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Part of the student’s training is theological as they work through systematic theology through the coursework. And as they learn (or grow in) theological doctrines, I ask them to apply those doctrines practically. Here is a sample question from their theological study that they must complete:
Explain God’s transcendence and immanence by writing a brief case study narrative–it can be fictional–where you use these ideas to help someone.
A wife has been a Christian and a student of the Word for over 40 years, teaching Bible studies, speaking at women’s retreats, etc. She loves the doctrine of the sovereignty of God over all things. She and her husband have one child, a married daughter who knew she did not want children when she got married ten years ago.
Now the wife is in her 70s and lives with fear because of her daughter’s decision not to have children. The older mother does not want to be alone, and the reality that she will never enjoy grandchildren is a fearful thought. She is jealous of her friends who delight in their grandchildren.
The elderly mother is pressuring her daughter with scriptural instruction about being fruitful and that children are a gift from the Lord. She warns her daughter that she will have no one to care for her when she becomes old. She has arranged it so that whether she or her husband dies first, her daughter and husband will move into their home and take care of the one who is left.
As she knows from her studies on God’s sovereignty, He is orchestrating the events of her life for her good. The Bible’s teaching about God’s transcendence tells her that He is independent of all of His creation because He made it and rules over it. He is far greater than what He has done, yet He is always involved in it. Everything in it is continually dependent on Him (Job 12:10). He is above all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:6). His power is over all things.
These theological truths are practical knowledge for her because it means that God is intimately involved in the details of her life. He knows all her days and the plans He has for her (Psalm 139:16). He chose her for salvation from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). In Him she lives and moves and has her being (Acts 17:28).
The mother can choose to relinquish control over these circumstances and rely on God, to believe His Word. She can take comfort in God’s promises and bring glory to Him for His goodness and greatness by trusting Him to fulfill His purposes in their lives.
Here is something I want you to think about as you work through helping this lady.
There is a fourth part that you did not work through, and I’d like for you to consider it. It is this: what are some of the hindrances that keep this older lady from applying your doctrinal solutions?
I want to know if you are aware that her problem is more complicated than giving Bible answers. Also, do you know some of those complexities–the hindrances that keep her from trusting God. Finally, how would you walk her through those things that keep her from applying your solutions?
If you follow the 3-step outline that you gave to me, it will go like this:
Here’s The Problem – What you did not do is “unpack her heart.” Remember, she came to you because she does not know how to fix her problem. She thinks her problem is about her daughter, not about her heart. More than likely she knows that God is sovereign, in control, and is transcendent and immanent. If you tell her that much, you will have told her, in your words, what she already knows.
It would be like a lady going to a Bible study that is studying the doctrine of God— transcendence and immanence. She has a personal struggle that she is not telling anyone. She sits and listens to the lecture about transcendence and immanence, but remains just as stuck after she leaves as when she went into the study. Nobody unpacked her heart.
What I’d like for you to do is show me that you understand the “hindering dynamics of her heart” by talking about some possibilities. Let me give you four examples.
I would like to know that you know these things and that you are on top of it, and you have a plan to address her heart hindrances. What I’m describing to you is “our brand of discipleship,” which I believe to be “more biblical” than a Bible study where knowledge is taught but weakly applied, if applied at all. If you only say here’s the “problem and solution” without unpacking the person by customizing the care to the soul, they won’t transform.
We must connect theology to discipleship in ways that drill deep into the person’s heart. What we don’t want to do is just “give more information,” which, BTW, they probably already know. The problem is they need someone to unpack them, dig deep, and pull out what they can’t see or what they don’t want to discuss.
Most “theological noise” in cyberspace is a perpetual echo chamber of the same old good stuff. I’m not interested in just talking about how great God is and demonstrating it by sound teaching. Our ministry has a peripheral vision that allows us to see what people don’t ordinarily see, to know what can’t be known, and to help in ways that transform.
Our hermeneutic (or worldview) must be more sophisticated from a biblical perspective. If a person’s worldview is “mostly passive obedience” with a pinch of an assumption that people can “understand what they are reading” (Acts 8:31), folks will continue to be unfixed.
If a discerning discipler comes along with the ability to “see Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27), and is illuminated by the Spirit, plus a pinch of common biblical sense, he will be able to see what the person needs–from a heart perspective–and walk them through their problems.
A solid discipler is like a friend who walks with you through your heart–as though you’re walking through a dimly lit dungeon. He is pointing to different things in the individual’s heart, asking questions that help them see and think about things they may know or sense, but they don’t know how to change.
Our training helps our students to think like Jesus. We don’t want to be “theological parrots” who only give sound theological advice. We must be soul surgeons. We must customize our care to the unique soul that is sitting in front of us. Your counselee may be the world’s greatest theologian, but that does not mean he knows how to connect their theology to the heart.