It was a conversation I needed to have with my Pastor when my wife and I lived in Boise, Idaho. At the time, I was leading a men’s small group Bible study and had a challenging man in the group who didn’t care for me, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. Each time my Pastor and I would talk about this man, he would tell me you need to pray for him. At first, I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to pray for him, but, thankfully, I did. As I prayed for this man, the Lord ended up changing my heart towards him.
It was a lesson I needed to learn because, as the leader of the Bible study, I was supposed to walk alongside the other participants. I was supposed to help them grow in their knowledge of God. I’ll admit, at first, I didn’t do that well and often went beyond them and their ability to understand. But as I continued to grow, I learned to focus on the people and on ways to minister the word to them.
Theology is the study of God. Theological precision and theological clarity both matter and have a long history in the history of the Church. One can’t read or listen to an old sermon by R.C. Sproul without marveling at his ability to say profound things simply in an easy to digest manner that helps you to grow in your knowledge and understanding of the Bible.
Theological clarity and theological precision aim to help people love the Lord and love one another more in our local churches (Matthew 22:37-40). The purpose of doctrine is not to wield it as a weapon, but to minister to people with it. We ought to minister in a manner that is consistent not only with our biblical doctrine but also how biblical doctrine is to adorn our lives.
During one week, the situation between this difficult man and me reached a breaking point. We could not hear each other’s points; we were talking past each other. Another of the participants, the head of the men’s ministry at our church, told us that we needed to work it out but how we were talking to each other needed to change. That day was a breakthrough for me. I saw that how I was talking to him was all wrong. Instead of seeing this man as he was, my brother in Christ, I was seeing this man as an opponent to be won with my theological skill, precision, and clarity.
On another occasion, I was sitting in the same Pastor’s office talking about a different (and unrelated) challenging situation. My Pastor instructed me, “Begin to see people through the lens of the Chief Shepherd.” That really gave me pause, and changed the way I approach people with whom I have disagreements.
You see, you and I daily need the grace of God. We need to understand that left to ourselves, we cannot do the Christian life apart from the grace of God. We need the help of the Lord, who promises to provide divine empowerment through the Holy Spirit to help us face whatever challenges we may be facing today.
The next time you are facing a challenging conversation, theological or otherwise, pray. Ask yourself, “Do I see this an argument to be won, or am I seeing this person as my fellow image-bearer in need of the grace of Christ like me?” Asking that question will often lead you to say less but will also help you to exercise biblical wisdom and to act in a more understanding and gracious way with others.
Theological precision and theological clarity are excellent and necessary tools that aid us in sound living before the face of God. Our goal in ministering to people is to help them grow in the Bible but also to help them see by our own lives what that doctrine looks like applied to daily life (1 Corinthians 11:1).
The goal of theological precision and clarity is the same as that of the Christian life: to become more like Christ. Theological clarity and precision aim to do this by helping Christians grow in their knowledge and skill in handling the Word. Each day all of us face challenging situations, but by beginning to see those situations and people facing them through a biblical lens, we can provide real help to them by sharing with them the grace of God and teaching them from the authoritative Word of God.
Dave Jenkins (M.A.R., MDiv, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) is the executive director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the executive editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter.