07/30/2015 § Leave a comment
When I made the decision to return to school two years ago to work on obtaining my Master’s degree, I knew that it was the right thing to do. It was just as important as when I enrolled at the University of Akron part time back in 1997 to work towards my Bachelor’s degree. For anyone who considers furthering his or her education, it is admirable and beneficial to stay the course and complete the task. (It is costly, for sure, but the benefits do transcend the financial burden over a lifetime.)
I will always be an advocate of higher education and pursuing knowledge by going to school or taking online classes. Doctors, lawyers, tradesmen and various professionals are where they are today because of their pursuit of knowledge in the classroom.
Knowledge is also important from a societal picture. There are studies that indicate that graduation from high school, especially for African-American males, can make a difference in lowering crime and incarceration levels. 
To obtain knowledge is beneficial. Knowledge is power.
From a believer’s perspective, when we learn more about the Lord Jesus Christ as we live for Him, we obtain valuable knowledge that bolsters our faith in Him.
The more that you learn about God, the more you will recognize God’s power in your life.
Knowledge of God is powerful.
As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, who wouldn’t want that?
In order to learn more about God, you have to be a student of God. A good student of God will search and seek after Him.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)
Scripture encourages you to be a student of God. A student of God practices theology.
What is theology?
According to Roger Olson, “theology is any reflection on the ultimate questions of life that point toward God.” 
With this definition, I can make a broad, and perhaps even bold, declaration that a student of God practices theology; therefore, you, as believers, are all theologians!
Theology is very important for the believer, and it should be important because of what it means. It is the study of who God is, His attributes and His relationship with man and the universe.  The English word “theology” comes from two Greek terms: theos, meaning “God” and logos, which refers to “word,” “teaching,” or “study.” 
It stands to reason that studying who God is in your life provides you with knowledge and understanding that supports your faith and trust in God. It’s good for growth in your relationship with Him, and you learn about how to apply His Word, grow and endure as you move forward.
There must be a distinction, however, between Christian Theology, and theology from a worldly view. They both exist. Theology from the world’s perspective may indeed involve having questions about life and what that means in relationship to God, but that does not mean that the matter is given serious or prolonged thought–it may only be for a short period of time, or little more than cursory consideration. Some questions about life may be more substantive, such as “Why am I here?” or “What am I supposed to be doing?” or “Is there anything after death?” All of these are legitimate questions, but all of them will eventually lead to no real solution unless God is brought into the picture as the object that provides answers.
Christian theology goes much deeper. Anselm of Canterbury was archbishop of Canterbury and a great 12th Century theologian. He defined theology as “seeking to understand with the intellect what the heart–a person’s central core of character–already believes and to which it is committed.”  That’s a good way to describe the heart of a person who seeks understanding to support his faith.
Now that we have established a distinction between worldview theology and Christian theology, we need to consider the different levels of theology that exist within Christian theology, because all are not created equal.
There are real doctors and lawyers with degrees to support it, while there are actors that portray doctors and lawyers on television and in the movies. That doesn’t make them real doctors or lawyers. You wouldn’t let a doctor from Grey’s Anatomy perform surgery on you, would you? You also would not want an orthodontist to perform an appendectomy. You want the best available attorney representation instead of someone like the role actor Joe Pesci plays in the movie, My Cousin Vinny.
In the same sense, everyone is a theologian, but not everyone has the same theology. You may discover this as you speak to other people who attend church as you listen closely to what they really believe.
Many people, you may find, will not see the need for theology because it would hinder the understanding of the simple faith that a person has! It’s like saying the more you know about God from an intellectual perspective, the more that it would hurt your ability to have faith. This may sound strange to some of you, but this is a more popular belief than you may realize. The question “Who needs theology?” reflects a person’s view that one does not need a Master’s degree or a doctorate to help one understand God any more than we already do.
Some of you may remember when I spoke about Socrates, a philosopher, who declared, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  He was absolutely correct. If we are serious about our relationship with Jesus Christ, there should always be an active, ongoing evaluation–a reflective look at one’s life in service to Him. If you are not actively seeking Him through His Word, meditating on it and prayerfully submitting to His will, how can one honestly know if God is speaking? A life in Jesus Christ is an active, reflective life.
With that in mind, we need to see how different theologies can be an indication of how reflective (or not) a person may be. A less reflective theology is referred to as “folk theology,” while the greatest level would be indicative of “academic theology.” In between the two are various levels of theology, defined by more or less reflective thought levels.  The levels are defined as folk, lay theology, ministerial theology, professional theology and then academic theology.
