At the beginning of a year, I find it helpful to begin mapping out a kind of ‘sermon curriculum’, thinking through what God’s people need in their spiritual diet. I think it’s helpful to “know what you should know”. When we have a sense of what areas of knowledge we need to cover, it prevents us from being lopsided or unbalanced in what we teach or research.
I suggest all Christians should recognise six types of theology they need to grow in, by yielding to the teaching ministry of their local church, and by finding audio and written resources (with guidance from their pastors) that will assist them.
1) Devotional theology. Every believer needs to grow in understanding how to commune with God, take up the spiritual disciplines, and generally understand biblical spirituality. Many theories of Christian spirituality exist, and Christians need to understand biblical approaches to communing with God and loving Him with ordinate affection.
2) Practical Theology. Christians follow Christ, and they are to follow Him in every detail of their lives. Practical theology works the principles and precepts of Scripture into family life, work life, civil life, use of money, use of time, use of the tongue. In short, practical theology is a theology of sanctification: how to be godly, holy, Christlike from the inner man through to all one’s external acts.
3) Biblical theology. The Bible has a common theme running through it, from creation to Christ, and the narratives are not just dramatic decorations. Christians need to know what I call ‘the story of His glory’ from Genesis to Revelation. The unfolding plan of redemption, the Christocentric focus of Scripture, the progression of revelation is needful to believers to understand.
4) Systematic theology. When the Bible’s teachings are gathered together, we can systematise them into nine doctrines: theology proper (doctrine of God and the Trinity), Christology (doctrine of Christ), pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit), angelology (doctrine of holy and fallen angels), anthropology (doctrine of man), hamartiology (doctrine of sin), soteriology (doctrine of salvation), ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), and eschatology (doctrine of last things). When believers have a poor grasp of systematic theology, they generally will have a poor practical and devotional theology.
5) Historical theology. Since the church’s understanding of what the Bible teaches has developed over centuries, it is important to understand how this understanding grew, and the historical events that surrounded and shaped it. Sound doctrine does not come merely from a sincere heart and an open Bible. It also comes from standing on the shoulders of those who sailed through bloody seas to have it.
6) Cultural theology. This might sound like an odd category, but without it, Christians become blind to the very forces shaping their interpretations of Scripture. Cultural theology is understanding the meaning of the culture around us. Systems of thought, such as relativism or pluralism, prevalent attitudes such as consumerism and populism, ethical questions such as abortion, economics, technology, government, the environment, or the meaning of cultural artifacts such as music, dress, entertainment, social customs and traditions are all questions of cultural theology. Not only does cultural theology enable us to have a Christian worldview and live consistently Christian lives in our complicated culture, it helps us to defend and propagate the faith effectively.
Perhaps you can see why a church can never teach a Christian all he or she needs to know if such a Christian comes for one Sunday morning service a week, and neglects all the other teaching opportunities and ministries and resources. Hopefully you can see why Wesley said that a reading Christian is a growing Christian. And ideally, you can see why we are to be lifelong learners.
The list above is not meant to intimidate us. It ought to humble us, but then keep us striving to grow both in grace and in knowledge.