I haven’t written much lately because I’m planning an extensive series on Christian epistemology. The term “epistemology” refers to how we answer the question “How do we know…?” I don’t intend merely to give a defense of the Bible. Rather, I intend to investigate how we know that the Bible is true, how we know our understanding of the Bible is true, and discover the presuppositions that undergird that investigation. This is an extensive study that links the nature of God and creation with his revelation to us. I also hope to make it accessible to the average reader. The hard part is to linearlize it so that I can make an index that organizes it so the relationships between different areas of thought and study can be understandable.
In many ways, this short series is related to that series. There is a link between the purpose of revelation and our ability to know what it means.
Let me ‘splain:
Theology matters. If you get God wrong, you end up worshipping the wrong God. There are two, even three, categories for analyzing the importance of theological doctrines. Dr. Al Mohler calls this Theological Triage. The difference between the first category and the other two is a matter of salvation. Doctrines that one must hold to be true in order to know one is saved are in the first category. All other doctrines are in the second and third categories.
There are many who would dispute finer points of what should be included in the first category and what should be included in the second and third categories. For example, orthodox Christians hold that the diety of Christ should be in the first category, but there are denominations that claim that Jesus is not God who would dispute that the deity of Christ belongs in the first category. Very liberal theologians might argue that the only thing in the first category is a claim to be a Christian. They would claim that one could even deny that there is a God at all (much less that he sent a Christ for any reason) and still be a Christian. As ridiculous as that all seems, it only goes to show that it’s important to make a case that theology matters.
There are those that tend toward liberal theology for the reason that we all just need to get along. They would say that glorifying God by getting along is better than actually knowing what god we are trying to glorify. Therefore, they intentionally ignore the fundamental differences between the One True God and the plethora of false imitations.
So thoughtful Christians debate the finer points of who God is by virtue of his special revelation to us in the Bible, through a particular denomination’s traditional interpretation, the general revelation of the created order, and our intellectual ability to sort it all out. Most people miss the fact that they have cultural blinders on when they theologize. With all this to muddy the waters, it’s no wonder that we wind up with theological differences as we try to reconcile apparent theological tension.
Some people even dismiss theological tension either by chalking it up as a divine mystery or claiming that there is no way that we can know. They say that we just have to accept it “by faith”. While it’s true that there are things about God that are unfathomable to us now, special revelation was given to us precisely so that we could know and understand what has been revealed.
I’ve largely been dissatisfied with the historic debates, even when I agree wholeheartedly with one side over another. First, they tend to focus on differences rather than similarities. Second, opposing categories of doctrinal thought are in opposition precisely because they hold different fundamentals in primacy over the rest.
It’s that second reason that I'm addressing in this article. So I’ll have two areas of theological debate to use as examples. And I will replace both with the fundamental that all things: revelation, the process of sanctification, the ordinances/sacraments of the Church, the fellowship of the Church, etc: all things exist to glorify God.
As this article is getting long so I’ll break the couple of examples into separate posts.