Four Knows for Talkin’ Theology

Writing blog entries about theology seems so easy on the surface. Identify a particular point or doctrine that you want to share, defend, or critique and lay out your thoughts. The thesis can be drawn from Scripture, a systematic, or the writings of another theologian followed by an explanation of the position that the writer wishes to stake. The words that underscore that position can be the author’s own or quotes/texts pulled from other sources and cited. All of this is well and good, but theology is not the same as discussing baseball, it has life altering implications.

image Because theology concerns God, we who choose to write on the topic have a responsibility that goes far beyond the ethic of the normal social contract. Theology impacts lives even when it is unstated and has become a cultural norm. Before we defend, critique, or even propose a specific theological construct or an entire framework, we must consider the impact of our position in light of its impact on God’s people. We are not operating in a vacuum where these beliefs and behaviors affect no one, a fact that we need to carefully consider before pushing the first words out into the cybersphere.

While I’m certain that I have exhibited a disregard for each of these at some point in my time as a theologian (and we’re all theologians), here are four rules that I try to apply to anything I do in this sphere, whether it is writing here or for publication, in preaching, and in the way I live out the theology. You might find them helpful as well or may have some additions that we can all utilize.

Know Your Theology Beyond Proof Texts

God did not limit his revelation to specific texts in the Scriptures. The first rule in theology is to consider every doctrine or position in light of the entirety of God’s revelation. Though you may disagree with his theology, Wesley utilized what has been labeled his Quadrilateral as a way of studying and organizing his understanding. This included the use of the complete Scripture (OT & NT), Tradition in the form of church history and the Spirit’s movement, Reason in the form of rational thinking and sensible interpretation, and Experience in examining a Christian’s personal and communal journey in Christ. Proof texting often fails to consider the ever widening circles of context and more often than not, another text can be found to show the point in a different light.

Know Any Theology That You Are Going to Label as Incorrect

I am less and less surprised at the number of critiques that I encounter in which the author rails against a certain theology or doctrine by using caricatures or incorrect representations of the belief (this happens with political discussion as well.) Before taking a critical position, we must have a relatively thorough and accurate knowledge of the development, the scriptures, and the persons involved in the doctrine we critique. If we rely on the opinions of others or a surface deep understanding of the doctrine, knowing only that it differs from our own, we do not serve God well in simply creating dissent among the body. Worse yet, we promulgate a shallow belief system that risks getting adopted by others. As an example, survey the number of times that Mormonism is declared heretical by an author who does not know the history of belief system or how many times Arminian belief is associated with Pelagius.

Know the Practical Application of Your Theology

All theology is practical. Every aspect of God has some effect on His relationship with His people. We are incorrect to treat theology as separate from life. The doctrines and beliefs that we hold are meant to affect our lives in practical ways, shaping the way in which we interact with the world, other people, and God himself. Arguing the different views of Atonement is one thing but how often do we think about the practical impact of believing the Penal substitution view against the Ransom, Moral Influence, Example, or Governmental positions? Each of these beliefs has a different impact on the worldview of the believer and how he or she interacts with God and the world.

Know God

This would seem to go without saying but it is so easy to find ourselves devoting enormous energy to knowing about God and less and less time knowing God. I can express my thoughts about my wife and child very well because I know them intimately. I have a deep relationship with each of them and have lived in close proximity for many, many years. Writing about your family would be much different because I can know only what you let me know or I can observe for myself. The same applies to those who choose to write about God; we must know Him intimately. We must be in tight relationship with Him and His Spirit. Not only will the Spirit guide our work but will also help us in withdrawing from battles that our worldly reactive side would choose to engage.

God bless each and every one of you who furthers the work of the kingdom in your writing and thinking. If I’ve missed or misstated something, I’ll look forward to reading your suggestions.

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