What Has Our Theological Focus Group Been Up To?
In January 2023 many of the men in our church began participating in a series of assigned readings and meetings which we call Theological Focus Group.
The aim of this cohort has been twofold. First, the near and ultimate aim is for us to grow in our overall theological understanding and devotion to Christ. Second, the far aim is to develop men who will eventually emerge as Christlike and theologically mature leaders in our church. In short then, Theological Focus Group aims at discipleship and elder-training.
What have we been studying over the past 8 months? I thought I would share that with you to give you a sense of the theological understanding we are striving promote in general and in the future elders of our church particularly.
Meeting 1: Spiritual Diligence
Our first focus was spiritual diligence. This broke down into two sub-categories: 1) spiritual disciplines 2) and intentional living. We read Habits of Grace, which gave us a better grasp of the necessity and nature of the spiritual disciplines, and Do More Better which helped give us sense for how to intentionally order our lives in a God-centered way.
On the strength of that reading, I asked the men to develop a personal Rule of Life. Here's an example of what one might look like:
Wake up @ 6
Bible reading (2 OT; 2 NT; 1 Ps)
Family devotion after dinner
Pray with wife before bed
Attend Sunday worship service
Attend Wednesday study
Meet with one fellow member
Spiritual detox day (no phone, fast, read, pray
Areas of Responsibility
Meeting 2: Cultivating Holiness
The following month we shifted our focus from the spiritual disciplines to the internal cultivation of holiness. Virtues such as faith, humility, and self-control are formed from within, and are necessary facets of our discipleship to Christ. Jerry Bridges’ classic Pursuit of Holiness was a humble and probing read that helped us examine ourselves on a deeper level.
I asked the men to use this book to surface weak areas in their spiritual lives and - having brought them to the surface of their consciousness - to make a list of 5-10 self-examination questions to review periodically. Here is an example of self-examination questions that John Wesley's Holy Club would ask themselves daily.
Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
Did the Bible live in me today?
See all 22 of Wesley's Holy Club questions here.
Meetings 3 & 4: Biblical Theology
During the following two months we turned our attention to Biblical Theology (the study of the unity of the Old and New Testaments). We read Graeme Goldsworthy's excellent treatment of the subject entitled According to Plan.
I suspect this was the most challenging (laborious?) read for the group. However, while the book does demand to be read with full attention, it repays the careful reader with a an exponentially deeper grasp of the Bible's unity, structure, and message. The reader will be well on his or her way to being a scribe trained for the Kingdom (Matthew 13:52).
We also read the small (free) booklet called Prophetic from the Center which is a concise explication of the gospel's message. From that reading, I asked the men to develop a one to two sentence definition of the gospel. Since the word "gospel" means good news, their definition had to answer two questions: 1) What is the news? 2) Why is the news good? Most of the definitions given were admirably precise and theologically accurate.
Meeting 5: True Conversion
The next month we focused on the nature of true conversion to Christ. We read the little book called Conversion: How God Creates a People.
Without question, this was Gary's favorite book! And for good reason. The book clearly and boldly describes what a true Christian looks like and what the aim of the church is in disciple-making. A quick look at the table of contents is stimulating enough:
Chapter 1: New, Not Nice: The Necessity of Regeneration
Chapter 2: Saved, Not Sincere: God's Work, Not Ours
Chapter 3: Disciples, Not Decisions: The Character of Our Response
Chapter 4: Holy, Not Healed: Implications for the Christian Life
Chapter 5: Distinct, Not Designed: Implications for the Corporate Life of the Church
Chapter 6: Summon, Don't Sell: Implications for Our Evangelism
Chapter 7: Assess Before You Assure: Implications for Ministry
Chapter 8: Charitable, Not Chary: The Danger of an Overly Pure Church
The converts we pray to produce at our church are regenerate disciples who strive for holiness, can clearly communicate the gospel, and who are aware of their own sin. This book helped clarify those aims.
Meeting 6: Elder-led Congregationalism
In our last meeting we considered our church polity. We read the short book called Understanding the Congregation’s Authority by Jonathan Leeman.
This book helped us think through why we believe the final human court of appeal in our church belongs to the members, why church membership is vital, and why church discipline is necessary.
All of these meetings brought us to August. In total our group read 8 books, completed 4 theological assignments, met in 4 different houses, and had 6 meetings at which we ate tasty and fattening breakfasts. Marvelous!
May the Lord apply this learning to the life of our church. The next cohort is scheduled to begin January 2024.