Theological method

How theology and life should relate to one another

Some years ago, a Presbyterian theologian, from whose writing I have benefited significantly, experienced tragedy – his son died in an accident. In the process of working through that suffering, the theologian ceased to be a Calvinist. In the face of his son’s death, he apparently found it no longer possible to believe in the meticulous sovereignty of God’s providence. I was disturbed by that process, because I believed then and still believe that what we come to believe about God from our study of Scripture, must inform our interpretation of life and the way we live.

Although I was discouraged about what happened in this situation, I feel deep sympathy for this theologian and the painful theological journey he traversed. My life has not been without suffering, but I am thankful not to have been through what God allowed Job to go through. Job was firmly resolved to trust in God, even if God slew him, and his theology informed his life, rather than being formed by his experience. I see Job as a model of the way theology should work in the midst of suffering, and I am immensely impressed with the strength of Job’s faith. With Paul, I want to believe that God’s grace is sufficient for me, and that he will sustain me and my faith through whatever he allows to happen in my life.

I was reminded of the Presbyterian theologian I mentioned above, when I read this evening about the experience of the Tom Schreiner family, in the wake of the serious accident Diane Schreiner had in the summer. In an article in the Baptist Press, RuthAnne Irvin, an editorial intern at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Tom and Diane both teach concludes with these statements:

 Back in August, the Schreiners anticipated a different fall season, but their faith in God, rooted in sound theology, prepared them for the fall that came.

“The best thing to prepare for suffering is good theology,” Schreiner wrote. “Whether it is life or death, healing or disease, God is good and He rules.”

Sitting in the comfort of my office now (which happens also to be our bedroom), I say “Amen,” and I pray that God will be gracious in preparing all of his children for whatever lies ahead for us, with “faith in God, rooted in sound theology.”


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

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