Preface to Core FaithRelated Media
In the past several years my wife Trece has introduced me to the Pilates exercise program. Unlike me though, she has been faithful to consistently use this wonderful exercise system. I also to a much more limited degree have experienced its benefits. One time in particular I was experiencing nagging back and neck pain but after a few weeks of Pilates this pain began to subside and eventually disappeared. The basic philosophy of Pilates is to strengthen the inner core muscles of the body. The theory then is if the core of the body is strong the rest of the body will be strong and healthy as well. Thus, I have entitled this book and course Core Faith. It is the basic faith and practice that all Christians need understand and do whether they know it or not. If the Christian is strong in the basic core beliefs and disciplines then as with Pilates the entire Christian life will be strong and vital as well.
Welcome to Core Faith. E. M. Blaiklock, Professor of Classics at Auckland University once stated: “I claim to be an historian. My approach to Classics is historical. And I tell you that the evidence for the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ is better authenticated than most of the facts of ancient history . . .”1 Our faith has a historical basis, the historical life of Jesus, the historical death of Jesus and the historical resurrection of Jesus. This should give us the confidence to pursue the path of Christian life with confidence. But as we get started on the Christian journey or are on the way we all have certain questions.
Questions that some of us may have are: 1) Who is God and what is he like? 2) How can I be sure I am going to heaven? 3) How can I grow in my Christian life? 4) What does God want me to do? 5) What is the nature of the Bible and where did it come from? 6) How do I interpret the Bible? 7) Who is Jesus and how does his life impact me? 8) Who is the Holy Spirit and what does he do? 9) What does the Bible say or not say about the future? These are some of the questions that the following lessons are going to address.
The first reference to a disciple in the New Testament is found in Matthew 5:1-2, which states, “When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them by saying: . . . .”2 What follows is perhaps the greatest Sermon of all time known as the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon for disciples of Jesus. The Greek word for disciple is Mathetes (Μαθητης). Its dictionary definition is: “1. one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice 2. one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.3 In short a disciple is a student, a learner. But let’s look at Jesus’ definition of a disciple. “Then he [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me’” (Luke 9:23).4 Being a disciple is for “anyone.” The invitation is open. But there are conditions. First, a disciple must deny himself and take up his cross. When we think of self denial it’s something like I will only eat one donut today instead of two. Jesus is talking about denial to the point of death, death on a cross if need be. Second, discipleship is daily. It’s not a one-time thing but every day I need to get up and be a disciple. Third a disciple follows Christ. It’s his example, his teaching, his call.
I would like to address two questions that are related to Core Faith. The first question is why is theology important? And secondly, why read this book or use it as a course? Why is theology important? The word theology means the study of God. Theology may seem intimidating but anytime we form an opinion about God or make an assertion about him or look to him for anything we are in essence doing theology. If we say God is good that is a theological proposition. If someone curses God they are saying God is bad. If we say a prayer to God, we are implying that he not only exists but that he acts in our lives in a personal way. So most of us are theologians whether we think we are or not. I would like to suggest two basic reasons of why theology is important.
First is that we are commanded to love God. This is referred to as the greatest commandment. Jesus was once asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt 22:36-38). If the most important commandment is to love God then we must learn who God is with our total being, heart soul and mind. How can we love someone we do not know and strive to know? Some people want to experience God emotionally which is good but then in practice neglect learning about God with their mind. The mind is an area that the evangelical church has neglected and it has even been described as serious as a “scandal.” Christian historian Mark Knoll states, “The scandal of the evangelical mind, is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”5 God has revealed himself in creation and more specifically and importantly in his Word. Theology then is learning about the one God we are to love. This may be dismissed as merely head knowledge but as someone once well said how can we love God less when we know him more?
Second, sometimes when we encounter difficulties in life we do not have the answers we want or need. The problem we face is perplexing and seems to defy resolution. It is times like this when we need to fall back on the character of God. But if we do not know what the character of God is for sure, we may lack confidence in it. Job in the Old Testament is a good example for us in this regard. He was a godly man with an abundance of blessings: wealth, health and family
(Job 1:1-3). But one by one these things were taken away. First, Job lost all his children when they were attacked and taken captive or killed. Also, all his possessions were destroyed or stolen (Job 1:13-22). He was stricken with some kind of malignant skin disease (Job 2:7). The question of the book then is why? Job’s friends bring many theologically wrong answers that suggest that Job had sinned and this was the result. But the trials were not due to Job’s sin. Finally, Job has an encounter with God and no final answer to Job’s suffering is given except that God is God and one has to trust in who he is in such problems. In the end, God blesses Job beyond what he had before (Job 42:10-17). But the point is that sometimes all we have is to accept and trust in the character of God. So we need to know that character to be able have assurance in it and to recognize our experience with it.
