Theology really matters and has practical, long-term implications.
I vividly recall something that happened when I was 6 years old. It was a sunny Sabbath morning during the summer, and I was going to church. On the way, I met an elder, a very fine man admired by many, who asked me what my plans were for the future. With great enthusiasm, I told him that in three months I would enroll in school for my first class. He turned to me, paused, and said: “Jiří, you probably will not even go to school because Jesus will come soon.” He then added, “And certainly you will not finish your elementary school before Jesus will return.” I still hear those stunning words as clearly as if he were saying them today. Well, I not only finished elementary school, but also high school, college, and university studies. In addition, I became a professor at Andrews University, now function as the dean at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary; and in a few years, I will retire, but Jesus has not yet come.
Despite this fact, Jesus Christ firmly promised: “‘I am coming soon’” (Rev. 22:20).1 We all know that the crucial thing in this expectation is not when Jesus will come but that He will come. Christ said so, therefore it will happen (Matt. 16:27; 24:27, 30; 25:31; John 5:25–29; 14:1–3, 18)! Yes, this soon has already lasted almost two millennia, but the reality is that He will come. We may feel frustrated because we have definitely waited longer than our forefathers expected, or even longer than we expected.
How is this long-term expectation related to education? Very closely. Unfortunately, some people who believe in the soon coming of Christ are anti-education, anti-social, and anti-progress; and the problem is that this small(er) group of people is usually very vocal. For these believers, education is understood as something unnecessary, some kind of unwelcome luxury, a detour and obstruction to mission. It might even be seen as dangerous or harmful because it may lead students away from God. So, is education, especially theological education, needed when we believe that Jesus Christ is coming soon? Why bother with biblical-historical-missiological studies and theological-practical training if the end of the world is at the door? Does biblical eschatology support or repudiate education? These are serious questions.
Warnings of a Delay
It is highly significant that Jesus Christ in His last sermon on eschatological events (Matthew 24 and 25) mentioned several times the idea of delay: First, He alluded to it by speaking about “‘the beginning of birth pains’” when nations will experience wars, famines, and earthquakes (Matt. 24:8), and then He stressed the increase of wickedness and loss of love (vs. 12). The end will come only when “‘this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world’” (vs. 14). Finally, in His concluding parables, Jesus explicitly expressed three times the thought of the delay: (1) the wicked servant says in his heart: “‘“My master is delayed”’” (Matt. 24:48, ESV); (2) all 10 virgins who were expecting the bridegroom to come fell asleep: “‘As the bridegroom [coming/appearance] was delayed’” (25:5, ESV); and (3) a master gave his servants talents and “‘after a long time the master of those servants came’” (vs. 19, ESV), expecting the talents to have been multiplied. Thus, Jesus was preparing His followers for the sad reality that His return would take longer than they expected. Life would be difficult, but He assured His followers that He would always be with them till the eschaton, till the very end (28:20). Notice carefully that Jesus was not explaining why the delay occurred (often our main preoccupation), but underlining how to live and what to do during the delay.
Loving Service According to Abilities and Training
These eschatological parables teach that being ready for the second coming of Christ means to live a life of service and that this service should be genuine because the attitude toward the Master and our motives for service to others are what counts. Jesus’ last two parables in the eschatological speech of Matthews 24 and 25 are very eloquent. Not only are those who are expecting the second coming of Christ diligently working (25:14–23), but they are also engaged in simple activities that assist needy people. Jesus mentioned six activities four times and always in the same sequence. He stated the following about the righteous: “‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”’” (25:34–40). The wicked, on the other hand, are described as people without any interest in helping the needy. They are blind to seeing them and their needs and to caring for them.
It is true that to serve in these six simple capacities (taking care of the hungry, thirsty, strangers, those with no clothes, sick, and in prison), one does not need to go through special theological training, even though it is clear that one needs to think right, has to have a positive attitude toward the Lord and King, and has to have allowed the Holy Spirit to transform his or her life; because only a loving person truly cares, diligently works, and shines.
However, it must be recognized that there are other needs for which people’s help is of value in accordance with the level of education they have received. One example is health and medicine, where a trained health-care provider can assist a sick or injured person much better than an uneducated individual, even though such an individual may be good-hearted. A person with the knowledge of first aid, a nurse, a family doctor, a surgeon, and a specialist in cancer or cardiovascular care can all help, but each one does so on a different level according to his or her training, skills, and abilities. We would refuse to go to a nurse for a complicated surgery, but some dare to think that almost anybody in the church can answer deep biblical issues, theological and ethical problems, or give wise advice to solve life’s problems.
