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Theological Entrenchment: Righter than Thou

224px-High_striker3If I went to school to study mathematics, I’d (hopefully) be receiving the same education wherever I went. Maybe I’d study different techniques, but they should lead me to the same sums. It’s been said that mathematics is the universal language. Why isn’t faith?

As a Calvin student, am I going to get the same education that I receive from Olivet?  If I attend Bob Jones University, will I come away with the same perspective I’d get from Fuller? It’s interesting that we’re often being educated away from speaking a common language and toward theological entrenchment.

People go to a variety of different Christian schools and come out believing dramatically different things. The interesting thing is they also believe that their perspective is the most biblically accurate.

Imagine theological understanding as a “test your strength” carnival game. If ringing the bell equates to being 100% correct in all your theology, how high do you have to  hit the counter weight to go to heaven? How high do you have to hit the counter weight to commune with Christ? 100%? 80%? 20%?

Now here’s the big question: How well do you think that you do on the theological “test your strength” game? Historically speaking, the people who’d mark themselves the highest have done the most damage. In my own life, the people who’d score themselves the highest are often the most insufferable.

Here are some questions that come to mind when I think through this issue:

  • How many of my beliefs are culturally and paternally influenced?
  • Is it possible to believe something and not feel threatened by people who believe differently?
  • If I’m wrong about something, how likely is it that I’d hear and accept a contrary interpretation?
  • If we’ve accepted something wrong culturally and biblically in the past (slavery), how likely is it that we’re wrong in areas now?

Please leave me a comment and share your thoughts!

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. sampsonb #

    I think it’s pretty likely we’re wrong this very minute about some things. Take, for instance my awesome mullet. I’ll bet someday I’ll look back at this helmet hair and be terribly embarrassed…

    October 18, 2012
  2. uberd4v3 #

    Timely post. I had an “insufferable” experience tonight when—after I had told the person that I *am* a Christian—a relative stranger felt compelled to quiz me about my beliefs to make sure they were the right ones.

    I’m sorry for the times in my youth when I was “that guy”…

    October 18, 2012
    • Oh Dave, I want to hear this story. What was the proper Christian criteria?

      October 19, 2012
  3. Hey. I like your blog. Is theological trench-building just a sign of fallen attempts to think ‘our’ group (and therefore ourself) is superior to others? One version of having a great big log in your eye? I’m wary of doing professional Bible studies for this reason – the temptation to think myself superior due to my knowledge. Instead I’d like to use the Bible for one thing – to hear God specifically in my own life. Jesus wanted us as one, and to do that, we can’t see ourselves as superior to others.

    October 19, 2012
    • Therein lies the rub Lilies. The Scriptures are there for our edification and because of that there will always be a temptation to misuse them. I want to know them better, but that puts me in the position of having to wrestle with my pride.

      But that’s the same with prayer or any other areas of spiritual formation. The disciplines I use to grow closer to Christ will always be opportunities to puff myself up and place myself above others.

      October 19, 2012
      • Yep I agree. It’s a bit of a battle for me at the moment too. The pride / vainglory does expose who I’m doing things for though, so it’s helpful in that regard!

        October 20, 2012
  4. All I know is that there is so much I don’t know its scary. I see too many Christians out there SO sure they are right but appear to be so wrong. What I do know is this. I try to talk to God and Jesus everyday. If only to thank them but usually to ask for forgiveness for all that I did wrong. I wake up and ask for guidance in all that I do. I am no Biblical scholar but I think you can see the light shining in the people doing it right. It attracts you to them and those people never seem to be the ones shoving it down your throat. They are living it. Doing those little things and living with integrity that proves to me that Jesus is alive in us. So I try to be that person, but I have a long way to go. I have come an awfully long way from where I was though, so thanks to Jesus maybe I can help someone else.

    October 19, 2012
    • I hear you Mike. Everyone longs for significance and sadly, the easiest way to do it in Christianity is to be the arbiter of truth. If people see me as being someone who has more arcane knowledge, then I become extremely important.

      It was a trap for the pharisees and it’s a trap for us.

      October 19, 2012
  5. Michelle D #

    My sister is in college right now and attending a history class, and somehow Adam and Eve are part of history? Well it’s a bate switch thing, they tell her this so they can then challenge her belief and press her. She is too young to be able to defend, or even really stand for her own faith. Long story, she has been courted by them and asked to go into their office for more questions and answers. They seem so eager to teach her and show her how her faith has no stands at all. I am going to learn how to teach my kids to stay strong in their own belief, I don’t have much time for this, but the time I have I need to focus on this exact matter.

    The traps are set folks.

