Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Common Grace and Theological Scholarship

Dennis Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology and Academic Dean at Westminster Seminary California, delivered a very helpful message in 1991 on the theme of Common Grace and Theological Scholarship. Using Titus 1:5-16, he shows how it is unscriptural and dangerous for believers to withdraw from interaction with the secular or unbelieving thought-world.

I've outlined the talk below and recommend it to you:

Reasons That May Cause Us to Distrust Non-Christian Scholarship
  1. The Sufficiency of Scripture
  2. Reformed Theology and Presuppositional Apologetics
  3. Personal Discomfort
Reasons to Take Non-Christian Scholarship Seriously

If we take the path of withdrawal, we fail in two ways in our role as servants of Christ and protectors of his people:
  1. Our Apologetic Duty to Understand the Opposition
  2. Common Grace and Human Inconsistency

Extremes to Avoid
  1. Undiscerning Consumption
  2. Proud Isolation

Discernment: Dangerous and Difficult Labor

Here's the conclusion:

You realize, of course, that this makes our study of theology less outwardly secure. We cannot simply compile a list of "safe" authors, stamp them with the Reformed equivalent of imprimatur or nihil obstat, and then confine our reading to them. We must do the hard work of exercising discernment – sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, argument by argument. Facts, insights, perspectives, and methods must all be tested in the light of the principles of Scripture. And we must keep alive our consciousness of dependence on Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Our safety is not in avoiding the ideas of the unbelieving world; our safety is in union with Christ, who transforms the mind of those who trust in him.

There is hard work to be done in sorting and sifting the teachings of other humans, especially when we realize that we cannot simply cubbyhole the unpleasant or challenging ideas away and ignore them. But this hard work, like other exercise, gives us the necessary muscle tone to serve and lead God's people. "Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (Heb. 5:14).