Aug 10, 2021

Theology, Theology, Theology: Why Ligonier?

6 Min Read

Ligonier Ministries has continued to grow since our beloved founder, Dr. R.C. Sproul, died in 2017. Many new team members have joined us, adding their expertise and skills. It is encouraging to see the outreach grow through their remarkable efforts. But any enduring enterprise must retain its focus on the original mission and be on guard against drift. Therefore, in many of our team meetings, I will often reiterate the one thing we do at Ligonier: theology, theology, theology. No, I haven’t forgotten how to count. The point is to remember how vital theology is not just to our mission as a ministry but to our very lives as individuals. Let me illustrate this.

Perhaps you’ve been to the British Museum in London. It’s one of my favorite places. To walk past marvelous antiquities from several millennia of world history is awe-inspiring. Each artifact tells a story. But on a recent visit, I learned that not every artifact tells the whole story.

There is an area in the Mesopotamian collection with artifacts from Assyria, including some from Sennacherib, that violent king we read about in the Old Testament. In his day, he was the terror of the Middle East, laying siege to cities and subduing nations. There is a relief in the British Museum of the siege of Lachish, a small, fortified city on the route to Jerusalem. Conquering pagan kings often commissioned such monuments to boast of their victories. The scene depicts Sennacherib’s gruesome slaughter of the Israelites at Lachish.

What’s missing from the British Museum? We know that Sennacherib was on his way to destroy Jerusalem and complete his conquest of Judah (2 Kings 18:13–19:37). When the armies came to besiege the capital, the prophet Isaiah counseled King Hezekiah to trust the Lord for deliverance. There is no artifact telling of Sennacherib’s victory over Jerusalem because it never happened. The Bible says that an angel of the Lord destroyed the foreign king’s army overnight, and he broke off the campaign and returned to Nineveh.

The Lord fights for His people. The might of the Assyrians was no match. Passing down through the generations of Israel was the truth that there is only one God and He is not silent (Ex. 20:1–20; Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6–8).

The word theology simply means the study of or about God. Theology is no dry and dusty academic pursuit. Theology is a razor’s edge with life and death on either side. The Israelites had a correct theology and lived. The Assyrians had a corrupt theology and perished. The stakes could not be higher for each soul. Jesus Christ said that to know God and the One whom He has sent is to enter into eternal life (John 17:3).

Adam and Eve at first knew God truly, and then they suppressed that truth in unrighteousness, and so unbelief wrecked the cosmos and ruined us to the very core. Since that tragic moment of exile from Eden, in our natural state we are in an unholy battle pitched against the holy Creator. That there is war among nations and a lack of peace with one another is only a manifestation of our first rebellion. What a mess of sin we have made, with no way to save ourselves. If we are to be saved, it must come from outside us. Without good theology, reality is like a jigsaw puzzle with little pieces strewn about, having no unified picture. Theology, rightly understood, gives us a picture of reality to help us make sense of the puzzle. It guides us in putting the pieces back together, just like that picture on the jigsaw puzzle box, so that we understand the world and ourselves properly. Thus, theology informs every domain of human knowledge and experience.

Without good theology, reality is like a jigsaw puzzle with little pieces strewn about, having no unified picture.

Dr. R.C. Sproul focused on theology as a discipline, encompassing all that God has revealed generally and specially. Humanity is alienated from God. Like our first parents, we are born truth-suppressors. Yes, everyone knows that God is, but not everyone knows who God is. That is our fundamental problem—we don’t know who God is. And because we do not know who God is, we do not know who we are.

Ligonier Ministries began in the summer of 1971 just as the United States was emerging out of the turbulent decade of the 1960s. Christians faced rampant relativism and social upheaval. Secularism accelerated in the culture, and liberal theology metastasized in many churches and denominations. There in the foothills of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains near a small town called Ligonier, a little ministry began to equip Christians to know God in a better, deeper way and to make Him known. This discipleship and training effort was driven by a desire to defend classical Christianity and, hopefully, to help flood the culture with knowledgeable and articulate Christians who sought to be faithful in furthering the Great Commission. By design, this was an end run around the much stronger mainstream media and well-funded mainline churches.

With the overt cultural animosity that the church faces today in increasing measure, those who are Christians in name only are falling away. The syncretistic mainline churches are evaporating. The future of the church belongs to Christians of conviction. All the problems we face are ultimately theological; to repair the ruins, the solutions must be theological.

Thankfully, over the years, God has brought many students of Dr. Sproul’s vision who are committed to spreading the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and seeing theology rooted in the Scriptures grow in churches everywhere. Labor intensive, yes, yet the promise is sure: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). We are enlisted in that effort. It is a wonder of the gospel that sinful men and women are used to advance God’s mission in this fallen world, working in and through our battles with the world, our own flesh, and the devil.

In his classic book The Holiness of God, Dr. Sproul comments on Romans 12:2:

The key method Paul underscores as the means to the transformed life is by the “renewal of the mind.” This means nothing more and nothing less than education. Serious education. In-depth education. Disciplined education in the things of God. It calls for a mastery of the Word of God. We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed.

By God’s grace, Dr. Sproul’s tight focus on teaching theology has changed many lives. He believed everyone is a theologian and that it matters now and forever whether you are a good theologian or a poor one. Merely imparting information to a human mind is insufficient. Through the light of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit, we begin to understand God’s holy character and realize our sinfulness. The church must rediscover an unwavering commitment to proclaim, teach, and defend the holiness of God in all its fullness. That is not just a Ligonier Ministries mission statement; it is the calling for every believer. Dilute the character of God and we blunt our ability to reach the unbeliever with the gospel. Well-intentioned mission strategies focused on growth for growth’s sake may deliver temporal benefits, but such strategies will neither grow healthy disciples nor plant healthy churches. Short-sighted ministry busyness is not sustainable. Theological compromise for the sake of mere numbers is fatal.

Although God’s people have often found themselves dismayed at circumstances beyond their control, the progress of God’s mission in this world is certain. We, like Elisha’s servant in another harrowing moment when the Israelites were threatened, are tempted to fret at gathering storm clouds of opposition. Yet we must remember that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16).

As Ligonier marks its fiftieth year of ministry, we give thanks for God’s blessing on our past. However, it is evident we have an opportunity to serve God’s people like never before. There is much work to be done among the nations. Would you pray that God would awaken more people to who He really is? May we see a recovery of true theology where men and women, boys and girls have a restored relationship with God the Father through God the Son and through the powerful grace of God the Holy Spirit and live fruitful lives right now and forever.