Recently, someone asked my advice. They had been asked to present a one hour session on how evangelicals do theology.
It's not hard to think of things to say if someone asked about the content of evangelical theology. We'd talk about our distinctive doctrine of Scripture, of sin, of the atonement, of judgement and so on. There are particular hallmarks that have arisen over the centuries that mark out what evangelicals do when it comes to theology.
But the question was how, not what. What constitutes an evangelical method of theology?
I outlined 4 areas, which I reproduce here for others' benefit and my own future reference. Do use the comments section to share your thoughts on this.
I'm not claiming that these are distinctive to evangelicals. Some of these would be included in a list of characteristics of theological method from some non-evangelical groups as well. But they are all, I think, important necessary features as evangelicals seek to do theology.
The evaluative authority: Scripture alone
That's to say, theology is in part about putting ideas together. We take different truths about God, about the world, about humanity, and we articulate with some precision how these things fit. Given this truth about the person of Christ, what does that tell us about what we may and may not say about how he rescues us from sin?
As evangelicals do that, we seek to put biblical ideas together in ways that are biblical. Scripture is our sole evaluative authority when we work out whether a particular view is right or wrong.
The conversation partners: church history
That's to say: We are not generationally arrogant. We do not invent the wheel afresh in our own day. Past generations did and can err. The past records a conversation in which views circulated, only to be ruled inadmissible by other Christians of the day. So this is not about saying everything from past ages is true. But we do listen to that past conversation, to learn from the debates of days gone by, and to synthesise and build in our own day.
We stand on the shoulders of giants like Athanasius, Aquinas, Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, and many more.
This is, I think part of the 5th commandment, to honour our (spiritual, in this case) father and mother.
The result: repentance and faith
That's to say, it's not evangelical to study academically without doing what the word says. James 1:22.
The Bible, and systematic theology, is not an exhibit in a museum of dead things. Theology does not live in a mausoleum. Rather we are discovering truths about the living God as we study his living word.
As we do that, we commit ourselves to change our beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and behaviour based upon what we learn.
The goal: glory of God
"Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)
That's to say, theology is not a matter of studying God primarily for our own benefit. One of the first things we learn in theology is that God is at the centre of everything. He does everything for his own glory. In him we live and move and have our being. In him all things hold together.
So, as we study theology, our ultimate goal in doing so is to bring glory to God.
The very exercise of theology is focused on God, from start to finish.