More examples include Joseph who was beaten and sold into slavery but reminded his brothers who had done the act, that even evil things can be used by God for his purposes. In theologically reflecting on the situation he stated, “As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day” (Gen 50:20). Jonah who was displeased that God had not judged Ninevah but rather saved them attributed this action to the character of God. “He prayed to the Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment” (Jonah 4:2). Jesus himself trusted in God and his character as he was dying on the cross and said, “Into your hands I commit my Spirit” (Luke 23:46).
So all these examples show how understanding God and his character can relate to hard situations. This is theology. So let’s go to the next question. Why use these lessons?
1) The first and foremost reason is to get to know God better and grow in our relationship with him. Jesus said: Now this is eternal life – that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent (John 17:3). This course will have a God focus. We are on a lifelong and even eternal pursuit to know God and his Son Jesus Christ.
2) The second reason is to better appreciate and understand God’s gift of salvation through the gospel and basic Christian doctrine. This course will have a Bible focus. The Apostle Peter said “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation) (1 Peter 2:2; NASB). As physical food moves a baby toward growth toward adulthood, so the “milk” of the Word is how we grow spiritually. It’s our spiritual food.
3) The third and last reason is so that we will be able to share the gospel with others and be able to help others to grow in their faith. This course will also have a people focus. Jesus gave the commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” When I was in college, I benefited from a man by the name of Ted Boyls who met with me every week for about two years to help me understand God and the Christian life. Like Ted did, we should desire to help others.
We have a saying in America, “live and learn.” It refers to learning from mistakes or learning from the school of hard knocks. But the Bible encourages the opposite approach, to learn first and then live. What is the course procedure? This course has 11 lessons not including this introduction that give a basic overview of the Christian life and doctrine. Each lesson concludes with potential discussion and application questions. The material can be used in one of three ways. First you as an individual can study the material yourself. Second, this material can be covered by two individuals in a one on one discipleship relationship perhaps at a rate of one lesson per week. Both parties may read the lessons together or separately and then come together for questions, individualized application and use of the discussion questions. Thirdly, the following lesson materials may be used in a small group setting in Sunday School or home.
Whenever I have taken Bible courses, I always been interested in the person teaching me. What are their credentials? Are they qualified? My name is Dr. James Davis. You can reference my ministry profile on the Bible.org website. But in short I have been a Christian for over 30 years and have been involved in teaching the Bible in various venues since that time from dorm Bible studies, to small groups, Sunday school classes, and seminary classrooms. Since 1999 I have taught seminary classes as a professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, Capital Bible Seminary and Liberty University. I have a Masters in New Testament from Capital Bible Seminary and a PhD in New Testament from Dallas Theological Seminary.
I want to thank Dave Austin, Hampton Keathley IV, Bob Deffinbaugh and Lauren Menge for the help they have given me in producing these lessons by their encouragement, ideas, insight and editing.
So I now invite you to this journey of learning about Core Faith. And as a Christian or soon to be one I encourage you to be a better disciple of Jesus. May the Lord bless your study of Jesus and God’s Word.
Table of Contents
- The Study of the Gospel
- Understanding World Views
- The Study of God
- Personal Spiritual Growth
- The Study of the Bible
- Principles of Biblical Interpretation
- The Study of Christ
- The Study of the Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts
- The Study of the Church
- The Study of Future Events
- Principles and Practice of Disciple Making
1 As cited by Josh McDowell, “Evidence for the Resurrection”, http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/josh2.html (Date accessed October 29, 2012).
2 Unless otherwise noted Bible citations are generally taken from the NET Bible, New English Translation © by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.
3 Baur, Danker, Arnt and Gingrich, Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd edition; University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 2003), 609.
4 Scripture references are taken from the NET Bible unless otherwise noted.
5 Mark Knoll, The Scandal of Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 4.