By Andy Constable
Biblical thinking can very often be in short supply among many young Christians who want to work in ‘poorer’ areas. They can be guilty of explicitly reasoning that ‘thinking’ is somehow unspiritual or implicitly believing that the people they are working with only need Jesus and are too ill educated to take in any of the more difficult doctrines of the Bible. Yet, thinking through what we believe alongside a robust, doctrinally sound theology, is fundamentally important for every believer, wherever they live and work.
Why? The First, and greatest, command reminds us:
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37)
In effect, we cannot love God properly if we are not engaging him with our minds. Biblical thinking fuels our love and worship of God. It helps us know Him and to treasure Him above all other things. Some argue that too much thinking merely leads to dry intellectualism and pride. Whilst that is a real danger, we must not forget the flip side to engaging God with our minds. As John Piper writes:
God has given us minds so that, by thinking with the Spirit’s help, we can know the truth and beauty and worth of God through Jesus and treasure Him above all things and spend our lives expressing this in as many ways as our minds can pursue.
Biblical thinking, therefore, is surely crucial in worshipping Almighty God. It is as much an act of divine worship as sharing the gospel or singing spiritual songs. Biblical thinking, fuelled by a desire to glorify God, informed by the Word and illuminated by the Spirit, gives the Christian a firm, theological foundation upon which to build their service for the Lord. Paul encouraged the Ephesians church to grow in the knowledge of Jesus. Why? Ephesians 4:14 clarifies this for us.
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”
We observe two truths here. (1) Biblical thinking and knowledge help us to stand firm in the face of all sorts of false teaching. (2) A robust theology is an anchor that helps us to spot false teachers. This solid, biblical foundation, coupled with a fervent love for the Lord Jesus, will absolutely hold us in good stead when the pressures of ministry and the difficulties of life threaten to overwhelm us. We must be mindful of the foolish man who built his house upon the sand!
Many, foolishly, believe that doctrine divides and is therefore to be avoided at all costs. Yes, Christians do disagree on subjects of secondary importance but, given sin and the enemy’s desire to bring disunity to the body, it’s no surprise. Interestingly, many of these divisions have historically helped to protect the church against much false teaching. Many of the truths we hold so dear today, such as ‘grace alone, by faith alone and in Christ alone’ are only now so clearly seen because of the stand the church took against false teachers at that time!
A popular saying in the UK among students of a more charismatic bent is, “well my theology is Jesus and that’s all I need.” Whilst I understand the simplistic sentiment behind this comment, it is, as we have seen, impossible to worship Jesus without having a doctrinal basis. How will we clarify who Jesus is without doctrine? Is he the Son of God or just a good, social warrior? Is he Jesus meek and mild or the Jesus that turned the tables over? Is he a blasphemer or the Word of God the Father? You see without doctrine we are unable to explain who Jesus even is. What we are really doing when we come up with this trite phraseology is shaping the Lord Jesus into our own image. We want the Jesus that meets our needs.
Why are these things specifically important for those working in housing schemes?
1. We need to know God’s Word so that we can explain it simply to new Christians. Working on schemes is not all about giving them Jesus and leaving it at that. People need active, in-depth discipleship. Contrary to popular thought, doctrine is not anathema in the housing schemes and council estates of the UK. This may sound counter-intuitive but the more intimately we know a particular doctrine and all its complicated nuances, the easier we will be able to clearly explain it. It is a truism that the people who know God’s Word the deepest know how to explain it in such a way that people will be able understand it simply. People in housing schemes aren’t stupid and we should not treat them as such. We need to teach them the whole counsel of God and so that will involve teaching doctrine’s like God’s sovereignty, the substitionary atonement of Christ and the Trinity, amongst other things. If we don’t know these doctrines intimately then we won’t be able to teach them to those on schemes. Remember we want disciples not just converts.
2. Without a firm foundation we will not persevere. Church workers in inner city housing schemes are working in very difficult environments. There will be tough times ahead and if our theology is not built on strong foundations then we will be easily swayed when we go through suffering, persecution or emotional burn out. A biblically thought through theological foundation will allow leaders and followers to work in this spiritual minefield and will almost certainly increase the longevity of their work. We need gospel workers who have a sure biblical foundation to come and work in schemes. Those who despise doctrine and the concept of deep, biblical thought need not apply.
For too many years, housing schemes have suffered because the best and the brightest in areas like education have pursued careers in more fertile ground. Sadly, many pastors have followed suit. How many young men in our Bible Colleges or in our churches dream of being ministers in council housing schemes? It’s not exactly seen as being a step up the career ladder is it?
Sadly, it is our experience that many of the Christians working in schemes (largely for para church organisations) are woefully biblically illiterate when it comes to a rounded and clear grasp of biblical doctrines. If it is true, in discipleship terms, that we can only take our pupils as far as we have gone ourselves, then we have to wince at the level of concrete, biblical thinking and discipleship going on in many places.
Pray for us as we try to build a team and a community based on a solid, biblical framework. Pray for us as disciple future leaders here. Pray that there would be a generation of doctrinally sound leaders who are passionate for the Lord Jesus, love people and who want to see the schemes transformed by the gospel! Pray that we would love the Lord our God with heart, soul and mind!