SPIRITUAL THEOLOGY

by Bob Wheeler

 

Having given praise to God for His glorious work of salvation, Paul then goes on in his Epistle to the Ephesians to record a prayer that he had for the believers there. And in his prayer he gives us insight into the proper nature of theology.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him . . .” (Eph. 1:17; NKJV). The “knowledge” of God is much more than simply knowing a lot of facts about God; it involves knowing Him personally, having an understanding and appreciation of who He is. A second-hand knowledge is not enough; what is needed is a personal acquaintance.

But this kind of knowledge is only possible through “the spirit of wisdom and revelation.” This goes beyond the normal capacity of the human mind to digest facts and information. What is involved here is a spiritual sensitivity that is able to comprehend and appreciate the divine. And this is something that God himself must give us. It is the work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart and mind. It is a matter of “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened” (v. 18).

But what do we come to see and understand as a result of this spiritual enlightenment? Paul mentions three things: 1) “the hope of His calling” (v. 18), 2) “the riches of the glory of His inheritance” (v. 18), and 3) “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe” (v. 19).

The “calling” is the whole process by which a sinner is brought to salvation in Christ (cf. 4:1; I Cor. 1:24,26). But Paul wants us to be able to do more than just define and defend the doctrine of effectual calling. He wants us to “know what is the hope of His calling.” “Hope” is that firm confidence that comes through faith in Christ. It is nothing less than the assurance of salvation.

Secondly, Paul prays that the believers would come to know what are “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” He doesn’t want us just to understand the bare fact of our inheritance; he wants us to appreciate “the riches of the glory” of it – to see how glorious it is, how immensely valuable and worthwhile it is.

Thirdly, Paul prays that they will come to know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.” And here again, it is not just simply that they can define the word “omnipotence”; it is that they will be able to appreciate “the exceeding greatness” of God’s power; that they would be awestruck by it, and moved toward a profound sense of humility and reverence towards God.

It is significant that in each of these three requests the emphasis is on the qualitative aspects of the blessings sought. We are not to be content with simply knowing the bare facts of theology; Paul wants us to appreciate the greatness and the glory of divine things. Paul wants us to see the hope of our calling, the riches of the glory of our inheritance, the exceeding greatness of God’s power. Along with the objective facts there must be a subjective appreciation. Our hearts must be drawn out in love and adoration towards God.

The English Puritan John Flavel put it like this: “ . . . there is but little excellency in all those petty notions which furnish the lips with discourse, unless by a sweet and powerful influence they draw the conscience and will to obedience of Christ” (The Fountain of Life, Sermon X). How many sermons do we hear today that are filled with “petty notions” but do not “draw the conscience and will to the obedience of Christ”?

Why do we have so few effective preachers today? A great deal of the problem has to do with the way modern pastors are trained in seminaries. In the cloistered ivory towers young men, often with relatively little Christian experience, are subjected to dry academic lectures about disputed points of theology. Few of them, when they graduate, can see any point to systematic theology at all. They then go forth into churches to dispense comforting bromides about how Jesus wants to help people with their everyday problems.

So what made the great preachers of the past effective? Interestingly it was not formal theological training. It is, in fact, amazing to see how many of them down through history lacked such training – everyone from John Bunyan in the 17th Century to Billy Graham A.W. Tozer and Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the 20th. Some were well educated, but in other fields. Charles G. Finney was trained as a lawyer; Lloyd-Jones as a medical doctor. Others, like D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday, had practically no education at all.

What was fairly typical of them, however, was a dramatic conversion experience of their own, sometimes the result of a spiritual crisis that could last for months. They were also men of prayer – they would spend hours on their knees in communion with God. Thus when they approached theology, they were interested in the concrete realities of the human condition: man’s fall into sin, Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, the miracle of the new birth. And when they preached their listeners were struck by the vividness with which they could describe spiritual realities. For them heaven and hell were real places and sinners were called upon to make a decision that would effect their eternal destiny.

Their listeners would often remark on the earnestness and evident sincerity of these preachers – they preached with passion, and it was not in the least bit forced or contrived. What a contrast with the dull, lifeless sermons we hear too often today!

Strictly speaking a revival is a revival of spiritual life within the church; the conversion of sinners is only an aftereffect. And since most churches look to their pastors for spiritual guidance and leadership, revival must start with them. Pastors need to look beyond the formal training they received in school and behold the living God in His eternal glory. They, and all the rest of us, must come to see “what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.”

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