The Prophet Daniel as a Model of Wisdom
The apocalyptic prophet Daniel is a remarkable and exceptional example of wisdom and understanding. He became a prophet only later in life (Dan. 7:1), because he was first of all known as a wise man. He studied at the Jerusalem University and then at the Babylonian University. He received the best education and became an outstanding scholar (1:20). We read that he was among those young men who were “without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He [Ashpenaz] was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians” (vs. 4). Daniel and his three friends were described by the following words: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds” (vs. 17).
It is noteworthy to mention that the Book of Daniel has a special emphasis on knowledge and understanding (1:4, 17; 8:15, 17; 5:12; 9:23, 25; 12:4, 8, 10). Wisdom is highly valued, because God is the Giver of wisdom (1:20; 2:20–23, 30). Surely this stress is purposely given by God’s design.
It is interesting that there is also a healthy tension in the biblical text regarding Daniel’s wisdom. Daniel is full of knowledge, insights, and wisdom (5:11, 14), yet he himself sometimes does not understand. He states: “I, Daniel, . . . was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding” (8:27). Elsewhere, he says, “I heard, but I did not understand” (12:8). He had to search the Scriptures diligently and seek wisdom for 10 years (8:1; 9:1, 2) before he was able to receive and understand something of God’s revelation given to him in chapter 8 (9:22, 23). Gabriel told him: “‘Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding’” (9:22).
No wonder Daniel, who wrote about the time of the end, is the model of wisdom for people living in the time of the end: “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand” (12:10). Daniel boldly declared: “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (vs. 3).
Christian History Corresponds to Biblical Interpretation History
The Reformers and shapers of Christian history understood the importance of education. There are enough examples from the history of the Reformation to prove that theological education was important for them. My teacher of Christian history in Prague, Professor Amadeo Molnár, repeatedly told us in his 1973–1975 lectures that Christian history is a history of the interpretation of the Bible. This is why correct biblical interpretation is of great significance. Truth matters. Progress is built on the correct understanding of God’s Word, but unfortunately, churches have been and are divided because of theology, and wars have even been fought because of controversy over biblical truth.
In 1054, the Christian Church split into two parts (East and West), because of the theology regarding the Holy Spirit. One word was the tip of the iceberg: Filioque (“and the Son”). Is the Holy Spirit coming only from the Father or from the Father “and the Son”? This was the ultimate question, and the Great Schism of 1054 resulted in the break between what are now the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches.
In the beginning of the 15th century, the followers of John Huss were defending (among other things) the preaching of God’s Word in the native Czech language as a model of what should be done universally wherever the church existed, instead of worshiping in Latin. This request was accepted by the Roman Catholic Church only after the Second Vatican Council in the second part of the 20th century (1962–1965). Roman Catholicism delayed making this change for more than 550 years.
The Hussites also demanded, according to biblical teaching, that the cup should be served to the people and that the drinking of wine must be an integral part of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion. In 1414, in the Church of Saint Martin in the Wall in Prague, theologian Jakoubek ze Stříbra and St. Martin’s parish priest Jan of Hradec, with consent from Master John Huss (even though he was already at that time in Constance, Germany), served the wine during the Lord’s Supper for the first time together with the bread to all believers. It was truly a bold and big Reformation step. However, Crusaders were sent to fight against the Hussites to defeat this heresy. The Hussites were victorious when they were united, but then, because of treason and inner disagreements and clashes, they experienced defeat in 1434. This Hussite requirement has never been fully accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.
Reformation Initiated by Educated Theologians
It is crucial to recognize that the Reformation was initiated by very educated men. (It must be stressed that those considered as heretics, too, are often well-educated people, but they lack a balance in their teaching; they choose and select only specific theological points at the expense of the rest, thus their teaching is not consistent and comprehensive.) Theology, however, was important for all Reformers. Those who made a difference in the church were theologically trained people. All Reformers were highly educated, so they were able to preach and write pointedly.
John Wycliffe, the morning star of the Reformation, was a seminary professor at the University of Oxford and able to fluently write his thoughts in Latin.
John Huss was a rector of Charles University, one of the oldest universities in Europe, established in 1348 by the Emperor Charles IV. He published a book De Ecclesia (On the Church) in 1413. He wrote in Latin so it would be widely read among educated people. He accepted the Bible as the highest authority for the church’s teachings, proclaimed his disobedience to the pope, and accepted only Jesus Christ as the head of the church—and he wanted the world to know why. The material he presented cost him his life.
Leaders of the Hussites were educated people. Not only John Huss, but also other theologians of the Hussite movement, were able to express themselves not only in Czech but also in Latin. They knew well the issues in dispute and responded to them in such a way that even theologians for the opposition respected them for their knowledge. They were partners in debates on theological questions. Nicholas of Pelhřimov, bishop of the Taborites, wrote in Latin the Defense of Faith of the Taborites in which he asserted that only the Bible is the ultimate judge in matters of faith. He spoke against veneration of the saints, purgatory, indulgences, and all sacraments except baptism and the Lord’s Supper (serving not only bread but also the wine), and prayers for the dead.
The first Reformation thinkers maintained that knowledge of biblical truth must be practical and lead to social reforms. Jan Milíč from Kroměříž, the precursor of Huss, changed a brothel into a place where repentant prostitutes could live and begin a new life. This house was renamed “Jerusalem” and stood opposite to the Bethlehem Chapel (where the gospel was preached in the Czech language). In that Jerusalem center, those who repented and wanted to live a moral life could find support. Forerunners of Hussitism as well as the Hussites strongly believed in the eschaton—and that hope brought a vivid engagement within society’s life and reformation of social injustice. They were revived by God’s Word and then engaged in the reformation of the medieval church and helping those in need like orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor as well as repentant thieves, drinkers, and prostitutes. They believed in a complete reformation of all things.
The Reformers put education in the forefront as they went to the original sources. Their education and depth of knowledge was documented in their ability to translate the Bible into their native languages.
John Wycliffe initiated the translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English in the year 1382. His translation is now known as the Wycliffe Bible. It is probable that he personally translated the Gospels and possibly even the entire New Testament, while his associates translated the Old Testament. The Wycliffe Bible appears to have been completed by 1384.
It is well known that Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German from Greek in one year (1522) at Wartburg and then the entire Bible with the help of others by 1534.
William Tyndale (1494–1536), an English scholar and a leading figure of the Protestant Reformation, is well known for his translation of the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek texts into English. This was the first English Bible translation from the original biblical languages. Although this achievement cost Tyndale his life, his Bible translation played a key role in the advancement of the Reformation in England and beyond.
Bible scholars and theologians of Kralice translated the whole Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek in the 16th century. The small church (Unity of the Brethren in Moravia) produced one of the best translations of the Bible, the Kralice Bible, with six volumes of theological explanations, between 1579 and 1594. The Bible of Kralice, also called the Kralice Bible, was the first complete translation of the Bible from the original languages into the Czech language. In 1613, out of practical necessity, it was published in one volume without explanatory notes. This Kralice Bible was widely distributed until the end of the 20th century and is still used in some places today.
An excellent example of Reformation thinking on the importance of education is John Amos Comenius (1592–1670), a Czech religious refugee persecuted by the Catholic Church in the time of the Counter-Reformation after the Battle on White Mountain in 1620, who served as the last bishop of the Unity of the Brethren. An outstanding theologian and philosopher, Comenius was also a prolific pedagogue and writer. He even wrote some textbooks for schools like The Visible World of Pictures, a publication with 150 lessons that presented the entire world to pupils through instructive illustrations and was one of the most-published textbooks in the history of pedagogy. He was the first to innovate the use of pictorial textbooks in education. Comenius is considered the father of modern education. As an educator and theologian, he supported lifelong learning, made instruction practical, moved beyond dull memorization, and supported the idea of equal opportunity for all children, opening education to the poor and to girls.
Our early Adventist pioneers were confronted with the reality of the imminent second coming of Christ. They believed that church organization was not necessary because the world would soon experience collapse. They were also afraid of losing their freedom by being controlled by the organization. Mission was not needed according to them (remember the shut-door theology), and education was not in their focus. Emphasis on education among our pioneers started slowly. The first schools were elementary schools, but in 1874, Battle Creek College was established. It was the first higher educational institution founded by Seventh-day Adventists. Battle Creek College was moved to Berrien Springs in 1901 and renamed Andrews University in 1960.