What is folk theology? It is a faith in God that is largely blind and based upon a traditional approach to Christianity. It is when a person states belief but cannot articulate it very well. In addition, there is a rejection of critical thinking about the belief and an acceptance of it based upon tradition, clichés and legends. 
Folk theology is everywhere. It can be found in virtually any setting. They are not adherents to any specific church affiliation, and they would not even consider themselves theological–yet, they are. Unfortunately, the traditionalism of this practice is contrary to any deep, careful reflection that allows a person to defend one’s faith, which is what the apostles had to do early on just years removed from Christ’s existence. A believer must be able to defend his faith in order to articulate his faith to a person who seeks the truth about Jesus Christ.
Lay theology is a step above folk theology but is, in reality, much more progressive in thought. It describes a Christian who works to understand the faith he or she holds in Jesus Christ. It is the act of putting one’s mind into the faith relationship. The root of this is in one’s seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to gain this understanding.
Ministerial theology is a step above lay theology in that it now involves the teachable faith as practiced by trained ministers and leaders within Christian churches. This is the effort to put into practice formal training such as bible classes or even seminary classes to train people to learn how to read and interpret Scripture and apply it within the body of Christ and the real world.
Professional theology is best described as those persons who are qualified to train lay people and pastors to increase their knowledge. They are the ones who create an active and healthy learning environment that encourages critical thinking and reflection. They teach in seminaries and colleges with church affiliations to provide methods to be more effective in service to all people.
Academic theology is an advanced study that lends more to philosophical thinking shared with other theologians. As a practical matter, there is nothing wrong with academic theology, but its greatest criticism is that it lacks in application to real world Christian living. The challenge for the academic theologian is to reach beyond thought processes and provide ways to apply this thinking that are beneficial to lay, ministerial and professional theologians.
We’ve seen that anyone who seeks to answer the questions of life that point to God is a theologian. Knowing that there are different theologies, which one of these best describes you?
If you are honestly seeking His wisdom, you will grow well beyond those who are stuck in folk theology.
As you can see, the level of theology that is practiced has everything to do with the amount of time and effort that one puts into it. As you put your time into it, you will able to clarify and articulate Christian doctrine in a more effective manner  for the purpose of carrying out His Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
All of the effort that you put forth in pursuing greater understanding of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, is very pleasing to Him! Why? It’s simple. Your pursuit of Him means that you are seeking fellowship with Him through five key elements to enhance your IMAGE  in Jesus Christ:
1. Investigating His Word. To really learn about Jesus Christ, you have to do more than just read His Word. You need to dig deep into it and use the available study tools, concordances and commentaries to promote greater understanding of His Word. You can hear God speak to you even more clearly once you pray to Him for guidance as you gain this understanding.
2. Meditate on His Word. Prayer is certainly important in your communication with Him, but meditating on His Word requires an extra special time of quietness and reflection. It means “slowing down” to a place where you recognize God’s comforting presence and fellowship, and allowing His Words to permeate you to see His perspective.
3. Act on His Word. Your theology will not mean very much if you are not living in obedience to God’s Word or conforming to His will. He speaks to you and gives you advice for your benefit and for the benefit of those who you come into contact with.
4. Grow in His Word. Your theological study should bring about true growth in your Christian life. There should be a realization of more successes and fewer failures as you progress in your faith and grow in godly wisdom and understanding.
5. Endure in your faith. A believer in Jesus Christ must be prepared to not only persevere but to remain steadfast in faith. It makes the boldest statements of Jesus Christ’s presence in your life.
Remember, knowledge of God requires seeking after Him. A good student of God will search and seek after Him. It takes godly wisdom and reverence of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to see the importance of continuing to grow in knowledge.
The mind of the discerning acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks it. Proverbs 18:15 (HCSB)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)
Theology is needed by each and every one of us in order that we, as believers in Jesus Christ, can grow to our greatest potential in service to Him.
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength. Ephesians 1:17-19 (HCSB)
Who needs theology? You do.
