This approach to the minister's life of study brings a godly sense of balance. Our central aim is to know God, and the aim of our ministry is to lead our people to know God also. The other aspects of knowledge are useful only in so far as they lead us into a deeper knowledge of God. A healthy theological education inculcates a deeper love for God, even as the minister grows in the knowledge of God's Word and the comprehensiveness of God's truth.

Studying God's Word

Paul's instruction to Timothy was very clear. The young minister was to study in order that he would be found "rightly handling the word of truth" [2 Timothy 2:15]. A deep and growing knowledge of God's Word is the indispensable ground of all other true knowledge.

Put simply, the preacher is to be a devoted and skillful student of the Scriptures. This is the most important field of knowledge for the preacher, for his primary task is to preach the Word "in season and out of season," [2 Timothy 4:2] and to teach God's people from God's Word.

Clearly, this strategic call represents a stewardship of truth, of souls, and of calling. Failure in this task is beyond tragedy, and the consequences are eternal. God has given us his Word and has commanded that we preach the Bible with skill, even as Ezra was "a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses" [Ezra 7:6].

This requires skill in the tasks of biblical interpretation, hermeneutics, exegesis, biblical languages, and the history of interpretation. This is a demanding calling, but nothing less than the most serious life of study will do. Those who can gain access to Bible colleges and theological seminaries that are biblically and theologically orthodox and faithful should take full advantage of these opportunities--knowing that this is a matter of faithfulness to our calling. At the same time, we must remember that many faithful preachers never had access to formal theological education. Yet, if they were faithful, they were no less studious or committed to a life of godly learning.

The centrality of the Bible is essential. As Charles Spurgeon encouraged his students: "Study the Bible, dear brethren, through and through, with all the helps that you can possibly obtain: remember that the appliances now within the reach of ordinary Christians are much more extensive than they were in our fathers' days, and therefore you must be greater biblical scholars if you would keep in front of your hearers. Intermeddle with all knowledge, but above all things meditate day and night in the law of the Lord."

If this was true in Spurgeon's time, it is even more so in ours. The preacher must be more knowledgeable and more skilled than his congregation. Spurgeon's other emphasis--that the knowledge of the Bible exceeds all other forms of knowledge in importance--also takes on a new urgency in our times. While there are many fields of knowledge and intellectual stimulation to which we could give our attention, we must keep ourselves first and foremost students of the Bible.

Learning God's Truth

A true theological education stands on the unquestioned authority and truthfulness of the Bible and then moves to display that truth in all its comprehensiveness and to apply that truth to every dimension of life. Thus, the fields of systematic theology, historical theology, ethics, church history, and other theological disciplines all play their part in the preparation of the preacher.

A resistance to systematic theology reflects a lack of discipline or a lack of confidence in the consistency of God's Word. We are to set out the great doctrines of the faith as revealed in the Bible--and do so in a way that helps to bring all of God's truth into a comprehensive focus. The preacher must be ready to answer the great questions of his age from the authoritative treasury of God's truth, and to teach, defend, and proclaim the faith "once for all delivered to the saints" [Jude 3].