This will take some explanation. As I stated in the previous article, none of us approaches the Bible as a blank slate. One way we do this is that each of us understands things by using systems of categorization. These systems also include rules for assigning things to each of these categorizations. Our systems of categorizations are learned from the things that are normal to us: our families, our friends, the media we give our attention to, the teachers we have, etc. Whenever I talk about “sensibilities”, this is typically what I mean.
Let me give you a simple example of what I mean by categorizations. Let’s say we have a bag of M&Ms. Can you think of some categories by which we can separate these M&Ms? The most obvious is by color. So we can separate them into piles of red, blue, green, orange, brown, etc.
But there may be another way of separating them. Now if the bag we have is just opened from the store, it probably only contains one kind of M&Ms, but if not, then there may be different kids mixed in. What I’m talking about is the difference between plain, the ones with nuts in them, or the ones with pretzels in them. Those are different categories than colors.
Are there any other kind of categories? Imagine the factory where M&Ms are made. They make M&Ms by some kind of lot number, I presume. That’s a category that few people think about. Or I would assume that there are some kind of quality control standards. Hopefully all M&Ms are in the category of those M&Ms that will pass inspection. But realistically, there are probably a few that do not pass inspection. Each quality standard is a different category against which each M&M must be tested. Each will either be in the category “pass” or the category “fail”.
But we don’t usually think about those categories. Nevertheless, it is a very important category for M&Ms. If you want the quality of M&Ms that you are used to, you should hope that each bag that you purchase has only M&Ms that are in the “pass” category of each quality standard.
But it’s the same way with the Bible. We approach the Bible at first with the most obvious sets of categories. As we read the Bible, we might pick up on the fact that there are sets of categories for examining our lives and thinking about God that we have never thought of before.
Too many theological debates are a result of different theologians using different sets of categories for understanding the Bible. All theological debates will be cleared up when God brings each of us to understand the set of categories we should have been using all along. When investigating different views, it is a sign of theological maturity that we are able to identify the sets of categories theologians use. When this happens, we can easily understand why theologians often debate so.
Identifying a theologian’s system of categories is also important for discerning the truth of a matter. Too many theologians are disingenuous. Such discernment allows us to see a theologian’s internal deception.
But also, as we develop Biblical systems of categories, our understanding of the Bible will deepen. So as you read, look for ways of thinking about things according to how they are presented in the Bible in ways that you haven’t previously considered.