Interestingly, recognition of the importance of worldwide mission in our church opened the door for education. When one engages and proclaims the gospel, suddenly there is a need for educated leaders and for formulating what a denomination actually believes. Doctrines and beliefs have to be articulated and communicated. In Adventism, an emphasis on mission necessitated the study of theology. When our church opened the way for mission, it also opened the door for education because mission and education go hand in hand.
In today’s Christian world, theology tends to be despised; and, interestingly, this aversion seems to be spreading even within our church. Theological education in some circles is unwelcome and regarded as unessential. I have heard people asserting that time is short, so there is no need to worry about Hebrew, Greek, exegesis, or hermeneutics, much less to learn about higher criticism or psychology, because natural skills and spiritual gifts are more important than education. Some even say that if you study theology, you will be less able to win souls, so it’s better to receive only three to nine months of Bible training, and you will be prepared to lead churches and people to Christ. In addition, people say that the regular Adventist schools are expensive and disruptive to families. Expensive? Probably yes. But disruptive? No.
It appears that history repeats itself, and the anti-educational segment in our church is growing. On two separate occasions, I have had “concerned people” in my dean’s office who argued that our seminarians should read and study only the Bible and Ellen G. White’s books in this time of the imminent Parousia. Such studies are an important foundation of true education (Job 28:28; Prov. 1:7; 9, 10), but they are not enough in today’s complicated world. Paradoxically, these people are forgetting that not only did Ellen White herself have many of the best theology books in her library, but she used them while writing, because they expressed eloquently the truths she wanted to stress.
There will always be extremists who will refuse to see value in education and will warn against university studies and the use of biblical languages. The belief in the imminent return of Jesus Christ has led some to reject not only general higher education but also theological schools. To study theology is unsafe, they say, because it produces skepticism and unbelief. There will probably always be two parties/views in the church that will be for or against higher education. We should not be discouraged by it.
The principal tasks of educators, pastors, theologians, administrators, and Bible scholars are to present a correct image of God, cast a vision, preach, protect against false doctrines and interpretations of the Bible, and care for those entrusted to them. But how can they do these things if they do not correctly understand the important issues? These include God’s character of love, the Great Controversy, the plan of salvation, the centrality of the Cross, the relationship between the covenants, the endtime prophecies, hermeneutics, the meaning of Christ’s intercessory ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, service in the community, noncombatancy in war, relationship to non-Christian religions, the nature and authority of the church, immigration problems, and questions regarding contraception, abortion, divorce, remarriage, homosexuality, stewardship, near-death experiences, hell, immortality—to name a few. Addressing all of these topics depends on an understanding of theology and a constant growth in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). We live in a complex world, and people demand meaningful and relevant answers to their issues.
The study of biology, physics, astronomy, and archaeology, to name a few, is of utmost importance for demonstrating the relevance of biblical teaching. But it is also important to study science itself because it is a study of God’s creation, a search for the understanding of His created world. Our stand has always been that the biblical message does not contradict true science, and science may enrich faith in the search for understanding. The scientific perspective does not automatically stand in opposition or contradiction to believing in God. Facts are facts, but the interpretation of them is a different issue and, at the end, what matters. One needs to make a distinction between presuppositions, worldview issues, philosophy, theories, and hypotheses on the one hand and the facts of life on the other. Very often people, theologians as well as scientists, confuse the interpretation of reality with reality itself.
Teaching and preaching the gospel to millennials, to “Nones,” and to Generation Z is the biggest challenge today. We may share the same vocabulary, but new meaning is given to the same words. We employ the same words but use a different dictionary. We live in a post-Christian era, in which secularism and neo-atheism dominate the intellectual world. The thinking of our people is strongly influenced by evolutionary thinking, Eastern religions, and inclusivism, mystical spirituality, formed in part by Hollywood’s powerful stories, like Avatar, Star Wars, Terminator, and Superman, to name a few. Plato stated correctly the famous dictum: “Those who tell the stories [in the most convincing way] rule society/the world.”2 Unfortunately, rock music and subcultures, films, and video games are often aimed against the uplifting values of life like honesty, obedience, respect, and truth, and are vulgar, immoral, even satanic and full of false spirituality. Violence and naturalism fill the minds and feelings of contemporary young people who immerse themselves in the various media; consequently, their minds and emotional lives are shaped by these entertainments.
