In the study of Scripture, the saint’s position is one of dependence upon God. Following the example of Samuel, our hearts say, “Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.” Theologians are by necessity listeners. If there is no listening, there will be no knowledge of what the proper theological questions are. The fact that all knowledge must pass through the colored lenses of the fallen consciences, mandates the apriori recognition of this negative bias, and requires listening and submissiveness, not assertion and imposition to prevent transforming theology into anthropology.
The apriori of faith is the faith that precedes the evidence. The apriori of faith is described by the Latin term principium or the principle of theology. The principium refers to the beginning of theology, cf., John1:1, “In the beginning was the Word,” En arch o logoV. This “before the evidence” faith in God’s Word is the source of our knowledge of God. Theology has two principia or fundamental principles of theology: Scripture and God — the revelation and the one who reveals himself and was divided into a study (locus) of Scripture and a study (locus) on God. This “beginning” brings us to either embracing it by faith or rejecting it. Faith is a response to hearing God’s word, but we cannot demonstrate the Bible is God’s word from a neutral vantage point. A meaningful explanation of the special principle can only occur within those who hold God’s Word to be true because the claims of the text are our only source of knowledge of God.
Calvin in the Institutes, 1.4.15 demonstrates that man’s mind is a non-stop factory of idols, materially and intellectually and therefore what we think, our opinion, feelings, sentiments, etc., are irrelevant to orthodox exegetically based theological formulation. [John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, edited by John T. McNeil, translated by Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1.4.15: “For at the same time we have enjoyed a slight taste of the divine from contemplation, we raise up in his stead dreams and speculations of our own brains, and attribute to anything else than the true source the praise of righteousness, wisdom, goodness and power.”] We must think about God the way He wants us to think about Him. We must see God “with the aid of spectacles,” or in the pages of His Word. We are not to master God but are to be mastered by Him and in the submission of listening spiritual renewal comes to the student. Thus, a right approach to the principium is imperative for our learning and spiritual well-being.
The Necessity of Humility and Repentance
The holiness of God requires that all theological thinking is penitential (begging God for forgiveness) thinking. The student of God’s Word is to study to be humble and repentant. As such, theology has its proper goal in doxology that can be summarized “Theology is worshipping God with your entire mind.” Where sin is entertained, spiritual renewal and the knowledge of God is dissipated and vice versa. True worship, then, is grounded in true theology – Scripture based worship.
In Scripture, theology is set in the sphere of doxology. The psalmist writes in Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” The “house of the Lord” has always been the best place to do theology. Which begs the question as to where the seminary stands in relationship to theological work. It is here, in the Church, that there is a union of the quest of the intellect and the heart. In the ‘house of the Lord’ the beauty of God is manifested. Worshipping and praising God with the entire mind protects the student from deviating from a Theo-centric to anthro-centric theological formulation. True worship springs from a mind wholly given over to hearing what God says in His Word. Within the sphere of listening to God and worshipping Him, the believer learns the truths that God has already revealed about Himself. The writing down of those things learned within this doxological context and spiritual exchange is orthodox theology.