As a follow up to yesterday’s post on “Does the Son submit to the Father?” I thought it might be worth highlighting some of the challenges, including minefields to navigate when conversations/questions like this come up.
Here are some general challenges:
- We want to be careful to get the relationship between Biblical Exegesis, Biblical theology, Systematic Theology and church history correct.
At one extreme are those who shun any study of Systematic Theology and church history arguing that they stand by the Bible alone. The dangers in this are:
– A failure to learn from both the insights and mistakes of our forefathers.
– A naivety which misses the point that we all have a “Systematic Theology.” The choice is not between having and not having a system it is between a good system and a bad system. If we are not alert to the fact that we are operating with a system then we are not alert to the potential problems with our system.
– The benefit of having a systematic theology is that it helps us to interpret and apply Scripture consistently and not to understand one Scripture in a way that undermines the sense of another Scripture.
However, we also need to remember that church history and systematic theology are there to serve our interpretation of Scripture, not the other way around. Get this wrong and:
– We can treat people from church history as on a pedestal, putting them on a level close to or parallel to Scripture. We end up swallowing whole both the good stuff and their mistakes.
– We can end up ignoring or glossing over scripture if it doesn’t appear to fit with our system. Rather than allowing our system to dictate our interpretation, when we find a Bible passage that doesn’t fit comfortably, we do better to wrestle with it. The fault may lie with our system or with our interpretation but we should not duck the challenge.
- We want to be careful to give matters their proper importance
There are two things to watch out for here. First of all, we need to carefully identify which issues are essential to Christian faith and which are not. There are some matters that if we get them wrong, we undermine the Gospel. There are other areas that are still a matter of discussion and debate between Christians.
The second challenge is to do with relevance. On the one hand, academics can become obsessed about all sorts of obscure technical points that have no bearing on day to day church life and pastoral care. On the other hand, busy pastors can miss the significance of something because it doesn’t seem immediately relevant.
- We need to be careful about how we treat other believers when we disagree
Again, there are two risks here. Some people are afraid of breaking unity and being seen as unloving. They are reluctant to challenge or to speak ill of friends. It is hard when a friend departs from truth (I know from personal experience as I had a friend who walked away from the Gospel).
At the other extreme, there are those who have no problem with denouncing everyone they disagree with as heretics. We would do wise to distinguish between:
Heretics/ False teachers who are clearly opposed to the Gospel and by their opposition to it mark themselves out as not belonging to Christ
Christians who genuinely love the Lord but who are in serious error. We may disagree with their error and warn against it whilst continuing to love them and share fellowship. However, we would not permit them to teach and preach.
Christian Leaders who are clearly sound in the faith and competent to teach but are mistaken on a particular matter. We can challenge them on this whilst continuing to respect their gift and calling.
The problem of how we relate to each other when we disagree has been exacerbated by social media. Remember that twitter doesn’t lend itself to informed and reasoned debate, even if you have had your character quota doubled!