Gaps, cracks, and droops. Sticking doors, scraping windows, and sagging floors. If you live in a part of the world with soft soil or an extreme climate, you know about foundation problems. Unless you plant your piers on the bedrock, your house could very well shift, sink, or settle.
In the same way, without digging deep to the solid foundation of sound theology, the floors of your Christian life will sag. The support beams will bow, the walls crack, and the doors stick. And if the foundation problems continue without repair, your whole Christian life can collapse. In a culture that seems to downplay the need for depth of doctrine and biblical knowledge, the solid foundation of theology has been replaced by the soft soil of emotion, experience, and pragmatism.
How Faulty a Foundation
Perhaps you’ve heard it from a pastor or said it yourself: “I’m no theologian. I’ve never been to seminary and don’t know any of those big words. All I know is Jesus. He’s all I need.” Others exalt “practical living” over “theoretical theology” and emphasize “knowing God” rather than merely “knowing about Him.” But can we really have practice without theory? Can our vital relationship with Christ and vibrant Christian life really grow up without growing deep?
We live in a time when theological foundations are being rocked. Both leaders and lay people have turned away from theology as an essential component of their personal faith in Christ. What’s the result? Their faith is often built on the shaky ground of personal convictions. When something new comes along that sounds better, rootless believers can easily be led astray, “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14 NASB).
How the Foundation Became Faulty
Theology used to be called “the queen of the sciences.” It dictated morality and ethics while philosophy served as its handmaiden. Why was it once held in such high esteem? Because theology provides the right foundation for our worldviews, which in turn set the inclinations for our hearts, actions, and decisions in all circumstances.
In the late Middle Ages, theology became detached from the Bible and out of reach for the common people. It grew into the speculative philosophy of the university elites. Locking theology in the closet of “scholasticism” resulted in a dysfunctional household of God. Laypeople were often filled with superstition, uncertainty, and a distorted picture of God. With the coming of the Reformation, pastors and teachers like Luther and Calvin gave the Bible and theology back to the people—and faith in Christ flourished once again.1
But something happened in the last hundred years. Perhaps it was in response to the liberal takeover of many seminaries and universities that once stood for sound doctrine. Maybe it was under the influence of popular revivalist movements that emphasized religious experience over learning. Whatever the cause, many evangelicals turned their backs on theological education in exchange for an anti-intellectualism that still lingers in the church today.2
In his timely book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, evangelical historian Mark Noll begins with these alarming words: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”3 Is this where we are today? Have we lost our minds? Have we dumbed down the Christian faith? Sure, knowing Jesus intimately is our first pursuit (Philippians 3:10), but knowing Jesus requires knowing about Him. Is Christ God? Is He man? Is He part man and part God? Can you express and defend the biblical doctrine of Christ?
How firm is your foundation?
Affirming the Foundation
In Ephesians 2:20 the Apostle Paul said the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” The early church relied directly on the apostles’ and prophets’ teachings about Christ and exposition of the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 17:2–3). When the apostles and prophets passed on, they left us the Bible, which points to Christ and teaches us not only what to believe but how to live (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
In Ephesians 4, Paul described the process for achieving a strong, healthy Christian life. This process begins not with personal preferences, mystical experiences, emotional convictions, or private devotion. It begins with the teaching of the apostles and prophets through pastors, teachers, and evangelists (Ephesians 4:11). They work to build up believers in the church (4:12), with the goal of leading them to maturity—“the unity of the faith” and “the knowledge of the Son of God” (4:13).
Many passages in the New Testament regarding knowledge of God use the words gnosko or gnosis, which can imply an intimate, personal knowledge, as in a marriage relationship.4 But that’s not the word Paul used in Ephesians 4:13. Instead, he used epignosis, emphasizing the intellectual aspect of knowledge that comes only by learning, studying, or receiving information5.
In short, we can’t grow deep in our personal relationship with Christ without digging deeper in our knowledge about Him and His revelation in the Word.
How Firm is Your Foundation?
The alarm has been sounded. We’ve heard Paul’s words and seen the pattern of history. The mission to reclaim theology—to reawaken the evangelical mind for Christ—is underway. Evangelicals are responding to the call to revive theology in the church, to repair the long-neglected foundation, to dig deep to the bedrock of the faith so we can continue growing deep in the Christian life.
Let us give you an excellent example. In 2001, The Theology Program was launched at Stonebriar Community Church, where Chuck Swindoll serves as pastor. The program takes solid theological education out of the seminary and places it into the lives of average Christians. It’s a full theological program for all people who have a thirst for God’s truth. Its mission is to reclaim the mind for Christ by equipping people and churches to understand and defend the Christian faith. In the six-course curriculum, students explore all the major doctrines of systematic theology, learning to think through the issues biblically, so they can understand and defend the historic Christian faith. Through a partnership with bible.org, The Theology Program is used by churches all over the world to help strengthen theological foundations, and we highly recommend it.
So how firm is your foundation? Is your theological and biblical knowledge riddled with gaps and cracks? Is your Christian life in danger of shifting, sinking, or even collapsing? Unless you dig deep down to the solid theological foundation, you’ll never be able to grow deep in the Christian life.
Will you start your own foundation repair today?
Taken from Michael Patton and Michael J. Svigel, “How Firm Is Your Foundation?” Insights (November 2005), 1-2. Copyright © 2005 by Insight for Living. All rights reserved worldwide.
1. See Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1980), 204-222.
2. See Joel A. Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925 (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1980); Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994).
3. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 3.
4. See Walter Bauer and others, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2d rev. ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 160-162; 163-164.
5. See Walter Bauer and others, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 291.