1 Article – Crime Rates Linked To Educational Attainment, New Alliance Report Finds (2013). © 2015 Alliance for Excellent Education, Washington DC. Retrieved June 12, 2015 from http://all4ed.org/press/crime-rates-linked-to-educational-attainment-new-alliance-report-finds/
2 Grenz, Stanley J. and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God. © 1996 S. J. Grenz and R. E. Olson. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove IL. pg. 13
3 Grenz, pg. 37
4 Grenz, pg. 14
5 Grenz, pg. 16
6 Grenz, pg. 26
7 Grenz, pg. 26
8 Grenz, pg. 27
9 Grenz, pg. 46
10 Blogpost – Gaines, Melvin (2015). Characteristics of Your IMAGE. Melvin Gaines’ Blogspot. Retrieved June 12, 2015 from http://melvingaines.blogspot.com/2015/04/characteristics-of-your-image.html
© Melvin Gaines
01/24/2015 § Leave a comment
Discussion Questions for Matthew 5:1-12 Bible Study from Leadership and Culture course, Crown College (MN), January 2015:
1. “What are the principal “languages” defining reality for us today? How do they shape our definitions (our hermeneutics) of what is real and important? What “blessings” do they offer?”
There are a number of languages that define today’s reality for us. While the easiest (and correct) answer is to simply state that “the world” has its own language, there are multiple subsets of languages that provide measures of influence to each of us, and many of these languages we are ready and willing to listen to. Some of them are good by nature and morally acceptable, and some are not very good or beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). The commitment to sin is yielding to a language that is in opposition to God. A person who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, for example, responds to a different language than a person who denies both of these things.
These many different languages are associated with different lifestyles, professions, hobbies–virtually anything that each of us will participate in. Each one of these has a relative level of importance to us based upon our personality makeup. The language of a person who is a professional chef, for example, will be inspired with his own reality and importance, while a person who is an accountant operates very capably in his or her own sphere of influence (especially around tax time!). Family “languages” are different from business relationships (and can counter each other when there is a struggle with work-life balance), and of course, there are a myriad of different philosophies and lifestyles that we have been exposed to over time–some good, and some not so good.
The blessings of these different languages, ultimately, is in the eye of the beholder, and much of that has to do with whether or not the person has a rich, fulfilling, healthy relationship with Jesus Christ. A person who does not know Jesus Christ can believe that he or she is “blessed,” yet, their understanding of truth is rooted in spiritual blindness. Of all of these languages that shape how we view life, the overlay of Christ determines the true realization of blessings with the understanding that God is the genuine provider of all blessings that really matter (James 1:17).
2. “How does the Sermon on the Mount challenge the blessings offered by our society?”
The Sermon on the Mount is a departure from the vision of individuals who are influenced by the world’s position in many areas of life. We can associate this view with the context of the information in the Bible Study:
“All of the Sermon on the Mount challenges the language of Rome, the Jewish establishment and those who turn to violent resistance.” 
Jesus’ message is a challenge to today’s establishment, as well. Our society will readily embrace differentiating lifestyles as good and acceptable, and that everything is OK as long as one doesn’t criticize another person’s way of living. Even within the body of Christ, disputes have erupted within congregations over what is “good and acceptable.” Jesus addresses everyone within the body who remains faithful to Him and Him alone.
3. “In what ways do we see churches living according to the language of our societal context? And what are churches doing that reflect a different hermeneutic, like that of the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount?”
This answer is in accord with #2 above. Society has had a dramatic influence on today’s church. Pope Francis has been in the news lately for several comments that reflected more of personal “worldly” views than church doctrinal views.  The Presbyterian church has adopted the world’s view of same-sex marriage and essentially put it in writing within the denomination’s Statement back in June, 2014.  There are many other examples of similar situations, and if it were not for the fact that people in Jesus Christ are already assured of the victory (John 16:33; Romans 8:37-39; 1 Corinthians 15:57-58), you would certainly believe that Satan’s strategy of “divide and conquer” is winning. Believers are implored to overcome and “unite and conquer”  in order to fully recognize God’s blessings within the body.
1 Mark Lau Branson & Juan F. Martinez (2011). Churches, Cultures & Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities. Copyright © 2011 InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL. page 124.
