To understand this post, you probably ought to read this one.
There are a number of sports teams that I dislike only because of their fans. The teams are made up of talented decent human beings. They have godly coaches on their staff. They may even have fine owners. But I choose to cheer against them because of my reaction to their fans’ dogmatic proclamations of the singular supremacy of the team.
I think this phenomenon explains why some dismiss the systemization of biblical truth. Their negative reaction to systematic theology comes from personal experiences with brothers and sisters who profess they have discovered “all the answers” in their study. If so, then this resistance is not a reaction to the content of a theological text book, but a reaction to the people who proclaim the content as though it were unquestionable biblical truth, with no room for dissent. I’ve experienced this from both sides — both as the dissenter and as the proclaimer.
If one is honest one must agree that everyone systematizes his or her theology. Even if one says, “I don’t believe in doctrine; I only believe in the Bible, he or she presents a doctrine of non-doctrine. As soon as one makes a statement that connects a couple of biblical thoughts together in relation to one another, systemization has begun. How can one sincerely and justly object to what one so naturally does oneself?
What I liked about the Lewis statement is that, in his typical style, Lewis stretches the reader to move beyond popular thinking regarding time and space to show that we may be missing a key ingredient (perspective) in understanding the question. This helps me with the “logic” issue Matt raises. Given the tools I possess, my thinking may be perfectly logical, but I may not have the paradigm necessary to see reality clearly. Or my logic may be flawed simply because my brain does not have the logic circuitry I like to think it has. It seems that these are the universal human limitations that make it “ill talking of such questions” (Lewis in The Great Divorce, p. 124).
When people start having thoughts like the ones I have posted here, they often jump into one of two camps. Either they decide that they can know nothing for sure, and become uncertain about all things (how pathetic is that?). Or they disregard this idea that some things are indeed a mystery, and close their minds to possibilities outside of their strongly held, (often trumped up) opinions. Wishing to reside in neither of these camps, I opt for a third alternative — a position of faith.
Let’s apply this in the very areas Lewis was addressing — personal freedom and predestination. To most, these two biblical teachings seem to be in conflict. I don’t know Charles Spurgeon well enough to say why they seemed in harmony to him, but by faith (in God’s word), I believe he was right. Perhaps Spurgeon had a sense of humility that allowed him to accept the fact that he didn’t know all there was to know about life, the universe, and everything. Is it not appropriate to leave those kinds of issues in God’s hands and not assume a position that unnecessarily separates one from a significant section of the Christian family and from a significant portion of Bible verses, which, if taken at face value, seem incompatible with my belief system? Doing so would require something of me: faith.
I like Bill’s comment, that for the sake of protection there is a need to systematize certain biblical truths that the Scriptures present, but do not systematize. Presbyterian pastor and founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, Dr. A. B. Simpson used to say, “In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, charity.” Still, Simpson’s statement leaves us to wonder, Which truths are essential? And which are not? Again, it seems this calls us to a flex our faith and trust God with those things we cannot grasp with perfect clarity.
Pastor Dan L has the ability to take a stream of thought like this and round it off quickly and decisively with a piece of pithy truth. Of all the thoughts that I’ve heard in these threads, the one that spoke most clearly came from him. I called him and told him so. I quote him here: “We break loose from the vacuum cleaner by embracing Jesus Christ.”