Faith and Life
According to one popular view, practical faith and a pious life are what count, not theology. At first glance, this view is attractive. But how can believers know without theological reflection that their faith is genuine and their Christian life is balanced?
This type of reasoning—that a pious life is important while a theological understanding isn’t—presents a false dichotomy. It is like saying that we need Jesus but not the church, or that what matters is a relationship but not doctrines. These are artificial contradictions, for both are indispensable. Our spiritual growth depends on theology.
Others formulate their objection this way: What we need in our churches in these last days are pastors with practical skills, not theologians. This betrays a misunderstanding, because good biblical and theological training is and must be practical. Applied theology is the crown of all theological studies. Even the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek, if rightly taught, are thoroughly practical. It has been said that the most practical thing in life is theory, and here it is demonstrated: Hebrew and Greek are a fountain of theology, and an understanding of these tools helps one to interpret the biblical message. The thoughts of God, the prophets, and the apostles were expressed through language, which provided a mirror of their minds. The vocabulary, grammar, and syntax reflected their thinking, from which springs our understanding of how to live the Christian life.
So biblical-theological thinking is the bread and butter of every leader, educator, theologian, and pastor. It is essential equipment for those who preach the Word of God and are called to care for His people. Practically speaking, whatever we say—in our conversations, Sabbath school, preaching, articles, books, songs, prayers, and worship—about humanity, life around us, life after death, and the future, reveals our theology. These reflections must be well informed.
The Pastor as Theological Guide—Every Believer a Theologian
C. S. Lewis lamented that many Christians like practical religion but despise theology. He said that he personally escaped this wrong assumption because “any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available.”3 He continued: “If you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas.”4
There is a sense in which every believer is a theologian. Theology is our human systematic and comprehensive reflection on God’s revelation. It involves thinking deeply about the meaning of the various aspects of life from God’s perspective. It also involves prospection, that is, looking into the future. This reflecting-prospecting process is rooted in the Holy Scriptures, and it must be done with consistency.
Theology in Community: Good Theology, Not No Theology
True, broad, and balanced pastoral education is a sine qua non to acquiring right biblical-theological training, which includes the study of the Bible, historical theology, dogmatics, ethics, church history, mission, discipleship, and practical theology. The opposite of bad theology is not no theology, but good theology.
True theology is always practiced in the church and for the church. It does not make sense outside of the church, because it is always in the service of the church. It can aptly be stated that the task of Adventist theology is threefold in our eschatological time: (1) To explore and present the beauty and relevance of the Adventist message and mission—the genius of biblical truth in the Adventist belief system; (2) to advance in the understanding of the Truth, to discover new things and connections; (3) to refine the church’s current understanding of the Bible and be an educated voice in the church.
This means that theology needs to be a critical but constructive voice in the church. The church needs that function, and educators, theologians, and Bible scholars should not betray or eschew this important role. To tell the truth is about courage, not survival. We need to be guardians of biblical truth, but not possessors of truth. John Huss went so far as to write: “He that fears death loses the joys of life.”5 If we do not study diligently and seriously the Scriptures, we open ourselves to bringing or cultivating sectarian thinking in the church; and if we do not stop anti-education sentiments, it will produce extremism and fanaticism. Lack of education enslaves.
We need to uphold especially the sola scriptura principle because all decisions and formulations, including our 28 Fundamental Beliefs, votes of the General Conference, and church policies must be scrutinized using the Word of God and are always under the authority of God’s Word and God’s judgment. Human statements never have the last word. All our formulas may have the value of the “before the last word,” but the last word belongs to God and to His word as revealed in the Scriptures. He is the ultimate Judge of even the best of our theology. We are all under His command. This is an integral part of our prophetic mission. This leads all of us to humbleness and the need to listen to one another.
This principle is underlined in the preamble to our Seventh-day Adventist 28 Fundamental Beliefs: “Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. These beliefs, as set forth here, constitute the church’s understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture. Revision of these statements may be expected at a General Conference session when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God’s Holy Word.”6
Believers must follow balanced biblical teaching, growing in Christ and the truth rather than in their own independent thinking or traditions. Adventist theology prepares people to search for the truth, know the truth, love the truth, follow the truth, live the truth, proclaim the truth, and be ready for the second coming of Christ. In this way, we can see the coherency of the truth and its perfect system within the frame of the Great Controversy and the metanarrative of the Holy Scriptures. Biblical truth is a story with the triune God at the center and all other truth clustered around this unifying and living center.
