The Formula and our Need for a Systematic Theology

God does not fit in a formula

The problem with trying to put God  in a box i.e.. “A Formula” has been one of the greatest downfalls of the modern church.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Gideon, who God used to win a great battle.  This experience not only changed Gideon’s life, but it also helped to change the course of his nation.  Had there been Christian Bookstores in Gideon’s time, he would have undoubtedly written a book about this episode, and he might have called it something like “5 Steps to Victory with God”.  Based on his story, those steps could have been something like:

  1. Never take an angel’s word for it, always test God for yourself.
  2. Too many people being involved will rob God of the glory.
  3. God will not use people who lap up water like a dog.
  4. You do not need a sword, but always remember to bring an empty jar.
  5. The sound of trumpets & breaking glass will bring down the enemy.

Within the context of Gideon’s experience, these steps would seem pretty valid; but just because God worked within that framework, can it then be applied as the model for how God works?  While we may be able to derive some principles from Gideon’s story, it seems unlikely that God intended for this to become the model for seeing His hand move; and while that may be obvious in this example, I would suggest that our Christian Bookstores are filled with books (& other media) that have been built on much the same premise (i.e., My Experience + God Moved = This is How God Works).

While I am not saying that we should not study the ways in which God has worked in the past, I am suggesting that there is an element of our nature that wishes to find “the formula” for moving God’s hand, and that it is not necessarily a virtuous thing.  I believe this impulse is rooted in our desire to be “self-sufficient”, as opposed to being dependent on someone else (even a benevolent God).  It is much easier to memorize the formula and to insert our values into the equation, than it is to have an ongoing, dynamic relationship with a God who largely resides in another realm.  Like the children of Israel, we do not want just a day’s worth of manna, and yet the Lord knows that if He gives us provisions for a full year, He is not likely to see us again before that provision is gone.

As we develop our doctrine for how we think God works, we begin to contrive ideas about what that might look like and these “preconceived notions” often become the stumbling block that keeps us from experiencing the genuine move of God.  Just like the Pharisee’s, who had spent their entire lives studying the scripture, we search for the true manifestation of God on the earth, only to fail to recognize it when it stands before us, simply because it does not come in the way we’d imagined that it would (i.e., it doesn’t fit into our formula).  Generally, these preconceived notions will lead us to disillusionment and eventually to discouragement.

It seems as though God delights in sending His blessings in packages that challenge our way of thinking.  Gideon was the least of his family, which was the least of his tribe, which was the least of the tribes of Israel.  Jesse did not even bother sending for David when the Prophet came looking for the next King nor did he bother to send him when Israel went up against the Philistines.  What self-respecting Jew would have picked Rehab or Ruth to be in the Messiah’s lineage?  The Gospel’s are littered with stories of Jesus touching “unclean” people, of healing on the Sabbath and in which He used pagans as examples of both great faith (e.g., the Canaanite woman, the Roman Centurion…) and of being a good neighbor (e.g., the Samaritan).  If God were insecure, I am sure He would package his blessings in a more marketable format, but considering that it is faith that pleases Him, I suspect that it is never going to be exactly the way that we would expect.  Though the Jews recognized that Jesus had unusual power, authority & knowledge, it was ultimately the form in which He chose to come that they could not accept.

Within the “Post-Modern” church, I believe that at least part of our problem is rooted in the concept of “Systematic Theology”; which I would characterize as man’s attempt to put God in a context that he can understand.  The problem with that idea is that God is under no obligation to remain within that context.  While it is not wrong to have a systematic approach to teaching God’s truth (as He has revealed it to us), I believe that we veer into presumption when we attempt to apply that approach in defining who He is and how He works.  The “system” itself is comprised of the things that we as men can conceive (i.e., finite) and yet God is beyond what we can conceive (i.e., infinite).  This system generally becomes the proverbial box and despite the popular saying, God refuses to abide in it.  Ultimately it becomes the confines for those who insist on this approach to understanding God.  The scripture clearly states that our knowledge and understanding of God is partial (e.g., that we see through a glass dimly); and I’d submit that no amount of effort on our part will ever be enough to render those words untrue.  I believe that this is why Jesus said that unless we become as little children, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Mat 18:3).  Ultimately God has not called us to understand Him, but to know Him, to love Him and to trust Him.

Throughout the Old Testament we see God orchestrate victory for His people through many different means.  We see Him bring Joshua victory through Moses upheld arms; we see the walls of Jericho fall to the shouts of His wandering tribes (Joshua 6); we see the angel of death wipe out 185,000 enemy soldiers in their sleep because of Hezekiah’s prayer (2Kings 18 & 19) and we see the enemy turn on each other as Jehoshaphat leads the people onto the battlefield while praising the Lord (2Chronicles 20).  While these and many other stories may cause us to conclude that there is no formula, it occurs to me that there is a common thread, which is that in each case they trusted and obeyed.  While that sounds simple enough, we must understand that before we can trust, we must first believe and that before we can obey, we must first receive direction from the Lord.  Whenever we see God’s people seek direction from the Lord and then act in obedience to that direction, we see victory.  When we see people, who are unwilling to wait for direction & acting based on their previous experience (e.g., Israel marching against the Philistines & losing the Ark of Covenant – 1Samuel 4) we see defeat.

Though from God’s perspective I would suspect that “trust and obey” could work as a formula, I doubt that it would be very satisfying to our human nature, as it places us in a position of utter dependence on God.  Certainly, Jesus Himself gave us the most explicitly stated formula in all of scripture when He said that He didn’t do “anything” until He saw His Father in heaven do it first.  If we would adopt that kind of relationship with His Holy Spirit, trusting and obeying would be the only formula we would ever need.

By Bryan Corbin

Question: Did anything change in the New Covenant? No God is still God and He desires that our knowing Him come from a fresh relationship with Him. JLB

also Check out; David Fredrickson


  1. The problem with human thinking and understanding is that it is……….human. I often try to understand God or spiritual things from my perspective. Oops…Big oops! In the human world formulas (usually) work and reproduce results…providing there are no variables! I learned this in chemistry class. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS PERFECTLY (OR AS PERFECTLY AS A HUMAN CAN) AND 9 TIMES OUT OF 10 OR 99 TIMES OUT OF 100 YOU GET THE DESIRED OR 999 TIMES OUT OF 1000 OR…? It is the, however factor, that gets us every time. That explains my famous homemade sausage and kale soup last week. Flop, flop, flop. Why Lord????

    I think my WHY question was answered when I read the following: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

    Bottom line, you may put Betty Crocker in a box BUT…! You got it, Why? “Because God’s ways are higher – not just better or smarter but HIGHER than our human ways!!!! Of a higher creation. Of a higher order.
    of another dimension. His ways are (to quote John Denver)- “Far Out!” Although formulas may often work in the natural realm – in the realm of human thought and reason: in the higher spiritual realm doesn’t operate by formulas!!

    work by formula and i9s noty always reasonable. Ifit did work we would just go to war with pitchers and bowls or like Gideon dismiss all the troops but 200 *after the drinking test)!Spiritual ways cannot be boxed and sold, although many leading Christian authorities have worked overtime to convince us of

    Here’s what I have discovered. Here’s how I think it works according to scripture:

    Ask, knock, pray fro0m the heart.

    I’m reminded of that old hymn (yea I’m an old guy). It goes, “Trust and obey for there’s not other way.
    You can follow the four steps above or if you’re not a good dancer try the two step: Trust & Obey.

    It’s just that simple. Step one…Step 2.