Foundations of Our Theology
A Lesson From Abraham
When studying the Bible, a variety of methods of study are
often applied. Character studies such as a look at the life
of Abraham, Moses, or David are usually quite popular. Additionally,
in a group Bible study, we might typically expect to encounter
one of two popular approaches. Bible study groups may often
center around one of the many devotional or academic books
available for purchase for a small fee at the local Christian
bookstore. Or, Bible study groups may instead option to take
on a book by book approach looking chapter by chapter at Biblical
texts such as Genesis, Isaiah, John, or I Corinthians just
to name a few possibilities.
While these are all valid approaches to Bible study, we believe
that with regard to understanding doctrine, such approaches
fall short. Someone might say, "Well, maybe we're not studying
doctrine." This would be a fine reply indeed if the persons
involved in the study have already reached a mature mastery
of doctrine. But if they have not, then studying characters
or devotionals or even books of the Bible by themselves is
inappropriate. To study such things before we have a sound,
mature mastery of doctrine is a perfect example of putting
the cart before the horse. Without a mastery of doctrine first,
our studies of other people and concepts can often lead to
unorthodox beliefs or imbalanced walks with God. A mastery
of doctrine is of primary importance because false teaching
comes in many forms, both subtle and overt. And only an understanding
of sound doctrine can safeguard us against false doctrine.
When we study the Bible book by book, chapter by chapter or
when we enlist the help of a contemporary author to help us
with doctrine we automatically narrow our field of vision.
Instead of being able to gaze over and explore the details
of the entire Bible and all its relevant passages on a topic,
we are forced to focus our attention on the words in front
of us. Therefore, we are often forced to overlook important
clues and details from the whole of the Bible and cannot assemble
a complete Biblical picture on a subject.
If for example we select the book of Mark for our Bible study
and decide to go through it chapter by chapter, we may indeed
become familiar with the structure and content of that book.
However, because of the way the Gospels and other New Testament
books are set up, we will tend to jump from topic to topic
as we move through a chapter at a time. This will have the
tendency to break up our concentration. And, instead of providing
us with a solid overview of a wide variety of Biblical topics,
such an approach will result in a very narrow, limited understanding
of each of those topics. That is because it is impossible
to cover any topic in depth when covering several topics inside
the span of a chapter from week to week. There is little time
to study each topic in a chapter in the broader context of
the Bible as a whole.
Furthermore, these methods of study often result in tunnel
vision. They prevent the person studying from thinking outside
the box to a large extent by focussing too heavily on the
academic book, devotional material, or even Biblical book
in front of them. While this does not prevent the individual
from referencing other Biblical passages, it is expressly
discouraging to such activity. Whether that book is a book
from the Bible or a book from a contemporary author the result
is the same. That book becomes the basis of the study and
too much cross referencing and questioning inevitably gets
viewed as tangential and disruptive to the group focus.
Because the need to understand sound doctrine is of primary
importance to every believer, we must employ a better method
of study in order to arrive at a balanced, mature, mastery
and understanding of orthodox Biblical doctrine.