Here I am on a Monday night and my internet is not working. With five classes going on at the same time, that means trouble. So what do I do? Write a post about something that’s been on my mind.
I think we’ve all been in conversations that go like this: “This is my position and here is the evidence for it.” “Yea well, I don’t like your position or your arguments.” The ad hominem isn’t there; this is more about the weakness of not liking the evidence but showing nothing in return.
This is particularly prevalent in Christian circles and about theology. Like it or not, we are all, in some ways, a product of our environment. If you grew up attending a Presbyterian Church, for example, you would probably have definitive positions on infant baptism and predestination, although you might not know exactly why you hold to those things. Transversely, if you grew up in going to a Pentecostal Church, you might hold the doctrine of the gifts of the Spirit in high regard. I have my own positions on these issues and more.
Where we run into trouble is holding dogmatically to such positions without a good reason. What seems to be the case in Christian circles today is the ability to engage in an argument/discussion without significant evidence to counter the opinion at hand.
Some people believe that I am ardently inflexible when it comes to matters of theology. This, however, is not accurate. I hold to certain positions because I believe the evidence found in the Bible holds sway over other interpretations. If you can provide an argument that is convincing, I may join your side.
Let us work through this logically: if there is a god, then we would only know he was there if he revealed himself to us. As Christians, we believe not only that there is a God, but He has revealed Himself to us in two ways: first, through the created things (Rom 1:18-20) and second through His revelation in scripture. This is how we know God.
From God’s revelation, we can then examine what God wants us to know about the created world. For example, you don’t have to travel far in the Bible to know what it says about sin (see Genesis chapter 3). If we wanted to see what the entire Bible said about sin and synthesize it, we would be practicing systematic theology.
My argument is that many Christians in the world are oblivious to how doctrines are formed and how they relate to the entire Bible. Part of this rests on interpretation. Opponents of a certain doctrine will find one verse and decry it as the death knell for the doctrine you are purporting. Well, it is more complicated than this because biblical interpretation is not an easy task. The advantages of systematic theology is that it takes into consideration what the entire Bible says about a particular doctrine. This is useful in determining which doctrine is correct. You are not simply holding fast to one verse in the Bible to support your argument; rather, you are viewing the Bible in its entirety to determine which doctrine is supported throughout it.
We can run into more problems with this. One might ask, “What about verses that seem to contradict?” This question is probably asked more because of a misunderstanding of what a particular verse says than a contradiction. But even still, we have to remember that God is outside of conventional human wisdom. We should study these things with a loose grip on our own position to approach it objectively as possible. When we let our biases take control, then we read into the inspired word more then is there and we run into significant problems.
Which is really the purpose of me writing this: we need to approach the Bible, and theology in general, with the intention of finding the truth, not what we want the truth to be. Too many times I’ve engaged in discussions with people who say things like “I don’t think that’s right” but have nothing to offer in rebuttal. This goes back to our conditioning as Christians: we live life in a particular Church and subconsciously (or consciously) absorb their particular brand of Christianity. That is the antithesis of objectivity.
Dr. David Wells has argued in his book, “No Place For Truth” and “The Courage to be Protestant” that the biggest thread missing from American Christianity today is the absence of a strong theological foundation. Throughout Church history, one can look and see the legacy left by men like St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and others. These men were committed to the study of the word of God and held fast to their convictions not because they were ignorant of the truth, but because they studied the word day and night. They were grounded in on a foundation of theology.
We, too, need to recapture this tradition.
As American Christians, we live in a society that praises spirituality but looks down upon academic religiosity. We are so inclined to believe in doctrines that make us feel good and less inclined to be studious as the Bereans were to do our research, questioning if this is truly from God. We shy away from contentious debate as if our cry for unity is more important than the truth. If our position holds little weight biblically, it should be rejected. If it stands the test of the systematic study of the Bible, we can be fairly sure that it is within the scope of the revelation of God as proper and true.