Theological education is not specifically mentioned in the New Testament. There is no record of Bible colleges being founded, no seminaries being established. That does not mean, however, that theological education is not needed. Paul is clear that the ministry of the pastor is profoundly theological. Everyone, not just pastors, need to know sound doctrine. Doctrine is for life, for knowing God as He is.
Inevitably, there will be those set apart by God specifically for the task of heralding God’s word in the local church, the classroom and in various other arenas. It is essential for these people to know the Bible, know the doctrines of the Bible, how to interpret the Bible, how to teach the Bible and how faithful men have done all these things for centuries in church history. We must be trained to steward the gifts God has given us well, to push those under our teaching deeper into the gospel of Christ.
I once heard Al Mohler say that Paul gets the closest to a theology of theological education in the second chapter of his second letter to Timothy. Verse 2 is the verse I would like to consider with a view to how we should teach and disciple those God has put into our care, as we make disciples of all nations as God turns hearts to Himself. 2 Timothy 2:2 reads:
“…and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
What You Have Heard From Me
Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father (2 Tim. 1:2). Timothy had been set apart by the sovereign mercy of God to be a minister of the gospel. It was Paul, though, that God used to bring Timothy up in the faith. His mother and grandmother taught the Word of God to him as he grew up, but it was Paul that was the most influential figure in his young life. Paul was Timothy’s mentor, his ministerial hero if you will. This alone is a lesson to us all. When we have been, by God’s grace, brought to a level of maturity that enables us to teach, we must take advantage. Few things have invigorated me in my life as a Christian more than teaching young men that glories of Christ. One of the greatest motivations in my doing so has been the simple fact that I had no spiritual father for much of my growing in grace. Had it not been for men that I met in the pages of books or on my laptop screen, my faith would have surely either failed or I would be languishing in weakness, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. Paul spent his life pouring both life and doctrine into those younger in the faith. If you have the opportunity I would encourage you, for you joy and theirs, to do so.
But notice that Paul does not say to do “what you saw me do.” There is a place for imitation in discipling. However, teaching takes prominence in such a relationship. We do not call men simply to follow our lives. There certainly is a biblical warrant for doing so. But primarily we teach! We give them the Word. Paul has transmitted a message, that certainly leads to a lifestyle (indeed it must), but that first calls us to turn and trust the person and work of Christ. We call them to behold, then do. As J.C. Ryle said, we call them first to live and then to work. The gospel of the glory of the blessed God is the primary focus on our teaching and discipling. With unveiled face we fight together to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Paul did not give Timothy Paul. He gave Him Christ in all the Scriptures first and foremost.
The act of teaching can be summed up as entrusting. “Entrusting” is not as sexy as novel teaching. Entrusting connotes something old that did not originate with us. Paul’s gospel was not Paul’s gospel. Jesus gave him that gospel! It was this gospel that had been saving ever since God covered Adam and Eve’s sin with his own clothing. It was this gospel that began in the eternal mind of God, was accomplished historically in Christ and is being subjectively applied even today until Christ returns in glory. Paul is no innovator. I concerns me that far too often today we seem attracted to the new. Well, there is nothing new under the sun. All theology, good and bad, has been explored in some form or fashion before. Paul’s aim in teaching Timothy is to teaching him what Christ entrusted to him. So when we teaching we do not labor to give them our own spins and ideas. They don’t need them. I know that I have nothing to give outside of the gospel. I will have personal opinions that I think are rooted in biblical wisdom that I might hope they adopt. But there is a certain body of doctrine that is essential to teach.
Let me take a moment to give an example of this not being done well. I do so with trepidation, but it will be helpful to point out this speck all the while maintaining that my sight is perpetually filled with logs of my own. I attended a small, Southern Baptist college. The skeleton of this institution is typical Southern Baptist fare. But beneath this skeleton lies incredible dangers. There is no central locus from which each faculty member is striving to honor. Sure, there is a loose commitment to a broad Christianity but there is no strong center. The result has been disastrous. Just in this small school there are hints of open theism, the New Perspective, Higher Criticism, Catholicism and inclusivism. Inerrancy makes many of these men uneasy. I heard a biblical doctrine of the atonement just once in my three years being there, not even to mention a rabid Arminianism. Speculation is the air breathed on that campus. There is little of what Paul is doing. There is little effort to teach what is right. Paul is saying that his doctrine is correct and that all else is not simply not to be preferred, but is wrong and sometimes damning. Brothers, teach the truth! Don’t muddle justification by faith, the electing grace of God and the biblical command to go out and make the nations glad in the God of the universe. God has given us a ministry to steward. He has not charged us to be vague and let people make their own opinions. There is certainly room for opinion and individual emphasis. But, again, there is a core of doctrine that accords with the gospel that is non-negotiable. Show them these truths from the Bible, bolding proclaiming what is good and right and praying that God would be pleased to give growth. Point them to the objective beauties of Christ. Entrust what the Holy Spirit has taught you in the text to those under you care.
Teach Others That They Might Teach
Finally, we are to teach others so that they might teach others. It was the glory of God that led Isaiah to accept a hard ministry. Show them the glories of Christ and they will be so satisfied in Christ that they cannot help but hold the center. The ballast of truth in their boats will hold fast despite hardship, trial and temptation. Teach others in a way that makes them eager to go and share. Pass on this theology of teaching and discipling. It should be easy to replicate. After all, it is not your own personal secret. The gospel, understood and treasured, can be taught to faithful men forever. The Word is clear and the Spirit of God is kind to allow us to see Him. God has revealed Himself to us. We are utterly dependent on God to show us Himself. The Bible is how He has chosen to do so. Show them the Word and teach them to show others. May God give us the grace to see spiritual children and grandchildren, knowing all the while that it was the grace of God in us doing the work through the inspired, written Word. Pray and teach and pray. It is not sexy. But it is faithful.