Now to quantify what topics to cover, under what assumptions, in the quest for a universally applied, basic foundational grounding.
The most basic groundwork must be two pronged, the Sovereignty of God and the Inerrancy of Scripture. Some faith groups who propose type of training start with these two items as givens, and proceed to build upon them. That can be problematic. Since these two fundamental concepts are so important for all subsequent study, they should be addressed at the start in a reasonably exhaustive way. Also, if believers are later challenged, these two tenents of the faith are often the root of a challenge. Thus, a basic apologetic knowledge of them will prove very useful.
For the Sovereignty of God, a guided Scriptural survey plus some exerpts from authors such as Pink, Packer, Boettner or similar would certainly be a solid beginning. The emphasis, however, should fall to Scripture, since absolute sovereignty is layed out not only explicitly but in both the individual and national lives described in both the Old and New Testaments. For Biblical inerrancy, a review of the major proofs with a bibliography of associated works should suffice. The key is to provide sufficient support in each individual case that the inidividual has cofidence in themselves and a set of references that can be consulted as the need arises. As we proceed to other tenents of the faith it is critical that there be no doubt concerning these basics and that this confidence be based upon direct scriptural observation. As such, the degree of investigation and material may vary from person to person.
Quite some time ago the post The Word in your Heart, addressed the ongoing value of Scripture memorization and rehearsal. I would submit that there is a place for that here. This is not to say that huge numbers of verses should be commited to memory, but a small number of key verses that related to the main concepts and doctrines would be instructive.
For basic theology, with the assumption that the Sovereignty and Inerrancy issues have been cover, a treatment of the Doctrines of Grace would provide a solid base. Again, this does not have to be exhaustive, but a few hours on the appropriate ideas and associated Scriptures would be appropriate. This would likely also lead to profitable discussion.
Doctrine will likely be somewhat more denominationally specific. In most Protestant and related denominations there are both Confessions of Faith and associated Catechisms available that express most doctrinal concepts well. Although an appreciation of the Confession of Faith is good, the Catechism is likely the best tool for methodically examining the basic ideas and their Scriptural basis. A detailed walk through the Catechism and some of the more pertinent references would be very profitable for this topic. Peripherally, those interested could compare the differences with the Catechisms of closely related denominations.
There are likely many other items that could be included since this is admittedly an ‘off the cuff’ outline, but with that in mind we will forge ahead (just thinking about it won’t get it done). As already discussed, all of the following items assume not only the presentation of the tenent, but solid Scriptural support and explanation. So, to summarize:
1. Sovereignty of God
2. Inerrancy of Scripture
3. Bible verses to memorize
Two options a.) a small number (12) or b.) an optional 52 verse, 1 year program
4. The Doctrines of Grace
5. Basic demonimational Confession of Faith, including brief history
6. Detailed walk through of the associated catechism
Then, after this grounding
7. A review of the particular church statement of faith in light of what has been covered.
This outline is the initial syllabus of a Basic Tenents of the Faith program that would be of great benefit to almost all believers, whether new or in review. It is highly probably that most, almost all, church members (and adherents) would be surprised by the amount learned and the deepening of conviction experienced.
From the organizational point of view there are other benefits. A higher general level of literacy in these areas stimulates more discussion of, and focus on, the Lord’s work. After all, much of material was likely completely unknown before this exercise. Also, though discussion can be challenging at times, focus on the church vision and beliefs will result in clarity.
There must be a catch, right? And of course there is indeed a catch. Actually there are two catches.
The first is the usual requirement for will and effort. The usual trolley of excuses about lack of resources (mostly financial) is often rolled out, but this is a complete red herring (smoke screen). The real question is around effort, which always stems from seeing the need of change. The financial resource requirements are minimal.
The second catch is more difficult in today’s church environment. It is always seductive to avoid these issue completely by assuming that congregants are literate in foundational matters and to focus on more high profile, more overtly productive, programs that have more flash. This has never been more true than in today’s church, though admittedly this may always have been the case (I wasn’t around 50, 100 or more years ago). To motivate action, a need must be more than passingly acknowledged as of good, or even enduring, value. In today’s church it must often show benefit, often in the short term, in order to compete for sustained leadership attention. Biblical, foundational, theological and doctrinal literacy are not overly flashy. They do not usually produce tangible surface benefits that are quantifiable in the short term or from minimal effort. However, they do not require significant financial resources, and need not detract significantly from other endeavours. They do, however, require leadership commitment over at least the medium term. This can be a serious challenge in today’s now environment where results are more often than not judged sooner rather than later. Nonetheless, they are the underpinnings of the future, and in my opinion of much greater importance than many other more visible activities.
Let us close this article with a reference back to the series of articles Witness for the Lord, concering evangelism. With the combination of the present issue and that of basic evangelism, we have a two pronged proposal for foundational rejuvenation. The present discussion complements that of evangelism training in that it provides not only the basis for enduring personal conviction, but very useful apologetic knowledge.
Let us move forward grounded in Christ, convicted in the Word and its meaning, and secure in sharing the only news that is of true significance, as we wait another day for His return.