CT Bible Study: The Mind Under Grace


©2010 Christianity Today International ChristianBibleStudies.com

Scripture: Romans 3:21–26; Colossians 1:15–23; 2 Timothy 3:10–17;
2 Peter 1:16–21
Based on: “The Mind Under Grace,” by Darren C. Marks, Christianity
Today, March 2010

The Mind
Under
Grace

Modern evangelicals tend to choose
experience over theology. We need both.

Doctrine is not a four-letter
word, though you might
think so judging by how the
larger culture and some evangelicals
respond to it. Darren C. Marks says,
“The word conjures in the modern mind a
string of negative images: The Inquisition. Boring professors debating
the number of angels on the head of a pin. Bloggers arguing
endlessly while the church flags in relevance in the once-Christian
West. Doctrine is a bludgeon, a curiosity, a rearranging of the deck
chairs while the ship sinks. Vibrant Christians want little to do with it,
and instead focus on spiritual disciplines, works of mercy, and
authentic Christian living. Doctrine belongs to the past, when it was
used mainly to divide believers.”
Is this a fair summary, or have contemporary Christians missed a key
building block of a faithful life? And if we have, how do we reinvigorate
our theological knowledge while keeping our spiritual hearts
warm? How do we nourish both head and heart to the glory of God?

Part 1 Identify the Current Issue
Note to leader: Provide each person with “The Mind Under Grace” from
Christianity Today, included at the end of this study.
Far from being a boring distraction that potentially divides us and diverts us from the “real”
kingdom work of spiritual growth and practical ministry, doctrine is what keeps us on track.
After all, if we say we just want to worship and serve Jesus, the question immediately arises:
Who is Jesus? Doctrine, which Darren Marks defines as “settled theology,” is liberating. We
don’t know who God is apart from doctrine; we don’t know who we are apart from doctrine.
Without doctrine, we just face a lot of unorganized data points with no sure way to order
them.
“Is it possible to live out discipleship without a good measure of heady doctrine?” Marks
asks. “I see doctrine not as a boundary but as a compass. Its purpose is not to make
Christians relevant or distinctive but rather to make them faithful in their contexts. Doctrine
is a way of articulating what God’s presence in the church and the world looks like.”
So how do we encounter doctrine in such a way that it serves as a compass to keep us going
in the right direction without sidetracking us into thickets of theological irrelevance? And
how do we know what we think we know? This study puts the discussion on solid footing:
God’s Word.

Discussion Starters:
[Q] Do you like thinking about doctrine? Why or why not?
[Q] What makes a doctrine good or bad, helpful or unhelpful?
[Q] If we believe the Bible is God’s Word, why do we need doctrine?
[Q] What is the difference between us interrogating Scripture and allowing it to
interrogate us?

Part 2 Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Doctrine must illuminate Christ as Lord.
Friedrich Schleiermacher was a 19th-century thinker who elevated spiritual experience
over theology because he believed doctrine caused more problems than it was worth. Marks
says, “We find his influence unwittingly embedded in our church leadership, our seminaries,
and our theological faculties. A theology grounded in experience ultimately fades
into soft moralism, humanism, or, in the unique case of American Christianity, a civic
religion wherein God and country are easily confused.” This scriptural passage, however,
encourages us to ground our theology in Jesus Christ, Lord of creation and Lord of the
church. Read Colossians 1:15–23.

[Q] What does this passage tell us about theological attempts to understand God
apart from Jesus?

Leader’s Note: Theology means “ the study of God.” Ideally we study
God not only to know about him, but to know him. Verse 15 gives us
an amazing statement: Jesus is “ the image of the invisible God.” I f we
want to have solid and relevant theology that teaches us about God
and helps us to know him, then it must primarily elucidate who Jesus
is, because Jesus shows us who God is. See 2 Corinthians 4:4 and
Hebrews 1:3 for similar expressions.
[Q] What does this passage tell us about our attempts to understand our world apart
from Jesus?
[Q] How did Jesus “reconcile to himself all things,” according to verse 20? What
does this imply about our current situation?

Leader’s Note: The Quest Study Bible says, “When Adam and Eve
fell, their sin brought disorder to all of creation. Redemption involves
not only making forgiveness available to human beings, but also
making peace with the entire cosmos. Through Christ’s sacrifice, all
things are restored to God. Unfortunately, this does not mean that all
people will believe in Jesus, but it does mean that God’s creation will
once again submit to him.”
[Q] Verses 21–23 have past, present, and future aspects. What has Christ done, and
what are we to do?

Optional Activity: Recording answers on a whiteboard or poster
board, as a group list the descriptions of Jesus found in this passage and
rephrase them in your own words. Then find another verse or passage in
Scripture that amplifies each point. How does each description help us
understand him better? For example: “before all things” = “Jesus came
first in time, as John 1:1–2 and John 8:58 indicate. By this we know that
Jesus existed before he was born of Mary and is a supernatural figure of
immense age and wisdom.”

Teaching Point Two: Proper theology begins not with our desire but
with our need.

Truth must come before relevance, because truth is always relevant. “Schleiermacher
began with internal experiences of God and built theology around those experiences,
reconfiguring doctrine as needed,” Marks notes. “He assumed that by starting with
ourselves and our desires, we would glimpse a purer vision of God and perhaps a more
relevant church.” Our human-centered attempts to cater to our spiritual feelings are
doomed to fail because feelings are poor guides to understanding the enormity of the
human condition. Read Romans 3:21–26.

[Q] According to this passage, where does righteousness come from and how does it
come? What role do our works have in our righteousness before God? What relevance
do these facts have for locating the starting point for our theological experience?
[Q] How does the Bible describe our sinful state (v. 23)?
• What are some implications for us in developing trustworthy doctrine?
• So how do we flawed humans deal with this fact?
[Q] What does this passage say about our desires, experiences, and needs?