2 Article – Jemima Thackray (2015). Beware of the two faces of Pope Francis: he ain’t no liberal. The Telegraph © Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2015, London UK. Retrieved January 22, 2015 fromhttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11362224/Pope-Francis-he-aint-no-liberal.-Beware-of-his-two-faces.html
3 Article – Anna Matranga (2015). Pope change his mind on breeding “like rabbits”? CBS News Copyright © 2015 CBS Interactive Inc. New York NY. Retrieved January 22, 2015 fromhttp://www.cbsnews.com/news/pope-francis-walks-back-remark-about-catholics-breeding-like-rabbits/
4 Opinion – Michael Brown (2014). It Is Time to Leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Christian Post. Copyright © 2015 The Christian Post, Inc. Washington DC. Retrieved January 22, 2015 from http://www.christianpost.com/news/it-is-time-to-leave-the-presbyterian-church-u-s-a-121961/
5 Article – Keith Krell (2009). Unite and Conquer (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). Bible.org. © 2015 Bible.org. Richardson TX. Retrieved January 22, 2015 fromhttps://bible.org/seriespage/2-unite-and-conquer-1-corinthians-110-17
11/06/2014 § Leave a comment
The study of philosophy has challenged me to see that a person who is giving careful consideration about matters of life, whether the outcome of their thinking is correct or erroneous, is stretching themselves for the purpose of greater understanding. A philosophical thought process requires time, effort and deliberation. It involves acute concentration and exceptional focus. In the end, it develops the mind and lends to providing answers to questions that may otherwise never be addressed or solved. It also, of course, just as easily raises more questions.
I see how philosophy, in my quest for “love of wisdom,” has helped to shape how I approach my faith and preparation in my own personal studies. Socrates got it started, and Blaise Pascal really greased my skids of interest with “Pascal’s Wager,”  a tremendous exercise of thinking–making a decision and being deliberate about it! I have been sharing my classroom experiences with my church family as a Sunday school instructor and even when I fill in for my pastor. I will tell anyone willing to listen that it is very important for a person to continually use reason and to evaluate and reevaluate their faith in Jesus Christ, and to continue to seek the godly wisdom and knowledge that the Spirit is ready to share at every opportunity. None of us can afford to stand pat in this area. Standing pat or accepting the status quo can only lead to complacency in our spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ. The very nature of Christian Apologetics is the result of deliberate thought, reasoning and declaration that Jesus is indeed Lord and Savior for all.
I have become very passionate about individual Christian preparation and the development of good study habits in advocating a daily two-year bible reading plan. It’s not about just reading the bible, but investigating what is being read. This means that the individual needs to analyze bible passages with cross-references and commentaries, and use prayer and meditation for greater understanding. This process can only promote the maturity of the believer in Jesus Christ and strengthen their ability to live out their faith. On the surface, you might think that people are already doing this stuff. After observing individuals, their overall bible knowledge and even some personal study habits, the reality is that there are many people who are not doing anything even close to a regular daily bible routine. Many people don’t read the bible because they don’t understand what they are reading, or it even comes across as boring. If the bible is hard to understand or uninteresting, that means there is little to no energy being expended in the thought process and expansion of one’s person faith. While many people acknowledge that they should read the bible (and there are thousands of reading plans available), there now needs to be a “training” of sorts over the daily reading approach. There must be a deliberate thought process within the bible reading plan that becomes habitual and, in turn, beneficial to the reader. The bible must be taught in such a way where people need to see that it is far from boring and that any reading time is time well spent. In summary, we all need to improve our personal habits and grow in how we think about Jesus Christ and continue to develop our faith and trust in Him.
God has always said there will be a remnant of His chosen people that will lead the way in the world, and that especially includes today (Romans 9:27, 11:5). The leaders will be the very people who are faithful in seeking Him, His wisdom and knowledge…the real thinkers about Jesus Christ. They will know how to proceed in these troubled times against all opposition and difficulty, for they will know the Spirit’s voice when they hear it to help them to endure and persevere. Many who proclaim the name of Christ at some point will fall away due to pressures and persecution, which is already occurring today (Matthew 24:4-14, 23-24), and we are not yet at the great tribulation. The people who will stand are the thinkers, the philosophers of today who love the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
1 Article – Pascal’s Wager (n.d). From Wikipedia. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal’s_Wager
07/03/2014 § Leave a comment
09/25/2011 § Leave a comment
Except for some tweets and posts on the Akron Alliance Fellowship Church blog, I’ve been quiet on my own blog pages for a little while. It’s been a busy summer—busier than I can remember for the summer months—and my wife and I were overdue for a break for a couple of weekends in September. With the break, there was time to reflect on the blessings that my wife, my family and I have, and how God has been more than evident in His presence in our lives.
It has become more evident that change is, more than ever, a prominent part of life. There has been unexpected change at my workplace (new boss), my wife’s workplace (yep, new boss), and at church (an elder resignation). Even with all of this, there is still cause for praise and worship for how God has given us the grace and ability to manage all of the changes and the surprising events. When my wife and I have talked about this, we readily agree that we don’t care much for change, let alone sudden ones. While we’re both thankful to be working and making a living, the changes are still unsettling and can be downright stressful! It’s often necessary for us to bring our work home and use “downtime” to still be productive and keep pace with everything that comes our way.
