The above graphic is a simple sketch based on something I regularly draw on the board in my theology classes. I teach Theology One at Cedarville University, which is one of the five classes that make up the Bible minor that all students are required to take. I cover the doctrinal areas of Scripture (God’s Word), God, and Creation (God’s World).

The order I teach the course in is the standard order that most conservative schools would teach theology― for good reason. Orthodoxy flows in this direction. We begin with Scripture and base our understanding of God on Scripture. Our understanding of Creation (including our view of humanity) flows from these fundamental truths founded in God’s revelation of himself.

My goal is to get my students to think about these three big categories of Scripture, God, and Creation. That’s why I start each section with something thought provoking, often from an alternative perspective. For example, I begin my section on Scripture with a debate about the Bible between apologist James White and well known critic of the Bible, Bart Ehrman. At the end of each section students turn in a paper that summarizes why they believe what they believe on the given topic (I call them “why” papers).

I try to show my students that orthodoxy is found in the stream flowing from Scripture. If we begin the other way around then we will start with our own lived experience and from that construct our view of God. We will then use our view of God ― based on our own experience ― as a lens through which to read Scripture.

Often people will eventually give up Scripture altogether and just hold to their view of God grounded in experience. They do this because their view of God no longer has any resemblance to the God found in the pages of the Bible. There are some understandable reasons why it might seem attractive to do theology starting from the self and working out to Scripture.

When we have really big things that happen to us or those we love, we can be tempted to edit God to better explain the situation, particularly if we can’t reconcile the Bible with our experience. We then retread our view of Scripture to fit our new understanding of God. This is how we end up recreating God in our own image.

The biblical word for this process is idolatry.

If God is there and he is not silent then that means we are under the authority of his revelation. In other words, he sets the narrative for who he is and for who we are. And the beautiful thing is God is a far better author and has a far better story than we could ever come up with on our own. As the Psalmist said, God’s Word is sweeter than honey and more precious than gold.