Freedom from the Vacuum Cleaner Part 2

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.”

3 thoughts on “Freedom from the Vacuum Cleaner Part 2

  1. Steve, I read your post today, promptly turned off my computer and laid back in the lazy-boy to get my usual Sunday nap. But my mind wouldn’t quit until I came back to comment. So, here it is:

    It is an interesting conundrum. As people, we require systems for without them, our world would be in utter chaos. The cosmos as created by God has order that we cannot live without. Why is theology any different? Systematizing our theology gives a framework. However, I like McManus’s concept that “structure must submit to Spirit.” As I see it in my life, my system of theology gives me a framework. As God forms Christ in me and I understand a little bit more through the Spirit and His Word, it is my framework that needs adjusted. That is where I think many people have difficulty. Christ in me is transformation, not conformation.

    As a side note, I also realize that I am not anyone’s Holy Spirit and that I should help people build their framework without compelling them to change, so to speak. That is His job.

    Can I please go to sleep now?

  2. Hey–

    I was going to respond to this a couple of days ago, but the sunshine was just too strong to let me sit in front of the computer. And I had to made sure you weren’t equating me with Cincinnati Bengals fans here ;-).

    Chesterton once said that someone is more likely to be convinced of the truth of something by a book, a friend, a battle and a beautiful landscape than four books and two lectures (or something to that effect). And I agree- I think we fall for an Enlightenment trap sometimes that says that people make up their minds based on true propositions only. I think beauty and goodness are just as important in the learning process, both positively and negatively. So for example, I personally learn a lot more from Chesterton, who has doctrinal opinions that are a thousand miles from my own but holds them in a way that make me laugh and smile, than I do from solid Reformed teachers who dot the i’s and cross the t’s and do it in a way that bores and annoys me. This is a Christian world, and incarnation and love are a hundred times more important than true propositions.

    All that is to say that I think you’re right in the first two paragraphs of your post here, and that cuts both ways. Doctrinal-minded people ought to remember that knowledge puffeth up (1 Cor 8:1). A man can have the right answer in an argument and still be in the wrong (Rom 14:3). The elect of God are to be known by their tender mercies (Col 3:12), not by their doctrinal rigor. Calvinists (to pick on my own party) who are obstinate and argumentative are not Calvinists at all, but deny the doctrine that they profess. But that doesn’t make the doctrine false though. It’s good to be able to check yourself and say “I don’t like this person’s manner, but could he possibly be right?” as well as “I really like this person, but perhaps I should double-check?”

  3. I find the compiled plenary addresses from the 56th Annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society very helpful on this matter of what truth is. They are published in a book entitled Whatever Happened to Truth, ed. by Anddreas Kostenberger (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005). Truth is examined from many angles and Keven Vanhoozer’s address “Lost in Intrerpretation? Truth, Scripture and Hermeneutics” attempts to meld the propositions in Scripture that assert, command and promise with the demands of Scripture that requires us to live out our faith with our hearts and hands. The Christian faith is indicative and imperative…always in that order…but requiring both.

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