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Theological Maps

Technicalities (sometimes unavoidable in theology, as in any field of scientific study) will be pursued only for the sake of simplicity. Simplicity of principle, once it is achieved, makes for straightforwardness of practice. The best theological maps are clear and have these seven basic qualities.

First, they are accurate in their presentation of material, both human and biblical. Nothing can compensate for failure here.

Second, they are God-centered, recognizing divine sovereignty at the heart of everything and showing God’s control of problematical events, both actual and imaginable.

Third, they are doxological, giving God glory for his glorious achievements in creation, providence, and grace, and encouraging a spirit of joyous, trustful worship and adoration in all circumstances.

Fourth, they are future-oriented, for Christianity is a religion of hope. Often the only sense theology can make of present trends, conditions, and behavior patterns, as they both mark society and touch individuals, is to diagnose them as fruits of sin and hold forth the promise that God will one day wipe them out and unveil something better in their place.

Fifth, they are Christ-related in two ways. On the one hand, they proclaim the centrality of Jesus, our mediator, prophet, priest, and king, in all God’s present dealings with, and future plans for, the human race. On the other hand, they reformulate our notional perplexities by turning them into practical issues of faithfully following the Savior whom we love along the path of self-denial and cross-bearing, according to his own explicit call (see Luke 9:23). They show us how to walk patiently with him through experiences that defeat our minds and feel like death into the experienced reality of personal internal resurrection. This is the biblical way to live the Christian life, and good theological maps lead us right into it.

Sixth, such maps are church-centered. The New Testament presents the church as central in God’s plan. Christians are meant to journey through life not in isolation but in company with fellow-believers, supporting them and being supported by them.

Seventh, good theological maps are freedom-focused. They are tuned in to the decision-making processes of authentically Christian men and women; that is , people who know themselves to be free from the law as a system of salvation yet desire to live by it, first out of love for the law itself, which now delights them with its vision of righteousness; and third out of self-love, since they know that there is no real happiness for them either here or hereafter without holiness.

Theology constantly calls for deliberate, responsible decisions about how we are going to live, and it never forgets that Christian decisions are commitments to action on principle (not out of mindless conformity), undertaken in freedom (not from external pressure or bullying), and motivated primarily by love of God and of justice (not by fear). Good theology thus molds Christian character, neither demeaning nor diminishing us but rather enhancing our God-given dignity.

J. I. Packer, Hot Tub Religion, (Living Books, Tyndale House Publ., Inc., Wheaton, Ill; 1987), pp. 5-7

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