Teaching Point Three: Orthodox doctrine and orthodox living go
together.

People such as Schleiermacher have created a false dichotomy between orthodoxy
(right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice or living). The two belong together, but in
the proper order, says Marks. “Many complain that the church has become incapable
of cultivating Christian habits in its people. No wonder, when for so many the starting
point is not God but spiritual experience. How can we sustain any spiritual growth if it
is grounded in something as transitory as what we feel, individually or corporately?” The
apostle Paul told Timothy that for a balanced and fruitful life we need both, but that they
need to be in the proper order. Read 2 Timothy 3:10–17.

[Q] In verses 10–11, list the elements of Paul’s life and ministry that the apostle
highlights.

Leader’s Note: Teaching … way of life … purpose … faith … patience …
love … endurance … persecutions [twice] … sufferings.
• Which have to do with orthodoxy, and which with orthopraxy?
• How do you see these elements working together in Paul’s life? In yours?

[Q] As demonstrated in verses 12–13, the logical result of orthopraxy can be
persecution. Why do you think that is?
• How does this compare and contrast with Schleiermacher’s emphasis on
plumbing our spiritual experiences for direction?
[Q] What does verse 14 say about how we are to learn doctrine?
[Q] What practical things should biblical doctrine lead to (v. 15–16)?

Teaching Point Four: God’s Word and God’s Spirit help us to avoid
doctrinal error.

Read 2 Peter 1:16–21.

[Q] In verses 16–18, Peter the apostle describes the ministry of the apostles as
witnesses of Christ. We, however, have no one who saw Jesus minister on this earth.
Given this lack, how do we avoid doctrinal error?
Peter says the church has “the word of the prophets made more certain.” In other words,
the meaning is clearer, making correct doctrine more likely and growth in knowledge
possible (v. 19). Arriving at good doctrine requires a disciplined journey.
[Q] What are we told to do with this word? How do we accomplish this?
[Q] Peter explains why the word is reliable for such a purpose (v. 20–21). How can
we hold our theology and doctrine up to God’s light?

Part 3 Apply Your Findings
Doctrine has gotten a bad rap in both the culture and the pews. Fearing both dissention and
irrelevance to people’s “real” needs, we soft-pedal our beliefs or simply assume that what we
believe is crystal clear to everyone. We are not prepared to do the hard but necessary work
to understand our beliefs and allow them to guide our steps. Instead, we think that our
spiritual experience is the starting point for our theology.
“The decreasing lack of interest in core Christian beliefs is due in part to church leaders who
chase after relevance over substance—focusing on the feeling that something is meaningful
rather than the truth that something is meaningful,” Marks says. “It is also due to church
members who imagine that their experience is the touchstone of truth about God, rather
than learning to evaluate their experience in light of Scripture and theology.”

So to overcome these problems we must take a mature, biblically informed view of Scripture and
theology. We must ensure that our doctrine illuminates Christ as Lord. We have to acknowledge
that theology begins not with our desires, which are changeable and tainted with sin, but with
our need as those who fall far short of God’s glory. We must recognize, however, that there
can be no dichotomy between our doctrine and our lives, and that the former serves as the
foundation for the latter. Finally, we can guard against doctrinal error by maintaining a proper
focus on the Word of God as given to us by the Holy Spirit.

Action Point: Discuss with your group who they believe are the greatest
theologians in church history (such as Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Aquinas).
Ask for the thoughts of members on the unique contributions of each
theologian.

Leader’s Note: Ask each member to bring a short report to the next meeting
on his or her favorite theologian. In the report (no more than one page),
have each describe the times in which the theologian lived, key theological
emphases, and continuing relevance for today.

— Stan Guthrie is author of Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends
for the 21st Century and of the forthcoming All That Jesus Asks: How His
Questions Can Teach and Transform Us (Baker). A CT editor at large, he
writes a column for BreakPoint.org and blogs at stanguthrie.com.

Recommended Resources
¿ Check out the Bible studies on Theology at: ChristianBibleStudies.com.
¨ Bringing Theology to Life: Key Doctrines for Christian Faith and Mission, by Darren
C. Marks (IVP Academic, 2009). A guide to classic Christian doctrines and theological
reflection on them.
¨ The Blackwell Companion to Protestantism, Alister E. McGrath and Darren C. Marks,
editors (Wiley-Blackwell, 2006). Examines the history, present, and future of the movement.
¨ Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology, by Thomas Schreiner
(Baker Academic, 2010). Summarizes the key New Testament doctrines.
Christianity Today Bible Study
¨ Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin (Hendrikson, 2007). The classic
work, profitable for Calvinists and Arminians—or those who don’t know what they are.
¿ “Between Two Worlds,” the current and erudite blog of Justin Taylor, takes an irenic
but undeniably Reformed look at current issues in theology; http://thegospelcoalition
.org/blogs/justintaylor/.
¿ “Theology in the News,” a biweekly commentary on contemporary issues by Collin
Hansen, is available at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/features/opinion/columns
/collinhansen/.

I apologize for the formatting problems with this study, which is available for your private use. If you would like to use it in a group, please purchase it at the CT Bible Studies website.

About Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is God's Story in 66 Verses. He also is author of All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy. He is co-author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Besides authoring, writing, and editing books, Stan is a literary agent, bringing together good authors, good books, and good publishers. Stan writes the monthly Priorities colum for BreakPoint.org. He has appeared on National Public Radio's €œTell Me More,€ WGN's Milt Rosenberg program, and many Christian shows, including The Eric Metaxas Show and Moody Radio'€™s €œNew Day Florida.€ A licensed minister and an inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for the Christian Book Expo panel discussion, Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?
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