Theology is properly a job of a community of faith that is always under the authority of the Scriptures; and well-educated pastors, non-professional church members, educators, administrators, theologians, and Bible scholars are an essential part of that prophetic community and must be integrated into the process of understanding and formulating God’s truth. God never works in isolation in revealing new truth. Better understanding of biblical truth may be revealed to an individual, and thus the new light may come through that individual. This is God’s usual working method, but the truth never stays with that solo person; others need to discern the light of newly discovered truth. God’s Spirit is not working with one person only or a few individuals; God leads the community of faith to His truth so more and more people can discern it. For example, if someone has new light for the interpretation of the Gog and Magog of Ezekiel 38 and 39, the new earth and new heavens of Isaiah 65, the last events of Daniel 11:40 to 45, the Day of the Lord of Zechariah 14, or the seals and trumpets of Revelation 6 to 11, or our prophetic role as a church, that person needs to present his or her case, but then listen carefully to others and wait to see if they recognize light in the new explanation. We are God’s family, so we need to listen to one another and never work in isolation. There is not a single example in the Book of Acts where the Holy Spirit was given to one individual! It was always imparted within the community of faith, either big (Acts 2) or small (9:17).
Church educators, administrators, pastors, theologians, and Bible scholars as well as all church members need theology. Good, balanced theological education has many benefits, especially in the context of our eschatological hope and task to prepare a people for the second coming of Jesus Christ:
1. Theology helps us to formulate messages centered on Christ in the context of the belief in a triune God. The indicative of the gospel has always to be God-centered and Spirit-filled and must precede the imperative of the gospel.
2. Theology assists in preserving biblical truth through a competent, responsible, and relevant exposition of God’s Word in preaching, avoiding bad scholarship as well as the sensational, emotional, and intuitional fake news filled with conspiracy theories.
3. Theology equips church members, including leaders, to answer questions intelligently. Life is complex, and many in our churches have profound questions related to postmodern, post-Christian, agnostic, and atheistic convictions. Pragmatic religious materialism and religious spirituality create new issues that demand honest answers.
4. Urban settings need trained, thoughtful educators, administrators, evangelists, and pastors. Cities represent a unique challenge for those who want to proclaim God’s Word in a meaningful way.
5. Theology edifies the church and keeps her memory refreshed so that key events and past discussions that relate to the understanding and interpretation of the Bible are not forgotten.
6. Theology helps to communicate the full gospel to a wide diversity of cultures and worldviews.
7. Theology gives a big picture of God’s revelation. It points to crucial events in the drama of the biblical metanarrative, demonstrating how all truth is connected as well as defining the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.
8. Theology equips people to lead meaningful dialogues and contemporary, relevant conversations. It makes us perceptive and competent to address the Christian, post-Christian, and non-Christian religious and atheistic communities.
9. Theology brings professionalism, expertise, and confidence to our multifaceted ministry. The certainty of the understanding of the biblical truth as a coherent system strengthens Adventist identity so pastors, educators, and administrators can speak, teach, and preach with conviction and passion for truth. At the same time, a thoughtful acceptance of our limited knowledge leads to humility and tolerance.
10. Theology does not just spell out the importance of what is believed, but also explains why it is relevant and how it should be lived. Thus, it is closely connected to ethics.
