Whether we admit it or not, all of our opinions and ideas are based on certain assumptions (or presuppositions). These are basic principles through which we view what we read, what we study, how we think, etc.
In studying the Bible, it’s no different; we all come to the study of the Bible with certain basic assumptions. In fact, the basic assumptions guiding our study drastically affect how we read it and comprehend what we find in its pages. In his new book Everyone’s a Theologian, R.C. Sproul introduces readers to three basic assumptions he finds necessary for sound theological thinking:1
1. God has revealed Himself not only in nature but also through the writings of the prophets and the Apostles.
In other words, Sproul says, “the Bible is the Word of God. It is theology par excellence. It is the full logos of the theos.”
2. When God reveals Himself, He does so according to His own character and nature. “Scripture tells us that God created an orderly cosmos. He is not the author of confusion because He is never confused. He thinks clearly and speaks in an intelligible way that is meant to be understood.”
3. God’s revelation in Scripture manifests those qualities.
There is a unity to the Word of God despite the diversity of its authors. The Word of God was written over many centuries by many authors, and it covers a variety of topics, but within that diversity is unity. All the information found in Scripture—future things, the atonement, the incarnation, the judgment of God, the mercy of God, the wrath of God—have their unity in God Himself, so that when God speaks and reveals Himself, there is a unity in that content, a coherence.
What would systematic theology look like if we did not hold to these basic assumptions? Ultimately, it would look like much of the confusion we see in the world around us, and especially in many churches. Where we lack consistency, it’s because at a foundational level, we’re not really sure of these things:
- We question (in the negative sense) the Bible because we not certain it’s truly God’s Word, even if we would say otherwise.
- We waffle on notions of God’s wrath because we’re not sure it fits with our notion of good (as opposed to God’s).
- We reject particular patterns or emphases because we don’t know that God is consistent in His actions and character (which therefore means His Word would be as well).
While certainly, no theologian has ever gotten everything right, we can easily see the fruit of theology gone awry. One does not need to look hard for examples. Nevertheless, we’re all called to engage in the task of theological thinking and exposition. This is a basic part of what it means to be a Christian—to think Christianly. When our assumptions are sound, our theology will be as well. So the question we all need to ask is: what am I bringing to the table?