Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Theological arrogance, humility and gracious respect

It is often hard for us to understand that others in our congregations can have a theological grid that is different than ours. And we hold our theological convictions very closely so when others have significant differences it is difficult for many individuals to graciously respect those views.

I am not talking about views that are outside the definitions of orthodoxy as expressed by the historic creeds of the church. Evangelicals are generally bound by those orthodox beliefs and I am assuming that in these comments.

The truth is, however, that within the bounds of orthodoxy there is a great deal of latitude for differences in theology. This is seen in the reformed vs the non-reformed as an example. Or in covenant theology vs. dispensational theology. And within each camp are those who are more strident than others. So, within the reformed camp there are individuals whose theology is moderately reformed, very reformed and ultra reformed.

When these views are held with humility it does not bring division to God's people. After all, if even the great scholars of theology cannot agree on these matters why should we assume that our version is the truth and that others are untrue? The study of theology ought to engender great humility as it is not possible to plumb the depths of God - we will be doing that for all eternity. Humility understands that we see through a glass darkly this side of eternity and that while some matters are crystal clear many nuances of our theology are not and must be held with humility.

It is theological arrogance that creates division in the church. It is holding so hard to positions that are not central to the faith but are part of our theological grid which we believe and expect others to believe as well. Most people do not understand how their views on many theological issues are determined by their own theological grid that assumes certain matters. Is it possible that none of our grids are completely right as they are simply human attempts to systematize theology. Thus if my grid is rigidly dispensational I may not believe that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available today. If my grid is otherwise I won't understand why people don't see them as operative today. Very much is dependent on our presuppositions and the grids we were raised with or have adopted.

One of the great needs among believers is to spend more time studying the Scriptures than reading about the Scriptures. The more I am immersed in His Word, the less I am captive to a theological grid about the Word. We have our theological gurus who are a gift to the church but if their truth supersedes my own study of the Scriptures I have made a grave error. Equally when I take shots at those whose interpretation is different than mine on minor issues of theology I have made a grave error. Theological arrogance is a sad commentary for believers as none of will find that we understood perfectly when we see Jesus. 

All of us should be clear on the key issues of orthodoxy because the Scriptures are clear on them. The church has historically guarded these fences very well. On the non essentials of orthodoxy the Scriptures are less definitive which is why believers differ. Here our posture needs to be one of humility and gracious respect. And certainly these should not be divisive within local churches. 

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.


Ernest Manges, Ph.D. said...

I find these 4 categories by Gerry Breshears helpful:
To die for: central truths.
To divide for: important doctrines we hold, recognizing others differ.
To debate for: items of lesser weight where we differ but can work together.
To decide for: matters of personal preference.

Unknown said...

Dear Mr. Addington,

I came across your blog doing a search for "Subjective Clarity" and I found it to be a clear and concise summary of that subject. Very helpful. Thank you!

As I read your bio I see that your are with the EFCA. I found that interesting as I was also an EFCA member of Door Creek Church(DCC) in Madison, WI for 8 years.

However, I resigned my membership, not without some regret and difficulty back in 2008, as a consequence of the changes made to the EFCA Statement of Faith. As someone leaning towards Open Theism I was unable to affirm the new statement of faith.

Furthermore, as a result of the subject of Open Theism (OT) coming out in the open I felt it was my obligation to speak out and participate in the discussion at the local level. My take on the situation at the time was that the people within the EFCA, like Greg Strand and others, was pushing for the EFCA to take a stand against OT based on their own personal preference without concern for the real life consequences for people and families like myself.

Thus, having never before during the 8 years at DCC discussed OT with anyone, I brought it up with church leaders as well as the pastoral staff, in the context of the new SOF being considered. My hope was that they would vote against it at the denominational level and that they, without any demand on my part to change their own personal views, give me the opportunity to hold my views on OT and stay on as a member. Apart from one or two members of the pastoral stuff I am quite sure that not one person in leadership, staff or otherwise, had ever heard of Open Theism before I approached them with my dilemma!

To make a long story short I failed in my attempt to explain that changing the SOF was a bad idea. Furthermore, as a result of my wife and myself "coming out" as Open Theists we were given the impression that future opportunities of ministry and leadership within DCC were limited. Although the words "second class" members was never used, and probably never intended, we were certainly left with that exact feeling.

In a very short time we transitioned from being members in good standing who's ministry was, as I remember, appreciated and valued to suspicious individuals who could not be trusted. The word "heresy" was never used but even though left unsaid that's what we were.

I think this old, from 2010, blog post of Roger Olson explains the situation quite well.

I agree with Prof. Olson's words that this was a "sad episode riddled with misinformation, misrepresentation and even, too often, outright demagoguery" and it's my opinion that this fairly accurately describes EFCA's handling of the issue (you can also read my comments describing my own feelings at the time at the bottom of the comment section).


Your post on "Theological arrogance, humility and gracious respect" certainly brought back some memories from that time. Thus, in closing I would like to express my full agreement with what you wrote in this post and I pray that it would be widely distributed and read by many, especially leaders and pastoral staff, both inside and outside of the EFCA.

Although I am not as presumptuous as to think that what you express in this blog post are in any way connected or related to the issue of Open Theism,or to the EFCA handling of that situation, they do indeed apply to my experience. Even so, I am glad that there's at least someone within the EFCA that dares to share these thoughts (although I know of many other good people, although perhaps not as bold!).

All the best,

// Lennart