I love theology. I mean it. I really love theology! I love to talk about theology. I love to read about theology. I love to listen to other people talking about theology. I love to think about theology. There is so much that is overlooked, interpreted according to our bias, or even twisted because we don’t like the implications. I say, “bring it on!” I had a pastor once that told a congregant who was asking him a theological question to “go talk to Chase, because he loves theology.”
While I do love theology (I hope you have gathered this), there seems to be a trend where theology is treated as a lesser discipline. Where the Christian life is all about the newest trend of humanitarian aid, the newest catchy book by some big name pastor, the latest program that worked at another church a few states (and cultures) away, etc. etc. When Jon asked me to write he said to be blunt, so here it is: I don’t care about your latest humanitarian aid program, the latest book that fits into your niche, or what program worked at a church that doesn’t deal with life in the same context as you do. I’m not saying these are innately bad, I’m just saying I don’t care about them. If you don’t know about, or care about theology, about doctrine, you will, (catch that), YOU WILL, fail in your calling.
If theology/doctrine deals with who God is and what He has said, and we neglect it, what have we done?
When we talk about theology in context to ministry, we shouldn’t have to define it, yet I find myself needing to. Theology is the study of God, not in the context of God the Father, but in context of what God has to say, what He has done, what He will do, and what He has called us to. When we don’t value theology, we don’t value studying God or His Word. Another word often used to describe theology is Doctrine. Doctrine as described in Greek means “properly applied-teaching; Christian doctrine (teaching) as it especially extends to its necessary lifestyle (applications)”. Now, many of us have heard the phrase “Doctrine divides”, I’ve had this one used against me. My common counter is “No, Doctrine unites. People and preferences divide”. If Doctrine or Theology divide, then that means that God is dividing His own people based on His own Word. So no, doctrine and theology don’t divide, the people holding their specific theological or doctrinal persuasions divide, God’s Word brings unity.
Without Theology, you will fail in your calling!
Let me use a brief illustration to prove the importance of theology and doctrine for those in ministry (it is important for those not in vocational/full time/however you like to define this ministry, this blog is for people in ministry, so we are focusing there). The word used for doctrine “didaskalía” and its forms are used more than 15 times in the books of I and II Timothy and Titus. This should be significant to us, when Paul wrote 3 letters, totaling 13 chapters specifically to Pastors and he talks about “teaching sound doctrine”, keeping others from teaching “different doctrine”, when he warns that the time is coming when people will not endure “sound doctrine”, don’t you think we should find this important? Shouldn’t this be something that we devote time to? When a man has no time or place in his life for studying or teaching doctrine and theology, he is not qualified to be a pastor. If you have no desire to learn and study theology, you have failed to follow the basic instructions of ministry.
We are called to love the Lord with all of our hearts, our souls, our bodies, and our minds (Lk 10:27). Too often we neglect the mind and whether intentionally or not, it is treated as a lesser discipline. Now that the foundation is somewhat set, let’s deal with what I was asked to write about.
How should we deal with theological differences?
I am no stranger to theological differences. During my time in college and after I have been known to have differing views about some theological issues. To be honest, I used to love the arguments that would come because of my views. Now, they are not different views on the core doctrines, they are/were differing views on issues like Bible translations, Eschatology, Separation, Heaven, the tension between Calvinism/Reformed Theology and Free Will/Armenian Theology. Some deal with these differences well, some do not.
Without getting into specifics (because this isn’t the place for those), at the first Church I worked the Pastor would use our differences in the issue of Eschatology to demonstrate to the church body that theological differences on non-essentials* (yes, I did just call your view of eschatology a non-essential) were okay. We can still minister together, serve at the same church, and even be friends. To this day I still consider that man to by my Pastor, and one of my best friends. In contrast a deacon (at another church) and I had some drastic differences and one specific altercation because he viewed his theology as the end all, where anyone who had a differing view should not be allowed to even attend the church. Two examples of differences, two very different approaches to dealing with them.
Insecurity. It’s rampant.
We need to be secure enough in our theology that we can have it called into question. Now, being secure in your theology does not mean that you know it all, being secure means you have a working knowledge of what you believe and are able to clearly articulate that belief to another. A side note about this, if you are not reading books by authors who stand on the opposite side of your position, you don’t really have a solid foundation. If you don’t understand the opposing view according to their interpretation/understanding you don’t understand your own position. Often times the opposing view is skewed to an unrealistic position to create a straw man to attack, this is easily seen in the extreme positions that free will theologians apply to calvinists and the extreme positions calvinists apply to free will. While those extremes do exist, they are not the norm, and we create a false sense of security in a flawed position and a flawed understanding when we do this.
