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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Coming to Terms

Coming to terms is something we all do whenever we study the scripture. We look at a word or a phrase and conclude that we have a clear understanding of its meaning and then set ourselves to the task of proving our understanding, too often at the expense of the truth. How many times, for example, do we read the word “judge” and conclude the term to mean “to condemn” as opposed to “to separate, make a distinction, discriminate, to prefer” or “to determine, resolve, decree” for no reason other than our own common use of the word?

Now there is context and then there’s CONTEXT, or perhaps I should say there could be a “broader context” for a given term. We might correctly define a term as being acceptable within the context of a certain sentence and fail to perceive its true meaning within the broader context of the whole passage. I think this is what Nicodemus did when Jesus told him that a man must be “born again” in order to have eternal life. Nicodemus correctly applied the term as physical re-birth but totally missed the true meaning as that of the spiritual birth because he overlooked the broader context of the conversation. He was a Pharisee and a master of Israel yet still he was dumbfounded being able only to ask, “How can these things be?”

There are many wonderful blessings for those who seek a better understanding of these terms but should we ever use them to alter the obvious meaning of a given passage? It seems we do that almost instinctively. How many popular doctrines are comprised of nothing more than “proof text” that are always overturned in the broader context of the passage? Ideologies contrived by stringing together a series of verses, only because they use similar terms, will miserably fail to convey the truth. This fact does not imply that the term is out of place. More often than not a meaning has been applied to the term that was never intended by the writer. Erroneous doctrines are then derived from the verse containing the term once it has been removed from the broader context of the passage. Our brethren who might then subscribe to these doctrines are not the false teachers to be avoided but rather erring brethren, as we often are. We are commanded to patiently restore them with love in humility. In this way we may even find it is we ourselves that have missed the broader context!

How then can we avoid this pitfall and prove the doctrines we hold true?

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18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A noted sociologist (who is a Christian, and who was raised in a reformed tradition), in a discussing how we arrive at belief, once told me that we believe things because we CHOOSE to believe them. We then spend our "studies" looking for ways to validate what we have chosen to believe. That's why there are so many sects of belief. People come up with their half-baked "big pictures" and spend the rest of their lives trying to squeeze scripture into their belief system.

Sound familiar?

1/02/2007 08:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Gordon Cloud said...

KC, this is an excellent article that raises a great question.

I think Dorsey is correct in that we often try to fit our interpretation into a framework of systematic theology.

To be perfectly honest, I do not know how one who has any "religious" background at all can approach the Bible without some presuppositions.

I do think that every believer has the ability to discern truth for themselves through the leading of the Holy Spirit. With this ability comes the responsibility to do it right.

I still haven't answered your question have I? :-)

1/02/2007 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Jody said...

yeah, i'm not sure, but a couple of thoughts come to mind. a book i am reading right now is really driving home the point that the only purpose of a believer is to love God and love people. specific doctrines come secondary to the command to love God and people, so maybe any other question of doctrine and interpretation is born out of the central command to love. so we read scripture and act according to what we read in the context of love. if everything we do is done out of loving God and loving people, then our purpose is fulfilled, if what we do is not to love God and people then we are clanging cymbals.

i think lately i've been considering the importance of "correct doctrine", and i think that we get an idea of who God is and how we are to live from the bible, but the bible is a story of people relating to God in many different ways and many different contexts. we get to read these stories and gain from them, but perhaps they are not stringent prescriptions for life today. people are finite and will never have a completely correct doctrine. i think we should all embrace each other's differences knowing that noone or group has all truth and noone or group ever will.

these are just some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head some...

1/02/2007 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Jody, you mentioned that the Bible is a 'story.'

Some theologians would agree with that and emphasise the narrative aspect of Scripture.

However, such an approach is very problematic. Major parts (probably the majority of the Bible) is not story at all- the Mosaic laws, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, some parts of the prophetic writings, the epistles of the New Testament and parts of the Revelation.

It is better to view the Bible as a revelation of God. The Bible is a book of facts about both God and His dealings with man.

Every Blessing in Christ

Matthew

1/02/2007 04:10:00 PM  
Blogger Kris said...

How then can we avoid this pitfall and prove the doctrines we hold true?

Very good question. I think we should Q!)!(#$*#@($)#@_$)#*(&$)#@$&)@(&$)#$&)#!)#&$a;lsidnieaehfoiwehaondlfnoieoaodifdkfna;ldkfnsldkfipepqppwea;le12935729385y9r8h98bf8232hr8v.

Anyway thats the way I see it and you should to. :)


Blessings KC and have a grace day my brother.

