Keep Me from Sin! An Academic Theology of Glory V. A Chastised Theology of the Cross

I’ve been reading a lot lately, more than I usually do; I think it’s because I am determined to not let my current job (which has dreadful graveyard hours, and “10s” on top of that!) dictate and/or determine or deprive me of fellowshipping with and growing in the grace and knowledge of my Lord—through sustained study and reading of His Word, and teachers (theologians) of His Word. My job might deprive me of sleep—which physically, mentally, etc. is not good—but I am determined to not let it deprive me of my Lord (in the way I just described). So I am reading some good theological stuff from John Webster, Matthew Levering, Donald Bloesch, and Thomas Torrance right now; and then as usual I am reading Scripture (I’m in Proverbs as I read through right now). But a recurring question and reality continues to confront me as I engage myself in theological thought; does reading these books and theologians have the power to transform my life more into the image of Christ, in the kind of way that simply stated, keeps me from sinning?

Psalm 119:11 says: ‘Thy word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against Thee’. What does this mean? For the Psalmist, David, in context it appears that he is referencing the Scriptures, and what he had at that point, the Torah or Instruction of Yahweh found in the first five books of the Bible (i.e. the Book of Moses). So in context, David was most probably referencing covenantal obedience, which was a condition for what we refer to as  fulfilling not only the demands of the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Deut. 28—32; Lev. 26), but also of the promise Yahweh made to him through Samuel in II Samuel 7; what we refer to as the Davidic Covenant (which the son of David, Jesus Christ finally has fulfilled in the unveiling of salvation history). Nevertheless, David apparently is relaying a belief that memorizing and meditating (see Psalm 1 and Joshua 1:8-9) on Holy Scripture has the moral affect and capability to mitigate occurrences of sin in his own life.

Sometimes I wonder, as I was alluding to in my first paragraph, what Academic theology hath to do with Personal theology and Christian spirituality. Ideally academic theology would be concerned with providing a grammar and reflection for the church of Jesus Christ that provides a robust clarity of God’s Word, the Scriptures in particular. But in my experience, at points (not always), academic theology often does not seem to correlate with a simple reading and reflection of Scripture (at least by way of the power it has to bring fresh encounter with Christ). I am having a hard time articulating what I am sensing at this point, but maybe it is that I am concerned that academic theology, even the kind that is grounded in a trajectory that methodically starts in a Triune shape and Christ-ward slant only stays in the academic; it becomes a predicate of what we might call a theology of glory. Maybe this is where the crux of my concern resides; that even theology that emphasizes God as love, that thinks of God in cruciform ways, and cross-like form ends up only being abstract schemata that creative and constructive theologians string together with an intent of having it peer reviewed; and this peer review being the terminus, the end for which said theologian’s engage their craft. And maybe because the person and the work, that being and act are mutually implicating and inseparable realities; this kind of ‘academic’ tone cuts through the theological grammar said theologian has constructed. Maybe it is at this point, that an actual theology of the cross is denuded of its power as it becomes a theology of glory, seeking the approval of men—something that started out in the power of the Spirit, only to be perfected by the flesh (Gal. 3). It was this kind of theologizing that Jesus rebuked throughout the Gospel of John, the kind that seeks the approval of men; he said, explicitly, that this kind of approach contributes to the unbelief of men (in the powerful working of God in Christ … the kind that can keep us from sin).

I am just reflecting. I just don’t want to waste my time! And I also don’t want to sin. Sorry for the fragmented form of this post …

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3 comments

  1. Great thoughts Bobby. I know you’re incredibly busy, but when you have a moment please take a look at an email I’ve sent you. Thanks!

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  2. Daniel Gettemy · ·

    Good reflections Bobby! The thing that I can’t get away from when thinking about this is the Spirit’s involvement in using truth (“Thy word is truth” – John 17:17) to sanctify the believer. There’s a work of the Spirit taking place by which my mind is being renewed (Rom. 12:1) and my affections changed (Eph. 4:23; Rom. 6:4; Col. 3:10) as I read and study the Scriptures.
    At the same time, one of the means by which the Spirit engages in this sanctifying work is by the gifts that He bestows – even those “office gifts”, as they’re sometimes referred to (Eph. 4:11-16). The offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher (academic or otherwise) are meant to engage both the mind and heart of the believer for the overall spiritual growth of the Church. However – and I think this is what you’ve keyed into – the “office” is only going to be as effective (spiritually) as the “officer” is, himself/herself, being refreshed, taught, and led by the Holy Spirit, personally. The end aim of the teacher ought not be merely to teach (and receive recognition for doing so), but to be taught by God, and then enjoy the blessing and privilege of being used of God as a tool by which the Spirit leads others into a deeper understanding and fellowship with Christ.
    It does seem that many academic scholars “get” this, and their works are accompanied by a doxological inspiration. With others, however, there seems to be a “gong, gong, gong” sound arising as you read along! Lord, help me not to end up playing in the gong section…

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  3. Hi Joel,

    I received your email, and will be responded in the next couple of days. By the way, I remember you, we are friends on Facebook too 🙂 you know 😉 .

    Daniel,

    Yes, I agree; I think what I am really getting at is attitude and posture, and how that affects the kind of “dividing of the Word” that occurs at the teacher’s hand. I was also wondering about Scripture, though, in the sense that it has a special kind of ordained power to inherently keep us from sin like nothing else available. I guess that insofar that a teacher is able to actually lay bare what is actually there in scripture, that that teacher will have the power that only the Gospel can truly provide in various facets. And one has to wonder what role love has when a teacher is teaching, articulating etc. Paul seems to think that without it one could have all the knowledge in the world (as you allude to), and what they wright or communicate means nothing. I would take this, theologically, to be a reference to God’s life, since God is love; so insofar that the teacher truly represents God in Christ through their teaching, then they are truly proclaiming and declaring a Word, the Word, that is powerful, like a hammer or fire (Jer 23).

    Great points, Daniel … thanks!

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