Our modern plight
I frequently hear Christian leaders and mature Christian believers express concern about widespread biblical illiteracy within evangelicalism in our time. There are many reasons for this, and I’m not going to give you my own list of likely culprits, but I share the concern. We Christians are a people of the Book, the Word of God, composed over many centuries as people who were inspired by God wrote down, for the people of their time, the books which we know as the Bible. This is God’s primary way of revealing himself to us now and, if members of the community of God’s people are ignorant of the Bible’s teaching, their own spiritual lives and their usefulness in service to God will be badly stunted.
Put simply, systematic theology is the process of summing up what God has revealed to us in Scripture, to pass on to others the truth about God and his work in the world. Biblical illiteracy therefore leads to theological ignorance, and Christians are left with neither map nor rudder, as they attempt to navigate as Christians, in an environment that is increasingly less Christian and often even hostile to the Christian church and its work.
Help for Christians in our time
My former colleague and long-time friend, Robert Ferris, is a fine theology teacher and has made a great contribution to the work of Christian leaders around the globe who are engaged in theological education. Forty-five years after he taught his first theology course, entitled “Bible Truths” and designed for first year Bible College students in the Philippines, he was conscripted to teach a Bible doctrines course for his home-schooled granddaughter, Anna. At the end of that course, Anna ”assigned [him] to write this book” (Intimate and True, p. xi). We should thank Anna for that, because the result is Intimate and True: Bible Truths in Simple Terms, a book which could be useful to many different groups of people:
– high schoolers learning the essentials of Christian doctrine;
– new adult believers in Christ;
– long-term Christians who have suffered from a dearth of solid biblical and theological instruction within their churches;
– adult Sunday School classes (where such things exist these days);
– home groups (which have often been the replacement of Adult classes);
– mature believers who want the spiritual nourishment of a refresher course in solid biblical truth, expressed in simple (but not simplistic) terms.
In 30 short and easy to read, but theologically meaty, chapters, Ferris walks us through the basic themes in Christian theology, and he unpacks their significance to our daily lives. Where Christians and groups of Christians have disagreed in their theological understanding of the Bible’s teaching (e.g. Arminianism and Calvinism), Ferris gives a clear and even-handed description of key alternative proposals, while revealing his own stance. Not surprisingly, he and I do not agree completely in some of those areas, but he majors on the grand Christian consensus, not the points of conflict. This makes his book a valuable contribution to Christian education within the church, and in private study. Each chapter ends with a section entitled “Let’s Talk About It,” and the questions given here will enhance the usefulness of the book for group study.
All in all, this book makes a distinctive and significant contribution to theological education at the level of the average church member, so I pray that the Lord will use it widely, to ground believers theologically and to strengthen the church.