The Church

A Theology That Speaks Today

Carl Ellis

Though the Bible is the revealed word of God, its meaning is found in its application.  Apart from this, the Bible does not say much to us.  In this case, it is not that the Bible isn’t communicating; it’s just that we can’t hear.

Not only does God speak through words in the Bible, he also speaks through the biblical paradigms – the basic patterns of the biblical life situations.  Every situation we go through has a corresponding basic biblical paradigm.  In other words, whatever we experience, someone in the Bible has already experienced it in some way.  Solomon said it best, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Discovering Biblical Truth
In order to mine the riches of the Bible, we must do the following things.

Examine basic biblical paradigms. We must prayerfully look for life patterns in the biblical life situations.  Along with the words of the Bible, the narratives of the biblical characters are also important.  That’s where you find the basic patterns.

Match biblical patterns with similar experiences in our own lives.  We must prayerfully look for the paradigms in our life situations and in those to whom we minister.  When they are similar, prayerfully match them up.

Take the match-ups to the Scriptures.  By submitting our match-ups to God’s word, we can see the biblical principles revealed.  For example, if I know that what I’m going through is similar to what David experienced under Saul, then I can look into the Scripture to see how he dealt with it.  Once we have done this, we can search the Scriptures to discover essentially three things:

1. How was God in control of the situation then?

2. How was God speaking to the situation then?

3. How was God present in the situation then?

The Bible is clear about these.

We may not understand our current trials, but when we look at someone in the Bible who’s been through a similar experience we can discover the biblical principles that address our current situation.  Once we understand this, we will have a framework for understanding:

1. How God is in control of our situation now.

2. How God is speaking to our situation now.

3. How God is present in our situation now.

Be inquisitive. Once we have developed this basic theological framework, we can begin to fill in the details.  To do this, we need to go through, what I call the theological process (Figure 1).


Fig. 1
Theological Process (Figure 1)

The theological process is based on questions.  Jesus told us that unless we come in faith, like a little child, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).  And little children are known for asking questions.  Likewise, God wants us to be very inquisitive.  Knowing how God is in control, speaking and present will help us frame our situation.  The finer details come as we begin to formulate specific questions and go to God’s word for answers.

The development of my book, Free at Last? came out of this process.  As a university student in the late 1960s, I was trying to figure out what God had to do with the Black Consciousness Movement that was sweeping across the country.  So I asked God, “Well, what do you have to do with all this?”  For the answer, I went to the Word of God.

I soon discovered that I was asking the wrong question.  Since the Word of God is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), the Bible began to correct my question.  It was not, “What does God have to do with the Black Consciousness Movement?” but “What does this movement have to do with God?”  My question was corrected.

Next, as we meditate on God’s word and the corrected question, God gives us answers.  He begins to show us things that we’ve never seen before and in doing so, he answers our questions.  Then we must apply those answers to our situation.  As we do this, two things happen.  First, it causes us to produce an appropriate theology that speaks to our issues.  Second, it causes new questions to arise that lead us back through the theological process.

The Bible Does Theology
Now the Bible itself uses this technique of basic patterns.  You see this in the parables and illustrations of Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets.  You also see this in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  Through basic patterns of life, the Bible teaches us wisdom.

A classic example of this is found in 2 Samuel 12:1-13.  After David slept with Bathsheba and got her pregnant, he had her husband Uriah killed.  To cover it up, David quickly married Bathsheba.  Then the prophet Nathan asked David to make a judgment about a story in the same pattern of David’s sin.  Hearing the story angered David prompting him to say, ‘a man like that should die.’  Nathan confronted David saying, “You are the man!”  And the rest is history.

Meant To Be Applied
Often, the biblical narratives omit many of the details on purpose because they are designed for us to supply details from our own life situations.  However, bear in mind that your story may not end the same as the corresponding biblical narrative.

The Bible can provide a basic framework for understanding our current situation.  The main purpose of the theological process is to teach us to see things from God’s point of view.  This empowers us to wisely fill in the details.

The Bible is meant to be applied and theology is meant to be done.  Scripture should never be disconnected from application.  God wants us to get into his word to govern our actions according to His principles.  This is how we will gain wisdom.  If we wisely do theology this way, it will make a difference in us and in our community.

In all of our theology God himself must have final say.  We should always be open for correction and rebuke.  His ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).  We always have to check what we’ve done against what God says in Scripture.

The African American community today is in desperate need of a fresh approach to theology – a theology that is true to Scripture and speaks to our current situation.  It is very important that we understand that God speaks to us in many ways in the Bible, and one important way is through its basic patterns.  Now if we approach theology this way, the Word of God will come alive and speak to us not just in the “sweet by and by,” but also in the “nasty now and now.”

1 Comment

  1. Jason Stanton-Milsap

    I didn’t see basic hermeneutical principles being used to discover the principle to be applied. You spoke a lot about patterns, principles and theology, however, what usually tends to happen if hermeneutical principles are not taught and followed systematically, you get people trying to apply principles and patterns meant for others in their own life and being COMPLETELY discouraged because of it. Does that make sense?

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