Friday, May 28, 2010

It's an Oak... No, it's a Maple

I was reading a popular Christian blog this morning and the following statement jumped out at me.
Most books are easily-verified, easily fact-checked. A book discussing a particular doctrine can be easily held up to the Scripture and seen immediately to be true or false.
I suppose it must be really nice to actually believe that. I suppose in some ways the Christian life would be a lot simpler if the Scriptures were actually a concise doctrinal treatise written in our own contemporary language by authors who were born and raised in our own time and place. I know that in the Christian world we certainly have such books and every major era of history has certainly produced their own versions of such books. If I were so inclined I could hold up a book to something like Calvin's Institutes or Barth's Church Dogmatics and see quite easily if it were true or false in relation to a particular theologian's interpretation of Scripture.

I think it is certainly true that the Christian Church has been able to agree on a basic foundation of common fundamental beliefs. We can all pretty much agree with the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. We can even pretty much all agree on the basics outlined by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. However, there are very few books that discuss doctrines at the basic fundamental level contained in the creeds or Mere Christianity, and those books that are at that level certainly don't cause anyone to desire to hold it up to anything, Scripture or otherwise, to see if it is true or false.

No, the books the blogger is talking about are books that deal with doctrines that are not universally agreed upon within the Christian community. These might be books that deal with doctrines that are unique to, or at least uniquely interpreted by, a particular denomination, or they might be books wherein a particular theologian, scholar or layperson is arguing for something unique to themselves or their own smaller group. Thousands upon thousands of these types of books have been written, read and argued about for the last 2 thousand years. While it is certainly true that anyone can hold one of these books up to the Scriptures, it is also true that the conclusions drawn as to its truthfulness or falsehood will be quite varied and will have more to do with the examiners place in a particular tradition or denomination then it will have to do with the examiners ability to know exactly how to correctly interpret the relevant passages of scripture.

My point is this. If the Holy Scriptures had been intended to be the basis for a comprehensive Systematic Theology we would not have these thousands of books espousing their own particular interpretations of doctrine. But since we do, and since the debates, arguments and holy wars continue unabated, I think I will throw down the following, sure to be contested, statement (actually it's already been made and contested).
Apparently the Scriptures were never intended by God to be the basis for a comprehensive Systematic Theology and set of doctrinal statements.
Certainly the Scriptures contain exactly what God desired them to contain. And certainly they are completely sufficient for His purposes. I suppose it's just possible that in our thirst for knowledge and understanding we have focused so intently on the botanical structures of the individual trees that we have lost our ability (to some extent at least) to see the beauty and grandeur of the forest as a whole.

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