Everyone is a theologian. No one is a theological blank slate. Since theology is the study of God (the process—doing theology) and expressing those thoughts (the product—theology proper), even an atheist who says “there is no God” is making a theological statement. Christians have the duty of being healthy theologians (Matthew 22:37; Romans 12:2; John 4:23-24).
An earlier post pointed out that understanding your theology is an important aspect of interpreting the Bible. And as you interpret the Bible you inform your theology. So, what can we do to test our theology? Dr. David Mappes offers the following system for validating your theology.
“A model for theological method is necessary since the Scripture is progressively revealed and no one topic is fully addressed by any one author. Any valid theological model must be minimally measured by the following components:
Canonical: Is first priority and authority given to the canonical books of Scripture over personal experience, personal sensibilities, other writing, general revelation, speculation, etc.?
Comprehensive: Is all biblical teaching on a topic examined with greater weight given to the clearest and most definitive passages, or are selective/vague passages used in a mere proof-texting manner?
Consistent hermeneutical approach: Is the interpretive philosophy consistently used within the theological method or does the hermeneutical philosophy vary from topic-to-topic, passage-to-passage, covenant-to-covenant, etc.?
Congruency: Does the method allow for both harmony, complexity, and tension without direct contradiction or does the theological method contain or create direct internal contradictions and/or forced harmonization to remove complexities so as to alter the author’s meaning of Scripture?
Coherence: Does the theological model demonstrate a logical ordering of investigation providing greatest weight to didactic teaching noting the “prescriptive vs. descriptive” or the “is vs. ought,” and does the model reveal clear steps of investigation.
Call of Response/Application: Does the call for response(s) relate to the verbal meaning of the Scriptural truth/passage that is being considered and does the call of response reflect the specificity of the truth/passage? The call for response or significance of Scripture is always controlled by the authorial meaning of Scripture; hence the degree to which a pronouncement, pattern, or principle transfers into the contemporary setting is carefully evaluated. The degree of transfer is the degree to which the target audience is similar to or different from the originally intended recipients.
Ultimately any truth assertions or thesis must be evaluated by the canonical, comprehensive, consistent hermeneutical, congruent, coherent, call/response test of Scripture. Jesus and the apostles repeatedly referred people back to the Scriptures as an absolute authority which they assumed could be read and understood regardless of one’s culture filters or personal stories.”
- David Mappes, “Love Wins by Rob Bell: A Biblical and Theological Critique,” The Journal of Ministry and Theology, Spring 2012.
- From Mappes: Any serious theological reflection and method must focus on the author’s meaning of what was revealed. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” The biblical authors directed believers to focus on what was revealed and to avoid speculation and divination to acquire what was not revealed. Many times interpreters ask the wrong question or the right question in the wrong way about a particular subject matter or text which creates difficult interpretive issues. Similarly, in the Great Commission, Jesus commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20). All that Jesus commanded entails both what Jesus himself taught as well as what Jesus continued to teach (through the Spirit) to his apostles since the Apostles were agents of the Scripture (1 Cor 14:37; 1 Thess 4:15; 2 Pet 3:2; Rev 1-3). The task then of the Great Commission actually necessities that believers collect, summarize, and teach all that the Scripture says about various issues (This section is partially adapted from Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994], 21-38).
- From Mappes: As an example, believers are enjoined to compare teachers and their message with the revealed truth of the Scriptures (Matt 24:24-25; 2 Thess 2:1-5; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 9-11). Paul admonishes Titus about men “who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14). In each case the apostolic deposit of truth is to serve as the measurement and not personal sensibilities. Paul warns that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light and deceive others through false apostles and deceitful workers (2 Cor 11:13-14); thus the Scriptures always served as the final arbiter of truth and error. Such certainty and authority exists that false teachers are to be silenced and removed from the assembly (1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Tim 2:14-19). Whether Paul stood before the Sanhedrin council, Felix (Acts 24), or Festus (Acts 25), the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34), he presented the gospel in a clear, authoritative, and persuasive manner. In Titus 1:9, Paul said the church leader should hold “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” God’s speech entails disclosing truth that was unknowable or even unimaginable but now knowable through his disclosure. And the Scripture writers affirm that even after these mysteries were made known through verbal revelation, the readers of that verbal revelation could understand and adhere to them in a non-provisional manner. Some of these revealed mysteries were to serve as the very foundation of communities. These verbally revealed mysteries were to preside over any other knowledge claims (no matter how deep seated); thus Scripture was to serve as objective adjudicators over against one’s own biases, pre-understandings, prejudices, false prophets who could perform great signs, and even angels (Gal 1:1-6). This view of truth is very different than Bell’s and the post-conservatives’ calling for an open, tolerant, safe exploration of Jesus leading which results in a journey of trusting the mysteries of God.