1/02/2007 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel adam king said...

Excellent question. I think I would agree with Dorsey, despite his blundering in using fantastical words. I think that a particular 'core theme' or 'systematic theology' becomes attractive to us, for whatever reason, and we see all Scripture through this light.

I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing, although it can be.

I would say that it is just about the only way we can do things (unless you can here find some other way). The reason that it is the only way we can do things is because of our logical minds. We cannot adhere to a theology that is logically inconsistent within itself.

What I mean is that if I believed Jesus to be God, then I would necessarily think of Him as God and interpret the Scriptures referring to Him accordingly. I would not think of Him as God, in let us say John 1:1, and yet in Hebrews think of Him as a mere man that has no deity whatsoever. My mind wouldn't function as such.

Now granted, we can hold to two truths which are not logically consistent together, but I would say that when we do so, we either do so unknowingly, or we do so hoping that some future revelation will tie them together.

The reason I said that this is not necessarily a bad way to function, or to interpret Scripture is because it can be used good. If I hold to a truth of Scripture which I know beyond doubt that it is true (Jesus is God - the Scriptures are quite clear in this), and if my 'system of thought' or 'systematic theology' contradicts this, then I should drop that systematic theology and search for another.

I think Dorsey points out the pitfall in the person that knows their systematic theology contradicts a clear Scriptural truth and yet they attempt to twist and pervert the Scripture to agree with their theology nonetheless.

I think you have a point though in the 'stringing together' of different verses, and this I do not agree with at all. I normally get irritated when people present a view, and then give a long list of verses which happen to mention a word that is key to that view.

I'll give you an example. People often believe in 'choice' and then look to the concordance for every mention of choice, thinking this proofs the fallacious and man fabricated illusion of 'choice'. (hehe...sorry, I couldn't resist).

I'm rambling here, trying to work these thoughts out myself. I hope I have given someone inspiration to think more on this matter. I think it is a VERY good question that needs an answer.

1/02/2007 05:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think Dorsey points out the pitfall in the person that knows their systematic theology contradicts a clear Scriptural truth and yet they attempt to twist and pervert the Scripture to agree with their theology nonetheless."

I think the danger is that this is often done without cognitive assent. There is an unconscious tendency to gloss over troublesome passages in the search for more compatible passages.

We have all been guilty of this, I think. [/handraised]

1/02/2007 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger Kc said...

Dorse it’s a relief to see you raise your hand and stop pointing your finger at me! ;-)

Yes, that sounds far too familiar and my hand is up as well. “Though shalt not drink alcohol as a beverage” is one of the commandments isn’t it? Even though that doctrine was ushered in through prohibition it must surely be part of the “faith once delivered to the saints”, right? ;-)

“I think the danger is that this is often done without cognitive assent. There is an unconscious tendency to gloss over troublesome passages in the search for more compatible passages.”

Exactly!

Preacher, you answered my question, just not the one I asked. ;-)

I think you’ve pointed at some of the “why” and consequently much of the “what” we choose to believe. I know that often it comes down to who we place our confidence in and we would rather fight than consider the possibility they are in error. Why that would mean we would actually have to pray, study and learn for our selves! I suppose next you’ll say I’m even responsible for what I choose to believe! ;-)

I am persuaded that only through the work of the Holy Spirit in us can we hope to resolve these things both corporately and individually. I’m afraid that being spiritual has been replaced with being educated and we place far too much trust in our philosophy and understanding instead of God’s providence, “what’s needed when it’s needed”. I have more to say on that in reply to Jody, below.

Jody it is so good to have your thoughts here again!

You know I totally agree that love for God and others should be the purpose, or intent behind all we do and say but I see good doctrine as the primary means for achieving that goal. Even the purpose itself is born out of good doctrine! “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself”. ;-)

I do think I see your point though. There are doctrines that are held by agreement within certain communities of faith. I would call these doctrines, “custom”, and I agree we all should give space for these. They should exist only to facilitate service and fellowship and should always be considered secondary and should never interfere with our fellowship as believers.

Though I agree with Matthew’s approach to the scripture I do find one area where I think we are in complete agreement. I really do think there’s a “big picture” but it’s so big that it encompasses all creation and only God can perceive it! Each of us is only given our part of that picture but because we “think” we “see” the big picture we want to direct everyone else in his or her part as well. We must trust God to provide what understanding, if any, we require in order to perform our part without even knowing how it fits into the big picture. Good doctrine doesn’t give us the big picture. It defines “the faith once delivered the saints” and when we act, or live, by that faith, according to the measure of love, then we fulfill Christ’ command. [/sermon] ;-)

BTW I'm working on a reply for your current post. I love your heart.