There is a line between being solid in our beliefs, and being arrogant in our interpretation. I am solid in my beliefs, though I can be swayed in my position through Scripture. When I am arrogant in my interpretation, Scripture cannot even dissuade me. Arrogance leads to a twisting of Scripture to fit my beliefs (Eisegesis happens much more often than we would like to admit). II Pet 1:20-21 lays it out well “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but me spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
With differing positions on the non-essentials we can still work together, serve together and dialogue together. I love the examples of the American founding fathers, those men would vehemently disagree and argue for their position while discussing the founding documents, yet when the meetings were over, they would sit down for a meal as fellow men, working for the betterment of the American future. An even better example comes from scripture. Look in the Old Testament, examine the lives of Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, several very different men, with very different missions as Prophets of God. Do you think Hosea, Amos and Micah agreed with Isaiah and his naked time? Do you think Isaiah agreed with Hosea taking Gomer, a prostitute, as his wife? What about in the New Testament? Look at Paul and Barnabas, they had a stiff disagreement about Mark and even parted ways in ministry direction because of it (Acts 15:36-40), yet their fellowship was not cut off. Later in life Paul even noted how he was wrong about Mark in his disagreement with Barnabas as he called for Mark because he was profitable to him in his time of death (II Tim 4:11).
How do we handle theological disagreements?
The answer is so simple and yet so difficult. We handle them with grace, with love, with compassion for the other person as a human being created in the image of God. We all know that vitriol, spite and anger will only further drive someone away, we talk about this in evangelism all the time, yet when it comes to our brothers and sisters in Christ, somehow we think this is the way to bring them to our theological persuasion.
The art of dialog is important! We should be able to talk about differences in respectful ways. Part of this thing called dialog is logic, reasoning and a controlled mind and spirit. Remember, Pastors are called to be sober minded, and this has nothing to do with alcohol! When you sit and discuss, when you actually hear what someone is saying about their position rather than just assuming that you know what they believe you will be surprised! When we dialog it does not mean that we must change our beliefs, it means we are going to dig in and be challenged by the Word of God.
A perfect example of dialog was displayed by Albert Mohler on Monday October 21st when he was asked to speak at BYU. If you haven’t read the transcript, you need to (http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/10/21/a-clear-and-present-danger-religious-liberty-marriage-and-the-family-in-the-late-modern-age-an-address-at-brigham-young-university/). He made a very accurate statement that rather than paraphrasing I will just paste it…
“There are those who sincerely believe that meaningful and respectful conversation can take place only among those who believe the least—that only those who believe the least and thus may disagree the least can engage one another in the kind of conversation that matters. I reject that notion, and I reject it forcefully. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, that is the kind of idea that must not be cast aside lightly, but thrown with full force.”
This is powerful! I have to say, I’m glad that Jesus didn’t take the position of rejecting those who didn’t agree with Him!
With theological differences and conversations we really need to consider what Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” The word “reason” literally means “dispute, decide, adjudge, prove”, this is what God called Isaiah to do, God called Isaiah to reason with Him! How much more should we (who are not God) reason with each other?
I’ve been called a heretic, liberal, led astray, misguided, and many other things, all because I don’t line up to one persons theological leanings, but let me tell you, I want to be faithful to God’s Word and run to His theology, even if that means I leave behind the forms of doctrine that I have been taught. I hope that is your desire as well!
In conclusion, we often forget that we need to love one another, regardless of our differing views, this is the way the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples. One way we show love, is by the way we interact, discuss, serve and honor one another. This is theology acted out.
When attacked, heap coals of kindness on their heads, when attacked, show love and deference, when attacked, love them, love them because Christ loves them and died for them. When attacked, live out your theology, live out your doctrine, it’s what it’s there for.
All this to say, I love theology! I love discussing theology! Do you?
*Non-essentials are those things that do not deal with the means of salvation, the deity of Christ, eternality of God, etc. You know what the essentials are, if you don’t, well, start studying some theology.
The saying is true, “nothing upsets people more than talking Jesus and politics.” Theology is important but most don’t really know theology they just know what they have been taught and have automatic responses to anyone else’s view that is different from theirs. I have had phone calls, comments and messages from pastors who have told me:
“Jon, you are leaving the faith,” “Jon, you are disappointing me.” “You were taught better Jon.” “It’s a sad and terrible thing that you have left the Baptist faith to be a thug.” “Why are acting like a black man? Sad.” “Don’t you know how many have died to give us the faith you have just thrown away.” “Jesus wouldn’t do what you are doing…you KNOW THAT!!!!” “I can no longer support you because you are following Rick Warren.” “You are heading down a path that is straight out of hell.” “Why aren’t you using the KJV anymore, you know that all other versions are perversions.”….I could go on.
Here’s the thing- all the above comments were over secondary issues. Music, standards, dress, appearance, Bible versions, hip hop, church name and stuff that shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter because they are cultural and secondary. The gospel is what unites us not preferences & traditions.
When it comes to theology, we must understand the difference between truth and proxy. Truth is what is spelled out and dictates our theology and belief. Proxy is what we do and how we do it. Missionaries in countries around the world do things totally different than most American Churches do and should do it totally different. They are reaching a culturally different population group and should use the best methods to spread the gospel where they are and not try to create an American church in a country and culture that is not America.
When it comes to Big theology and little theology, most get it confused. Big theology is the gospel of Jesus Christ. While there are some things that are in the grey area, most fall into one of those two aspects.
Here is my plea, drop your perceived notions about those that are different from you and join hands with those that are preaching the gospel. Love to hear your thoughts, comment below. Go Team Jesus!