A Exhortation to My Readers

Posted: June 7, 2011 in Theologababble

              One of the functions of my role as a student pastor is that of a teacher. From my experiences both as a professional student in a university and two seminaries, as well as a teacher to my youth group, I have found that teachers typically fit one of two molds: one style is to present a block of information and attempt, over the course of a semester or two, to have the student retain as much of that knowledge as possible. This style is necessary in many fields, such as biology or nursing. The other style devotes more time to the theory behind the fact, so that at the end of the teaching period the student is able to use his or her own brain to discover knowledge. You would see this style employed in the social sciences, music, and culinary fields. You will also find it in my youth group.

            While I am a firm believer in presenting a body of knowledge (i.e., the Bible) to my students, I am also convinced that unless they use their minds to form, understand, and grasp their own theology, their faith will never be as strong as it could be. For that reason I push my students, I encourage friendly debate, and I will sometimes play the Devil’s Advocate (no pun intended) in our group discussions. When the conversation winds down, we see what God’s say in the matter is, and from that we draw out principles for us to follow in that given area of interest.

            Some areas of theology are crystal clear. The Messianic identity Christ, for example, is not disputed among Christians. If you do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, you are not a Christian. Don’t believe that, read 1 John 2:22. Other areas are not so crystal clear. Speaking in tongues is in the Bible, so it’s ok to do it now too, right? Not so fast, cowboy. See, what needs to be determined in the course of answering that question is this: what did speaking in tongues mean, why was it done, who did it, what were the rules established for the practice, and what does the Bible say about the continuation of the practice? The answer that one arrives at in the course of their study will lead them into one of several positions: (1) let’s do it, (2) don’t do it, and (3) still don’t know! I am pretty convinced that my position is right; others are equally convinced that they are right. It’s an argument that has raged for some time. The sad reality is that these differences in interpretation of Scripture are why the body of Christ resides within hundreds and thousands of different denominations.

            I say all of that to say this: some of what I teach is purposefully inflammatory, to a small degree (pun intended!). I do this because I want you to engage your brain. I will never knowledgeably teach heresy as the truth, but I am also aware that my understanding of Scripture is not inerrant or infallible. You are welcome to disagree with me, but I do not want you to simply say, “Well I disagree because I believe differently, and I’m right and you’re wrong!” This is narrow-mindedness, and it’s a reaction typical of those who know what they believe, but not why they believe it. Few Christians know exactly what they believe in all areas of theology; fewer still can take the Bible and show you why they believe it.

            Here’s another gentle admonition, as well: if your theology is based on one verse in the entire Bible, it’s a weak theology. I’m not saying it’s wrong, because it may be right, but it’s weak. It’s too easy for someone disagreeing with you to whip out a larger arsenal that disproves, on the surface, your verse. Here’s a perfect example. Someone had written on my chalkboard this week the phrase “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” My question to the students milling around was this: “Where would you go in the Bible to see that Jesus loves you?” Most had no clue where to begin, but one was able to come up to me and show me John 3:16, which says that “God loved the world.” So I kindly went to John 7:7 where Jesus says “the world hates me.” My question to him was, “Does ‘world’ in John 7:7 mean the entire global human population?” Of course it didn’t. So why would it mean that in John 3:16? And then I took him to Psalm 5:5, where we see that God “hates all evildoers.” Perhaps I was trying to give him a drink of water from a fire hydrant, but I wanted to show him what happens when our beliefs are not based on a myriad of Bible verses operating in harmony with one another, but rather on an individual passage. I ended our conversation with a discussion on what love and hate mean, along with 1 John 4:8, which teaches that God is love, and though there may be perhaps different levels of this love (think about Jesus and the beloved disciple, John), it would be wrong to say that God does not, in some way, love His entire creation- even those who are the objects of His hatred. Easily understood? Not really. Truth contained in the Bible? Certainly.

            The point to this article is this: you are welcome to disagree with my theology, but I challenge you to use God’s word, not one or two debatable passages, to frame your counter-argument. Simply disagreeing does you no good if you do not know why you disagree. With access to the internet, your resources are vast and varied. Study with discretion, but study, study, study!

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