Matthew, many thanks, as always, for your contribution. We're praying for your trip.

Kris, most times that’s exactly how I see it! (grin)

Godspeed with your move and in all He blesses and directs you in.

I love you brother! ;-)

Adam, my most beloved brother, you said;

“If I hold to a truth of Scripture which I know beyond doubt that it is true (Jesus is God - the Scriptures are quite clear in this), and if my 'system of thought' or 'systematic theology' contradicts this, then I should drop that systematic theology and search for another.”

Isn’t that a choice? (hehe)

I understand you believe Systematic Theology a good thing but I don’t understand why. It seems you are saying we should opt for the big picture that seems to contradict the truth the least in our own opinion! I have to ask, why should we have a concept of the big picture? I understand why we might want it and even why we should strive toward seeing it but why should or how can we ever think we have it when we’re assured we won’t in this life?

Why can’t we strive for agreement on the truth handed down through the apostles to guide us rather than compiling a list of justifications for living as we do?

1/03/2007 04:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...but I see good doctrine as the primary means for achieving that goal. Even the purpose itself is born out of good doctrine! “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself”. ;-)"

Problem is, everyone thinks their doctrine is sufficient. Have you ever heard anyone acknowledge that they hold to bad doctrine? Maybe a topic for another discussion might be, "What constitutes the parameters of a doctrine? How deep and specific does doctrine get? Is "Love God, love others" a stand-alone doctrine, or must we be more specific? At what point do seekers of truth cross the line and become religious jerks?

1/03/2007 07:50:00 AM  
Blogger nathaniel adam king said...

It seems you are saying we should opt for the big picture that seems to contradict the truth the least in our own opinion!

No, not the 'big picture' that contradicts the truth the least in our opinion, but rather the 'big picture' that contradicts itself least. We want to strive for a 'big picture' that is internally coherent, logically consistent.

Why can’t we strive for agreement on the truth handed down through the apostles to guide us rather than compiling a list of justifications for living as we do?

I think we very well can do this. But I think that to ONLY do this would be laziness. If you look at the progress of the church, you see that they have worked through specific doctrines. The early Patristics worked out the doctrine of Jesus' deity and humanity. During Augustine's time the issue of 'freewill' and all was worked out. During the Reformation the issues of Justification were worked out.

I think that we need to learn from these great debates. And hold to their conclusions. But I think the very idea that they have progressed through some manner of Theology is evidence that we should, or that we necessarily will.

I personally think the debate for our time is concerning the church, who it is, how it functions, what's its' role???

1/03/2007 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger Kc said...

Dorsey, Adam, I’m not ignoring you. I’m thinking.

1/03/2007 04:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dorsey, I am ignoring you. And I never think.

1/03/2007 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel adam king said...

That was me...

1/03/2007 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel adam king said...

That was too...

1/03/2007 09:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think, but I can't think and type at the same time.

1/04/2007 07:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being convinced is strictly a personal affair. The most we do is sharpen our understanding of our own position. From time to time a fellow partner in philosophy will point out an internal inconsistency of our belief which, when rectified, leaves both of us in a more similar philosophical state but this is rare.

For instance, a while back dorsey pointed out how my belief that I could determine whether or not a person who is professing belief in Christ is truly saved was in contradiction to scripture. He showed me the internal inconsistency of two things I believed.

This often happens when I am discussing things on the blogs, though the shift in my thinking does not always leave me in agreement with opposition. This is why I think it is worth it to debate even with no serious expectation that, for instance, kc or dosey will become calvinists - it is enough for me that we all grow more internally consistent with whatever we believe and, just maybe, we will sometimes wind up saying we hold a new belief in common.

Wisdom is knowing you don't have all the answers, and intelligence is proving others don't either. So I feel fortunate indeed to know and exchange ideas with some very wise and intelligent people.

1/04/2007 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Kc said...

Guys thanks so much for helping here. Brandon that was beautiful.

1/05/2007 05:30:00 AM  
Blogger Kitty Cheng said...

Gee! You got me thinking and reflecting deeply here!

Coming to terms is something I have been experiencing again and again when I read the scripture. And yes belief is such a personal and abstract stuff. How do we come to believe in whatever?

It's true that once we believe in something, it can take a lot for us to come to terms with the idea that the understanding of our own position (our belief) is wrong!

It takes humility and surely wisdom to admit that our belief is not always right, and that we don't have all the answers. I like the ideas of wisdom and intelligence that Brandon talked about too...

1/07/2007 11:14:00 PM  

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