With everything moving so quickly, I have discovered that we need to remain continually focused on God and His Word every day, and remain open to the words and direction of the Holy Spirit everywhere we go, whether it is at work or in the car or at the grocery store. In fact, there is not a moment when we should feel comfortable without the input of the Holy Spirit, especially when things seem to be going well (Psalm 51:11).
When circumstances have taken place that you don’t always understand right away, it is always best to trust God for direction when you are unsure of your response (Psalm 3:5-6, 56:3-4). He is our comfort in the midst of uncertainty.
04/25/2011 § Leave a comment
When I was very young, I didn’t go to church except for once a year since my parents were unchurched and weren’t especially motivated to seek a regular church fellowship. The once-a-year trip was to the neighborhood church in the Lee-Harvard area of Cleveland, and it was on Easter Sunday. I was too young to have a clue about church except that it was a place to go on occasion where you could wear your best light blue pastel suit and sit for a couple of hours on a hard bench and get overheated very quickly because of the lack of ventilation. I felt relief when I finally left the church and got outside, where the cool breezes would call attention to my perspiration under a steamy, polyester-like suit.
I did pay attention enough through the heat, however, to see that church was not such a scary place after all. I had already experienced the screaming, sanctified woman at the colorful, inner city church where the women dressed as nurses would carry the wounded yellers out of the sanctuary. I had to learn over a few visits that the screamers was not a regular part of church (thank goodness).
Now that I am older and a little smarter about the church experience, I realize that, many years ago, I was part of a large group of people that go to church once a year, and that group still exists today…the Easter Sunday once-a-year church goers. As I checked through my Facebook faith posts and Twitter faith tweets, I noted that there were many efforts to get people to go to church services on Easter in large venues–even stadiums–in different parts of the country, or there were multiple services at large churches to accommodate the crowds.
There must be a sense of duty behind the magnitude of people compelled to attend Easter services. It is a movement that occurs on the one day that Jesus Christ is given honor by the secular or unchurched people…and that’s just fine with me. It is my hope, however, that the people who do visit church will actually come to the understanding that visiting church once a year does not earn brownie points or good favor with God because of the effort. While God sincerely appreciates the visitation, I have found that many once-a-year visitors often slip into church and sit in the back row at the start of the service only to duck out the door before it ends…these premeditated escape artists put Houdini on notice.
Not to be overly critical, I must point out that the once-a-year tryout people have a latent curiosity, if not an outright need for understanding, of how the other half lives–in other words, how can these church folk stand to go into churchdom (AKA boredom) every Sunday? What is the attraction that one can have to maintain such a regular routine as going to church every week…wait, sometimes even twice a week…or even (heaven forbid) go to Sunday school???
There is no single answer for this phenomenon of regular church attendance, but the reasons all circle back to one simple thing…there is a strong likelihood that many of the people who attend church once or twice a week (and even Sunday school) have a greater understanding about what it is to have a healthy relationship with God. The regulars are far from perfect–and share the same flaws that the once-a-yearers have–but they acknowledge these shortcomings by recognizing that God provides forgiveness and healing…missing commodities in today’s world of artificial fixes.
And now I’ll speak for me, one of the regulars, who did not come to a greater understanding of who Jesus Christ is until I was 26 years old, and when I accepted Him as my personal Savior. It took a little interest, and then curiosity, and then an open mind to help me to understand that I needed Him in my life. That’s what it ultimately takes for each of us who want to learn something new. Sometimes we have to realize that it is the very things that we don’t understand that we are most afraid of. It is all about overcoming our fears, which we often have to do to grow personally, and even spiritually. We also have to be careful to not listen to someone else’s opinions about something that we don’t understand, which can keep us from seeking what ultimately is the truth. That is what is really tragic about not trying something…when you make excuses not to seek understanding when you have everything in your power to make it happen.
It is my prayer that if you are a once-a-year Easter Sunday tryout person that you consider going back to church in a week or two, but don’t wait an entire year. There are many wonderful bible-teaching churches with people just like you that are more than willing to welcome you for the second, third, or fourth visit (but you have to stay long enough after the service ends, of course). You just may find that the friendliness and fellowship that you experience will be far from boring and will actually be refreshingly sincere, which just happens to be just the way Jesus Christ would have you to see Him. Church is not really a scary place, but you’ll have to try it out more than once to see for yourself.
Copyright © Melvin Gaines. For more content, please see melvingaines.com and melvingaines.blogspot.com.