    October 19, 2012
  6. Faith is personal in that I must acknowledge my state of abject, utter sin, realize that I am helpless and hopeless to correct it on my own, and then accept the astonishing grace & forgiveness offered to me by the wondrous Son of the Living God — Jesus Christ. I put my personal faith in Him, and trust Him wholly for my salvation. My faith, without the accompanying works that give evidence to a present and ongoing relationship with him (and full of fear of trembling), is personal. But faith is also corporate. I join a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ who have gone before, ‘preaching the Gospel.’ The commission includes the outrageous task of ‘making disciples of all nations, TEACHING THEM TO OBEY EVERYTHING [Jesus] commanded. What we obey doesn’t exist on a slide rule. It doesn’t shift with the cultural tide. The fulfillment of the Law does not abolish it. The Law uncovers our desperation. Competing doctrines further demonstrate our desperate straits. Still. I never see Him suggesting that we get to believe whatever we prefer. The most exclusive claims Christ makes are the ones that give us the strongest heart palpitations. One faith, one hope, one God and Father of all. One Truth, one Way, one Life. Put our faith in that? Well, has He given us any other option? Christ doesn’t suggest that paternal or cultural mores dictate belief — he has strong admonition for the Pharisees who depended on their traditions and desired to regulate their way into the kingdom. He doesn’t suggest that, if I’m wrong about something, I seek out others who think like I do, or look to political, religious, cultural majorities to measure myself against. He instructs that I look to Him. He is the same — yesterday, today, forever — His ways (not like our ways) are not subject to whim, as mine are inclined to be. I may not like what He has to say, but that doesn’t give me an out to disregard it. When He said “love your enemy” He actually meant it. (I’m not a fan — it’s much easier to hate those with whom I have great disagreement than it is to love them).

    The responsibility of the Church is to be the salt and light. Like Mike says — it’s living with integrity. Living humbly. Living in relationship w/ the Lord — seeking His will before my own, studying His Word, putting others before myself, helping those in need, praying for wisdom, seeking forgiveness for all of the ways I fall short and repenting of those shortcomings. Living redeemed. Living the Good News. A tall order, to be sure. But the best thing about THAT is this: It’s not me who does it anyway. It’s Christ, alive in me, doing all the things I cannot/would not do on my own. The life surrendered to Christ far surpasses a life hindered by arguments about doctrinal superiority. His doctrine is revealed in the Word. The more time we spend in it, the less time we have for the division that mars the cause of Christ, which is always to free the captives, trapped in their sin. I can put my faith in that.

    October 21, 2012
    • Thanks for the response Becky; there’s a lot here I agree with. Here’s a couple things that come to mind as I read your response:

      1. “The commission includes the outrageous task of ‘making disciples of all nations, TEACHING THEM TO OBEY EVERYTHING [Jesus] commanded. What we obey doesn’t exist on a slide rule. It doesn’t shift with the cultural tide. The fulfillment of the Law does not abolish it.”

      I don’t know many people who believe that obedience exists on a slide rule. I have a lot of friends, however, from a myriad of traditions who interpret and emphasize things differently than I do, each one believing that they are obeying Jesus’ commands.

      2. “Christ doesn’t suggest that paternal or cultural mores dictate belief.”

      Of course he doesn’t. No one is suggesting that he does, but it doesn’t change the fact that it happens. If you were raised by Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church you would be given a specific set of lenses with which you would read and interpret the Scriptures. These lenses would be extremely rigid and harsh. Your ability to read the Scriptures in any other fashion would be compromised because [in your mind] your very salvation is predicated on your narrow [faithful] interpretation. On some level, we all are influenced by our background and culture, and because we’re seeing through a lens, we don’t always see it for what it is. We might not see the lens we read Scripture through, but it is coloring the way we see Scripture. We aren’t doomed to it, but it’s a factor that affects us all.

      3. “I never see Him suggesting that we get to believe whatever we prefer.”

      Again, I am certainly not suggesting this is the case—nor do I honestly know anyone who does. I have many intelligent, educated, and incredibly well-intentioned friends who believe different things regarding eschatology, eternal security, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, charismatic gifts, creation, atonement, and sanctification (to name a few).

      These are people who’s beliefs are scripturally based and who want nothing more than to be faithful to Christ and his Word. I don’t agree with all of them, but not one of them is just believing what they would prefer.

      Those were a couple things that came to mind when I read your thoughtful comments. For the most part, I agree with you. Thanks for your response Becky.

      October 21, 2012
  7. Hi Jayson — you know, the minute after I hit the reply button to your post, I popped over to my own blog to bemoan the worry that comes after hitting a reply button. I have encountered believers falling on opposing sides of what many would say are crucial issues of ‘faith.’ Theistic evolutionists face off against staunch literal 6 day creationists. There are those who say that Christ speaks no definitive word about homosexuality and those who contend against that. And don’t even get started on the thorny issue of ‘election.’ Too often, we’re looking through an awfully dim mirror. I expect only the Spirit will illumine the dark places, and we need to remember to invite Him in to do just that. I forget far more often than I remember. Thanks for being gracious!! 🙂 Blessings to you!

    October 21, 2012
    • I wasn’t being gracious; you made valuable and thoughtful points. I appreciated the investment you made in sharing them!

      October 21, 2012
  8. Well. Intended or no, gracious still fits. and now, I will stop clogging your discussion thread. Thanks for giving folks something worthy of consideration.

    October 21, 2012

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