Several important convictions drive Tabletalk magazine just as they have driven the entire history of Ligonier’s ministry. One of these convictions was expressed some five hundred years ago by Martin Luther—who else?
All are theologians; that means every Christian. All are said to be theologians, so that all may be Christians.
But what is theology? And, in particular, what is our theology?
Theology is God-talk (in the best and highest sense)—thinking and speaking about God in a coherent, logical way. And for the Christian believer, that means a theology rooted in and expressive of the revelation God has given. There is therefore a right sense in which we are called to have a “theology of everything” because in one way or another the entire cosmos—the unfolding of history, the discoveries we make—are all part and parcel of the unfolding of God’s self-revelation in creation, providence, redemption, and consummation. As Abraham Kuyper noted, nothing in the cosmos is atheistic in the absolute sense. Or to cite a higher authority, “From him and through him and to him are all things” (Rom. 11:36). This is why omnes sumus theologi—all are theologians—whether we are nuclear physicists, astronauts, literature-lovers, gardeners, trash collectors, or even for that matter “theologians.” This is the privilege, the challenge, the romance of our lives—in every conceivable calling. Ultimately, to borrow Paul’s words, we are doing only one thing (Phil. 3:13). Was Paul ever doing only one thing? Surely not. But yes, he was doing only one thing but in a thousand different activities. So with ourselves. In all things we are theologians because we know that all of life is for knowing God.
But how does theology work? Perhaps an illustration may help. There is a program on BBC television I enjoy. It is called The Repair Shop, and—in the midst of so much on TV that is depressing or immoral or both—it is the ultimate feel-good show. Ordinary people bring their damaged, decayed, distorted, and well-nigh destroyed heirlooms for repair. They often tell profoundly moving stories—of why the article (which may be of little value in itself) is so important to them because of its connection to a loved one. We then watch the extraordinary skills of craftsmen and -women—experts in woodwork and metalwork, mechanical work and furniture work, musical instruments and mechanisms, soft and hard items—working what seems to be magic. Whereas people like me patch up and hope for the best, they first deconstruct and only then reconstruct and restore the long-lost glory to the precious objects. Then the wonderful denouement: we witness (and share) the various owners’ overwhelming gratitude, their praise, and often their joy as they are moved to tears as the restored object is unveiled in all its finished glory—usually from underneath a very ordinary blanket (how suggestive of a greater restoration).
Theology is the gospel repair shop. Its various “loci” or topics (God, creation, fall, providence, redemption, glorification) are, as it were, so many departments of experts that first deconstruct our personal damage and then reconstruct us until the original vision in our creation is realized. In this way, what our forefathers called the theology of pilgrimage, in which we see in a mirror dimly, becomes the theology of vision in which we will see face-to-face. Having been created in the image of God to glorify and enjoy Him forever, we will at last be made like Him.
What, then, is the content of our theology?
As Thomas Aquinas is reported to have said, theology comes from God, teaches us about God, and leads us to God. And since eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (and we do this only through the Spirit; John 17:3; see 14:23, 25) our theology begins (and ends) with God. It tells us who He is—one God who is three persons, the ever-blessed Trinity, in the eternal fellowship of His tripersonal being as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Such theology leads to knowing His wonderful unified, simple character, which in our limited capacity we manage to grasp aspect by aspect in what we call His attributes. These are in fact only so many ways of describing His perfection, His Godness, His infinite and glorious deity.
So, our theology is a theology of the triune God who is sufficient to Himself and in Himself and who in all His self-manifestations is holy love. It is not surprising then that our theology is driven by the twin visions of the Prophet of Holiness and the Apostle of Love—in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4–5. It is a striking fact that in these two visions the whole of our theology seems to be summarized.
They reflect the Godness of God “who was and is and is to come” (Rev. 4:8) and the story of creation (v. 11): that all things in heaven and earth were made by the triune God, “the Father Almighty the Creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible” (the Nicene Creed), through His Word the Eternal Son, and by the ordering, filling, completing ministry of the Spirit who hovered over the original waters.
They provide us with a mirror in which we see our created destiny lying behind us almost unrecognizable. We were made by God for His glory and to enjoy Him—in a word, for fellowship with Him and doxology to Him. But now we find ourselves Isaiah-like overwhelmed by the discovery of who God is—the holy One—and we realize we are, like an ancient Scottish castle that has become a ruined heirloom, destroyed by the assaults of Satan. We are derelict, incapable of self-restoration, undone, and unclean. None of us is capable of opening a scroll that might contain a plan for our salvation and restoration (Rev. 5:4).
But this is not how our theology ends. God wants His image back. True, we must discover we are ruined before we can see our need for restoration work. But then our Isaianic-Johannine theology tells us that it is not a different God, but one and the same thrice-holy God whose messenger brings restoration through an altar-of-sacrifice burning coal that first incinerates and then restores. And this biblically crafted theology tells us that in his vision Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord Jesus (John 12:41). Then, since our theology holds that revelation is both progressive and cumulative, we understand that the person to whom Isaiah’s vision points is none other than the Lion of Judah, the slain Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Rev. 5:6–10). And as we delve deeper to “learn Christ” (Eph. 4:20), we contemplate His one divine person in His two natures united in that one person, in His two states of humiliation and exaltation, and in His three offices as Prophet, Priest, and King—one Lord Jesus Christ.
In this context, we discover that something happens to us: by the seraphic Spirit, our lives are brought into living contact with Christ in His atoning sacrifice. We are forgiven and justified from the guilt of sin. And in that same moment the burning away of sin in us is inaugurated. It cannot be any other way, for as Calvin regularly noted, to think that we can have Christ for justification without having Him for sanctification is to rend Him asunder since He has been given to us for both. The Spirit unites us to one Christ who is both “righteousness and sanctification” to us (1 Cor. 1:30). Therefore, the sinner who is justified also and simultaneously shares in His death to the dominion of sin and His resurrection to a new life to God (Rom. 6:2–4). To have any other theology is to misunderstand how grace reigns “through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:21).
No wonder that the transcendent vision of Isaiah ends in unconditional obedience: “Here am I! Send me” (no matter how rough the road; Isa. 6:8–13). And no wonder that the vision of Isaiah echoes in John’s experience of the heavenly chant: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Rev. 4:8); and climaxes in endless adoration: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever” (5:13). It is no accident that Ligonier National Conferences traditionally end with the singing of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”
Yes, this is our theology. It has been Ligonier’s heartbeat from the earliest days of “The Teaching Fellowship of R.C. Sproul”—expressed now for fifty years in a multitude of ways. Here we all become part of that teaching fellowship. And this theology, our theology, becomes the divine repair shop, bringing us from ruin through redemption to final restoration. Soli Deo gloria!