Accepting the systems and statements of famous pastors (or infamous ones) can be good. A lot of the time, the famous theologians and pastors are really smart people. But not always. They’re still as human as we are and prone to similar mistakes. Thus, even if only on a surface level, God wants each of us to pursue Him with our minds so that we can fend off belief statements and theological systems that lead us away from Him.
So where to begin? Answering that question is rather simple: God. Our faith, our belief in God, His Son Jesus, His Spirit do not exist only within our minds. We did not come to believe in God through abstract ideas and concepts; we came to believe in Him when He revealed Himself to us. To further understand how He works, we must continue to seek Him.
“It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out.” Proverbs 25:2
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2