Archives For Theology

The Office Sumo SuitsIt doesn’t. Not always. Not often, even. It seems that the more we know, the more condescending we become. We study the Bible to gain theological insight, then we set out to prove other people wrong. Theology becomes ammunition for debate rather than food for our soul. Rather than allowing God’s truth to shape our souls, we use it to sharpen our insults.

But listen to what Paul says about all of this:

“I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”

These are powerful words. Don’t think of yourself too highly. Love other people, find ways to honor them, bless even your enemies, hang out with the outcasts. Don’t even begin to think that you’ve become wise.

But here’s what I find most compelling about Paul’s statements here: Paul says all of this in Romans 12. Which means that this comes immediately after Romans 1–11 (deep, I know).

In Romans 1–11, Paul lays out some of the most detailed, profound, and tightly reasoned theology in the whole Bible. Several intense theological debates are drawn from interpreting these chapters. But in Romans 12, Paul tells us how to behave in light of the theology he has just described. These statements in Romans 12 are the practical outworking of the theology of Romans 1–11.

We seem to think Romans 12 reads like this:

“I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, in light of everything I have said, oppose those who disagree with your interpretation of these things. Question their intelligence, avoid listening carefully to their arguments. Be strong and insensitive in this, for in putting them down you show yourself to be great in the kingdom of heaven.”

But, of course, Paul didn’t write that. So we shouldn’t act as though he did. When Paul laid out his most complex theological argument, he explained that it ought to lead us to humility. It should cause us to worship, not argue. It should cause us to love our opponents, not slander them. It should increase our unity, not undermine it.

Theology is not more important than unity, nor should we promote unity at the expense of theology. Rather, theology ought to lead us to unity. Paul seems to think that theology produces humility. Perhaps we need to become more passionate about theology—not just its intellectual contours, but its practical implications as well.

Josh Grauman spent the last two blogs critiquing my previous three blogs on the future temple, and I must say that Josh is clearly wrong. He needs to retake Hermeneutics 101 because he obviously didn’t pass it the first time. He should also sit in on an Ezekiel class (taught by me, the guardian of truth) in order to re-study this book. I don’t know which “Ezekiel” he’s reading, but it’s not the one in my Bible. Jesus said that we (!!) are the temple, not some stupid cristians yellingbuilding. If Josh wants to go off and sacrifice animals at some millennial temple, then fine. He can take my knife. The rest of us will be enjoying the New Jerusalem, the real temple, and not diminishing the atoning work of Christ as Josh has done. I’m not saying that Josh isn’t a Christian. He probably still loves Jesus. But I can’t believe they let him teach at a college, a Bible college, when he obviously doesn’t know how to read the Bible!

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, some Christians actually talk like this in heated theological debates—most often when dropping drive-by comments in blogs and Facebook posts. The fact that some of you may not have caught the satirical nature of that paragraph only proves the depressing point. It’s one of the most unbelievable aspects of “Christian” blogging and commenting that people tear into each other like wild dogs with little self-awareness of how brutally unchristian they sound. One person critiques another person’s view and all hell breaks loose. Humility is ignored, relationships are destroyed, and godliness is trampled underfoot by one’s own egotistical pride. When James says that God opposes the proud, that includes prideful comments on the web. Especially anonymous ones.

Now, back to the temple blogs. In reality, I thought that Josh make a strong case for his view and has given us much to think about. I dropped a comment in his second blog that clarifies a couple things and pushes back a bit. But over all, I enjoyed reading his blogs and was challenged by several points, especially since they caused me to dust off and re-read Haggai and Zechariah—two books that I hadn’t considered in this discussion. As with anything that comes out of Josh’s mouth, these blogs forced me to re-think what the Bible says about the temple, and that’s always a good thing.

So here’s a lesson for us all. As you seek to be biblical—and by that I mean truly understanding what the Bible means, and not going to the Bible to reaffirm what you’ve always been taught—try to dialogue with people you disagree with. In fact, one of the worst things you can do is stay barred up in contexts where everyone agrees with you and never challenges what you think. If you never have your thoughts challenged, or if you react poorly when they are, then there’s a good chance you’re still suckling on the breast of ignorance, unless of course you’re exceptionally brilliant and don’t need any critical evaluation.

One of the best educational decisions I made was going overseas to do my Ph.D. At Aberdeen University (Scotland), I studied with a bunch of Christians, none of whom came from my exact theological tradition. Amils, Premils, Egalitarians, Complimentarians, Charismatics, Calvinists and Arminians. I became friends with Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists. And they all Read-the-Bibleloved Jesus and His word. In our seminars, there were no “right answers,” only an authoritative text. And when I would present a view or critique someone else’s, the only legitimate criterion for gaining a hearing was: Can I prove it from Scripture? I couldn’t punt to some doctrinal statement or creed, or some truth that was so obvious that we didn’t need to open the Bible to prove it. Our Bibles were never closed during those seminars.

A few years later, I taught New Testament at Nottingham University (England). My colleague was a Gospels specialist and was also an atheist. My boss was a brilliant theologian but not an Evangelical. The one thing they had in common was their love to study the Bible. I’ll never forget what my boss said one day when I asked him about hiring an Evangelical. “I wouldn’t mind hiring an Evangelical,” he said, “as long as he just sticks to the text.”

Wow!

As long as he sticks to the text? Isn’t that what it means to be Evangelical? Aren’t we text-centered people? Not according to his perception, and his perception unfortunately was shared by many non-Evangelicals in the U.K. Conservative Christians stick to their beliefs regardless of what the text actually says. I wish I could have corrected his perception, but unfortunately, his perception had been my experience growing up. Sometimes Evangelicals are slow to crack open the text with the anticipation that the Bible might correct their cherished views.

The reformers coined a phrase, Ecclesia Reformata, semper reformanda, which means, “the Reformed church, always reforming,” and I love that last part: always reforming. A healthy church is one that is not afraid to reexamine its beliefs in light of Scripture, zealously seeking to change, adjust, or reaffirm what it believes if the Bible demands it. And one way to do this is to dialogue with others outside your tradition, who also hold to the authority of God’s word.

So let us dialogue with humility, unity, and love. Caustic accusations, demeaning comments, and abrasive language do nothing to further the kingdom. Thank you, Josh, for a challenging and loving dialogue!