Ellen G. White complained that “our ministers are too well satisfied with themselves” and have become “intellectually lazy.” “They need intellectual discipline.” Instead of being “intellectual giants,” they had become “dwarfs in spiritual and mental growth.” She emphatically stated: “To the diligent Bible student new light, new ideas, new gems of truth, will constantly appear, and be eagerly grasped.”7
She added: “Hard study and hard work are required to make a successful minister or a successful worker in any branch of God’s cause”8 and lamented that “they do not dig for the hidden treasure. Because they only skim the surface, they gain only that knowledge which is to be found upon the surface.”9 This is why she warned: “The times demand an intelligent, educated ministry, not novices.”10 “A great injury is often done our young men by permitting them to begin to preach when they have not sufficient knowledge of the Scriptures to present our faith in an intelligent manner.”11
She advised that “young men who desire to enter the field as ministers, colporteurs, or canvassers, should first receive a suitable degree of mental training, as well as a special preparation for their calling. Those who are uneducated, untrained, and unrefined, are not prepared to enter a field in which the powerful influences of talent and education combat the truths of God’s word. Neither can they successfully meet the strange forms of error, religious and philosophical combined, to expose which requires a knowledge of scientific as well as Scriptural truth.”12 Again: “Ministers should devote time to reading, to study, to meditation and prayer. They should store the mind with useful knowledge, committing to memory portions of Scripture, tracing out the fulfillment of the prophecies, and learning the lessons which Christ gave to His disciples.”13 Pastors, she said, should “search the Scriptures diligently and prayerfully that they may become giants in the understanding of Bible doctrines and the practical lessons of Christ.”14
Broad Theological Education Existentially Needed
The strong apocalyptic eschatological hope provides a firm foundation and results in a vibrant and purposeful theology, education, mission, and social work. Proper ministry to humanity’s spiritual needs depends on a broad theological understanding. It is a matter of life and death, because a person’s eternal destiny is related to a right presentation of the gospel. Being a leader requires a total dedication of the whole person to this noble task, for it is not a job but, rather, a life vocation. It is dangerous to presume that theology belongs only in the seminary and is good solely for academicians and researchers.
The prophet Hosea lamented that God’s people were dying because of the lack of understanding: “‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me’” (Hosea 4:6, NKJV).
Before the Flood, one of the sins of the people was that they were destroying the meaningful and beautiful life around them (Gen. 6:11–13). In the Book of Revelation, it is stressed that Jesus will come to judge and destroy those “‘who destroy the earth’” (Rev. 11:18). It means that we should be the protectors of life and builders of good things. Here it is good to be reminded of a statement attributed to Luther, who supposedly said in talks around the table: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree today.” If he said that, he made a good point. As a small boy, I had repeatedly heard a very wise saying: “We should believe that Jesus Christ will come soon, like tomorrow, but plan and work as if it would take Him hundreds of years.” This is what Luther and our pioneers were trying to convey to the next generations.
This was the practice of our pioneers. They believed in the imminent second coming of Christ, yet all over the world they bought huge properties for our schools and institutions. These campuses serve us still today.
We do not know when Jesus will come, so we should diligently work like the two faithful and wise servants in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), which represents working in different areas of life including education and the careful study of theology. Only the one who was afraid of his master and considered him as a cruel and commanding boss was characterized as wicked and lazy (vss. 24, 25), neither studying nor working. Because of this wrong thinking about his lord, he was paralyzed with non-activity. The wrong picture of God leads to an idle lifestyle. When we experience the genuine love of God, our ministry will not be a burden and an unpleasant achievement but a joyful occasion. Only those who value God’s forgiveness and acceptance to be His son or daughter can truly love and serve (Luke 7:47; John 1:12; 1 John 3:1; 5:12, 13).
Theology really matters and has practical, long-term implications. Martin Luther King, Jr., rightly stated: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”15 So may we bring the eschatological Advent hope wisely and boldly into everyday life at home, school, work, and social interactions.
There is a wise and very eloquent writing inscribed on the front wall at the main entrance hall to the Astronomic Observatory in Valašské Meziřičí, Czech Republic: “Little knowledge leads to pride, much knowledge leads to humility.” This well-expressed and true motto aptly describes why we need a deep knowledge and clear understanding of the Bible and theology, and all that is related to it.
The Lord’s declaration in Isaiah 66:2 summarizes this need of thorough study of the biblical message from His perspective: “‘But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word’” (ESV). We need to study wholeheartedly, and the Lord will lead and bless. To return to Daniel again, who powerfully proclaimed at the climax of his apocalyptic book: “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (12:3).
May we remember the serenity prayer attributed to American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971): “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Jiří Moskala, ThD, PhD, is Dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A., and Professor of Old Testament Exegesis and Theology.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Unless noted otherwise, all Scripture references in this article are quoted from the New International Version of the Bible.
3. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1943), 135.
4. Ibid., 136.
7. The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 63:14 (April 6, 1886): 210; Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 194, Testimonies for the Church, 4:412–415.
8. Gospel Workers, 71.
9. Ibid., 93.
10. Testimonies for the Church, 5:528.
11. Gospel Workers, 71.
12. Ibid., 81.
13. Testimonies for the Church, 4:412.
14. Ibid., 415.