Some Thoughts on Discipleship


I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the first books that one might hand a new believer (or newly maturing believer). In thinking through this issue, it occurred to me that the topic areas relevant to an immature believer are the same as those for a seasoned follower of Christ – the difference may only be the depth of coverage.

For a model for teaching ‘mature believers’, I consulted the Reformed Baptist Seminary of Grand Rapids Prospectus for prospective students. I noted the theological categories that are used to govern the topics taught to aspiring pastors and have put a few thoughts into how this could make an outline of study for a new Christian.

According to the prospectus, the encyclopedia of theology encompasses:

Encyclopedia of Theology

  1. EXEGETICAL THEOLOGY
    • Interpreting the text of the Bible
    • Understanding the Bible’s background: archeology, history, theology
  2. SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY
    • Apologetics
    • Bible Doctrine
  3. PRACTICAL THEOLOGY
    • Pastoral Theology
    • Church Administration
    • How to live the Christian life
  4. HISTORICAL THEOLOGY
    • Church History – Early, Middle Ages, Recent
    • History of Christian Theology

Not every subject touched upon in a Seminary curiculum is appropriate for a discipleship program, but for the Protestant who holds to the priesthood of the believer, the Christian faith is the same faith for the pastor as the parishioner. Perhaps the average Bible student doesn’t need the same depth of study as a man who is specially called to be a teacher of God’s Word, but from the ‘Man in the Pew’ to the ‘Presbyter’, the faith (and that Standard of faith – the Bible) is the same and the same basic core of fundamental doctrines should be understood and confessed.

Theology and Discipleship

Below are a few notes on how these fundamental areas of theology may be used in a discipleship setting:

  1. EXEGETICAL THEOLOGY
  2. Exegetical theology is the science and art of understanding the scriptures in their literal, grammatical, historical, and theological context ( all while understanding that the whole was ultimately written by the Holy Spirit and comprises one whole and complete Word of God).

    Being able to intelligently read and understand the Bible is the supreme area of importance for the new believer. The ability to intelligently read and understand God’s Word is key to growth and spiritual maturity.

    The new believer who is not trained to read the Bible while understanding the larger scope of God’s overall Story of Redemption, and the role any given passage plays in this unfolding story, is confined to a Bible ‘only’ full of disconnected moralistic ‘stories’ and inspiring sayings and maxims.

    Without the ability to understand how each scripture relates to the whole, and how the whole relates to each scripture, the new believer is a victim to anyone who is able to wrap heresy in a few simplistic proof texts. This is the area of theology that sheds light on all the others. If a disciple learns this critical skill, he is on the proper path to understanding the other tenants of theology as well

    As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby…”  (1 Pet 2:2)

  3. SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY
  4. Where the exegetical theology student is trying to understand how to read and understand the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, the systematic theology student is trying to understand what the Bible, as a whole, teaches about very important areas of doctrine, such as: Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, the nature and attributes of God, the fallen-ness and sinfulness of man, God’s Plan of Salvation for fallen mankind, angels, demons, the afterlife, etc.

    As exegetical theology teaches the believer how to learn about God, systematic theology answers the question “what do you believe about God?” It is the collection of Bible doctrines that are essential for salvation and growth. It is the church’s and believer’s confession of faith. It is the store of basic Bible doctrine that governs the believers thoughts and actions.

    …be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet 3:15)

  5. PRACTICAL THEOLOGY
  6. If Systematic Theology is for the believer “what to believe”, practical theology is “how to live in light of that belief.” Practical theology encompasses the majority of books found on the bookshelves of the local ‘christian’ bookstore and encompass areas such as: prayer, overcoming sin and temptation, marriage issues, contentment, joy, suffering, etc.

    Often, these are the first types of books given to new believers, but with solid grounding in Biblical studies and basic Bible doctrine, the new believer is apt to believe anything sprinkled with Bible verses. Much of the Puritan writings are very helpful in this category, most of what is found on tv, radio, and the bookstore is NOT!

  7. HISTORICAL THEOLOGY
  8. History is often neglected by believers, but may be very edifying. History teaches us how we came to be, and how we came to believe what we believe. It gives us a rich appreciation for our Bibles and our faith, and though not as important as the other areas, it is not to be neglected

Relative Importance of the Various Heads of Theology

In looking at the RBS Perspectus, I found the following break-down for the number of hours of classroom teaching in the various categories listed above.

EXEGETICAL THEOLOGY: 42 HOURS
SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY: 31 HOURS
PRACTICAL THEOLOGY: 22 HOURS
HISTORICAL THEOLOGY: 10 HOURS

Not surprisingly, ministers of the Word of God spend most time studying how to study and teach the Scriptures. Next, they are indoctrinated in the core beliefs of their faith. Next, practical issues related to the Christian life and leading a local church. Finally, they study historical topics related to the history of doctrine, the church, and their denomination.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a good discipleship syllabus would include, first of all, some basic teaching on the structure of the Bible as a whole and how to read and understand it in light of what it reveals about God’s Plan of Redemption. A good curriculum would include, of course, basic teaching on those Bible doctrines that are of fundamental importance – those which define the essence of Basic Christianity. It would include some solid practical aspects of particular importance to the growing, maturing believer. And, it would include a brief Christian history primer that gives a broad perspective on what God has done for our over 2,000 years of church history.

“Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations…”  (Matt 28:19 ASV)

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. ”  (2 Pet 3:18)

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