I find many people who want to learn more about what they believe and also how to think rightly of God. They just don’t know how. They think of seminary and shudder. They think of massive books that are completely boring and they lose all desire to pursue a greater knowledge of God. I wanted to share some simple pointers of how I’ve learned and have grown in doctrine.
Understand what theology is.
Remember, “theology” simply means the study of God. We’re not talking about timelines or pointless facts and arguments. We’re talking about knowing Him more. I used to find it easy to excuse myself from learning theology when I thought it was just useless trivia. Everything changed when I realized it was simply the process of knowing a person, Jesus, and who He is, what He is like, and what that means for me in response of Him. It also helped to know that it was His desire that I pursue knowing Him, and therefore growing in doctrine and theology. I knew He would help me understand all that I was studying.
Read the Bible without filters.
I find the greatest cause of wrong doctrine is reading the Bible with a filter, either our own or someone else’s. It is critically important that the start of our theological education (and the core of it) centers around the Bible. Just as important is to read the Bible without preconceived ideas/doctrines of our own or from others. For example, when reading Revelation, I never understood it till I (chose to) forget all that I had been taught about it (I was taught pre-tribulation rapture, so Revelation was quite confusing). Once I did, the Spirit opened the book to me and I saw it clearly.
It’s also important that we read the Bible with our heart continually ready to love the Lord as the scriptures reveal Him to be. I missed out on a lot of good and passionate theology growing up because I formed a theory of God with my own mind, a god that that was easily lovable. When a tough theological subject such as hell or election comes up, I often hear people say “I don’t know if I could love a God like that.” Abraham Joshua Heschel says:
To retain the holy, to perpetuate the presence of god, his image is fashioned. Yet a god who can be fashioned, a god who can be confined, is but a shadow of man.
Read the Bible to see God for who He truly is, and be ready to struggle against some of the things that make Him altogether different than us (like how He defines love). Choose to love Him regardless of how unpleasing you may find Romans 9 or other passages.
Read the Bible with commentary.
While we should read the Bible without filters, it is good after reading it ourselves, to read what others have thought about it. We call these collection of thoughts about the Bible “commentaries.” Instead of going and buying a bunch of new expensive commentaries that you might not know if they are good or not, let me encourage you to read commentaries from some of the old preachers and fathers of our faith. Many of them are free. You can read commentaries from Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and others. After you read a portion of scripture and pray about it, look up the portion in these commentaries. Just be careful not to read/listen to only one person. Reading commentaries from multiple authors keep us from erring easily.
Follow theologians on Twitter (or Facebook).
This is my favorite. Thanks to the age of the internet and social media that we live in, there are many theologians that are posting short theological truths and teaching on Twitter and Facebook. I follow several of such people and I’ve been amazed at my spiritual growth just by reading some of their thoughts. Many of them also have blogs where they write out some of their thoughts in a slightly longer form. This is a quick and easy way to learn theological truths randomly throughout the day.
Here are a few I personally follow on Twitter:
- John Piper (and his ministry, Desiring God)
- Ray Ortlund
- Matt Smethurst
- Charles Spurgeon (Quotes)
- Tim Keller
- Kevin DeYoung
- Bob Sorge
- Mike Bickle (and his ministry, IHOP-KC)
- Mark Driscoll (and his ministry, TheResurgence)
- AW Tozer (Quotes)
- C.S. Lewis (Quotes)
All of these people are serious (yet still fun) about theology. Whoever you follow, if you listen to their theological remarks, make sure they are serious about theology, that they appreciate it and are trying to see God rightly, truly, and in a way that’s consistent with Christian history. There are many who are part of an anti-intellectual/relativist movement. These people are constantly dogging general (and widely-accepted through time) doctrines. They are trying to re-invent Christianity into something more palatable, but in the end, unbiblical. They don’t believe in any set standard of truth. Beware of such people and their candy-tasting social media accounts. Find preachers and teachers who are in line with church history who are passionate about Jesus expressed through the Bible.
Read theological books.
Finally, start reading (light) theological books. I’m not talking about reading a Systematic Theology book or something like Kingdom Through Covenant, a crazy deep 828 page book on the biblical covenant of salvation. I’m talking about reading easier yet potent material that focuses on knowing God more, through scripture and doctrine.
Some examples are:
- The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler
- Think by John Piper
- Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer (my personal favorite)
- Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris
- Follow Me by David Platt
- The Crucial Questions Series by R.C. Sproul (FREE!!!)
Fiction series like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy are also great to learn doctrine and theology from. I should mention that many fiction books don’t have accurate theology in them, particularly for those trying to, so be careful (I’m looking at you, The Shack). Sometimes it’s better to read someone who is choosing clarity rather than allegory.
Also, if you get a Kindle, you can find many theological books for free or cheap. They are often on sale on Amazon.