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How to Teach Theology in Sunday School: Part 2

 
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  • Don’t be afraid to stretch your class members. It would have been easy to “dumb down” the doctrines, but I chose not to do so.  Clear? Yes. Systematically developed? Yes. Easy to grasp? Hopefully. Overly simplistic? No.  It was encouraging to see class members wrestle with doctrines like the Trinity and the extent of the atonement and grow as they did so.

  • Be ready for questions. I tend to ask lots of questions to stimulate discussion and facilitate learning. The result is a pretty lively give-and-take during class sessions, with others asking nearly as many questions as I do. Questions are a good thing, though, because they show that class members are engaged and thinking about the topic. Having a good grasp of each week’s topic means being ready to answer questions.

  • Provide handouts. Each week, I distributed a half-page summary of the previous week’s lesson. Those handouts gave us an opportunity for weekly review and gave class members a resource they could use in the future. One lady made certain she collected all the handouts, even when she was in another class for a quarter or two.

  • Stay on topic. In order to stay on topic for each lesson, I often ended up answering some questions by saying “We’ll look at that topic next week” (or, sometimes, next fall). As a result we were able to sustain a core group of class members for eight years. At the end of the last session, those folks were asking “When will we start over?” I fully expect to see most of them come back for more when we begin working through the Apostle’s Creed next year.

I’m not a systematic theologian; my area is New Testament. Teaching theology was a stretch for me, and it will most likely be a stretch for you, too. The payoff, though, is worth it. Seeing class members get excited about the truth of God’s Word and grow in their practical understanding of how it applies to their lives is encouraging for the teacher and, more importantly, good for the congregation. Why not give it a try?  

Written by Dr. John Harvey, Dean of the Seminary & School of Ministry

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How to Teach Theology in Sunday School: Part 1

 

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Our adult Sunday School class recently concluded a series of electives that had run for eight years and focused on, of all things, systematic theology.  Yes, we looked at everything—Calvinism and Arminianism, dispensationalism and covenant theology, the doctrine of sin, the order of salvation, what happens after you die, you name it—and we had a blast doing it. This latest series was the third time I had taught a theology sequence, and each time I found there was both a degree of unfamiliarity with much of what Scripture teaches about the Christian faith and a hunger to dig in and learn more. Rather than scaring people off, the topic of “theology” actually attracted them.

Before you freak out at the idea of teaching a class for eight straight years, I should let you know that I taught only during the Fall Quarter (September through November) each year. The first two times, I taught the series consecutively over three years. This time I did it differently, and each fall the same folks showed up and brought their friends. In both formats, though, I found several strategies to be effective.

  • Be sure you have a long-term plan. Planning out the entire sequence in advance paid dividends. This last time around, each quarter addressed a separate doctrine (e.g., Doctrine of God, Doctrine of the Bible). Not only did I know where I was going each quarter, class members did, too.

  • Take it one step at a time. By breaking each doctrine down into twelve lessons, I was able to build each topic on the ones that preceded it. Smaller bites also made it easier for class members to understand and apply the concepts.

  • Make it practical. Since it’s easy to get caught up in all the theory and details, it’s essential to apply the concepts as well. Class members soon learned that each week’s lesson was going to conclude with the same question: “So what?” They also soon became practical theologians who were adept at thinking through the implications of the doctrines we discussed.

 Written by Dr. John Harvey, Dean of the Seminary & School of Ministry

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Five Tests of Spiritual Error: Part 2

 

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Test #3- Spiritual error denies the Person of Jesus Christ!  The identity of the Second Person of the Trinity is not up for grabs.  The Bible is quite clear about His perfect deity and His sinless humanity.  We read in I Timothy 3:16, “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:  He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”  The universalist Philip Gulley says, “I believe Jesus had a special relationship with God and an important role in human history, though I'm no longer persuaded this required his divinity.” (If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person).

Test #4- Spiritual error goes beyond the Bible in forbidding the gifts God has given.  Paul tells us that faith-abandoners, who are nothing more than hypocritical liars with seared consciences, will “forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.” (I Timothy 4:3).  False religion doesn’t only appear in a form which encourages sinful conduct.  It sometimes says that a higher form of spirituality is to deny the physical gifts God has given us to enjoy.[1]

Test #5- Spiritual error has a low view of the Scriptures, substituting its own experience or reason for God’s Word!  Perhaps the most fundamental question in theological matters is the question of one’s authority.  What or who determines what you and I should believe?  Evangelical Christians affirm the functional authority of the entire Bible, all sixty-six books, properly understood and carefully applied.  A.W. Tozer, a deeply spiritual pastor, put it this way:  “Whatever keeps me from the Bible is my enemy, however harmless it may appear to be. Whatever engages my attention when I should be meditating on God and things eternal does injury to my soul. Let the cares of life crowd out the Scriptures from my mind and I have suffered loss where I can least afford it. Let me accept anything else instead of the Scriptures and I have been cheated and robbed to my eternal confusion.”

I challenge you, the reader, to go through the rest of the Pastoral Epistles to discover additional tests of spiritual error. 

Written by Dr. Larry Dixon Professor of Theology, Columbia International University Seminary and School of Ministry


[1] For an outstanding sermon on receiving marriage and food to the glory of God, watch John Piper’s sermon “Sanctified by the Word and Prayer: Saint Paul and C.S. Lewis on the Holiness of Creation,” a message delivered at the 2013 Desiring God conference and found at the DesiringGod.org website.

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Five Tests of Spiritual Error: Part 1

 

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The story is told of a liberal clergyman who was on trial in his church for his denial of the deity of Jesus.  When asked to defend himself, he replied, “Deny the deity of Jesus?  Deny the deity of Jesus?!  I’ve never denied the deity of any one of us!”

What are the biblical tests of false doctrine?  We shy away from the term “heresy,” but it is a Bible word.[1]  The Pastoral Epistles (I and II Timothy and Titus) give us clear, direct tests to help us sort out truth from error.

Test #1- Spiritual error engages us in useless controversies!  We read in I Timothy 1,   “. . . command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.  These promote controversies rather than God’s work . . .” (vv. 3-4). 

Test #2- Spiritual error does not conform to the glorious gospel of Christ and compromises salvation by faith alone!  I Timothy 1:10-11 speaks of serious sins such as those who kill their fathers or mothers, adultery, perversion, and then, “contrary doctrine”!  Our touchstone is the gospel.  Whatever teaching is not consistent with the gospel should have a big, fat warning label firmly stuck to it.  The minimization of the need for conversion and an overemphasis on corporate (rather than individual) salvation in certain Emergent writers comes to mind here.[2]

Paul tells Timothy, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . . Christ . . . [displayed] his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (I Timothy 1:15-16). 

Written by Dr. Larry Dixon Professor of Theology, Columbia International University Seminary and School of Ministry


[1] See my book Whatever Happened to Heresy? (CreateSpace, 2013, ISBN: 9781484141298).

[2] See the works of Brian McLaren as well as the controversial book Love Wins by Rob Bell.  This author has written a short critique of Rob Bell’s two books (Love Wins and What We Talk about When We Talk about God) entitled Farewell, Rob Bell (2nd edition), available on Amazon.com.

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