Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Proud to be a theological mutt

Even the link trail is muttish. Swap Blog pointed me to a post by Steve Wynkoop reacting to a Christianity Today interview with Ben Witherington III about his book, The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism. In the interview, Witherington makes this point about each branch:
The issues I'm concerned about are the distinctives of Calvinist, Arminian, dispensational, or Pentecostal theology. When they try to go some particular direction that's specific to their theological system, that's precisely the point in their argument at which they are exegetically weakest.
Dr. Witherington is right. Each branch of theology (not just of the evangelical sort) allows distinctives to obscure and trump the simple truth of the gospel. Here's more from the interview:
Part of the problem is the temptation to form our theology almost independently of doing our exegesis. We run to the biblical text to shore up or find proof texts for things we already believe.

In addition, we are all children of the Enlightenment, so we've tended to treat the Bible as if it were a history of ideas, where topics like soteriology, justification, the new birth, sanctification, going on to perfection, and glorification were the main themes, and our job was to link one idea to another. But in Scripture, we're not talking about a history of ideas but about spiritual realities in people's lives, about people who have stories and encounters with God. If you read the Bible carefully, on or below the surface of all of these texts is narrative, especially the story of Christ, but also the Old Testament stories of Adam and Moses and Abraham, and the story of Christians as recounted in Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament.

I think part of the problem is that we are still doing theology in an Enlightenment frame of mind, as if it were a string of ideas that we should logically link together, and once we've produced a nice logical circle, then we're home free. The truth is that life is a lot messier than that, and the Bible is more about stories than the history of ideas that are embedded in the stories.
Amen. Although I haven't yet read Dr. Witherington's book I take hope, like Steve Wynkoop, in what I've seen so far. It's also encouraging to read Steve's blog and discover my own true breed: theological mutt.


Blogger Shannon said...

Great excerpt, Milton. I agree wholeheartedly. In our church, people have come with backgrounds in both Calvinism and Arminianism, and somehow they manage to worship side by side. When my husband hits on a particularly controversial passage, he'll sometimes say, "Well, this text will appeal to the Calvinists in the room ... but stay tuned, because next week, the Arminians will have their turn." Although we do have distinctives, for the most part, we let the text speak for itself without trying to make it fit into a doctrinal box.

Thanks for a good read. Hope you enjoy your time away. :)

3:22 PM, November 22, 2005  
Blogger Steve said...

Thanks Milton for reading and commenting on my blog! I look forward to reading your blog in the future!

Grace and peace,

11:26 PM, November 26, 2005  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for your kind words, Shannon, and I'm glad to hear that your husband is also trying to submit to the Word without letting doctrinal distinctives trump what it says!

We had a good trip and are home now. Peace.

7:12 AM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

You're quite welcome, Steve, and thanks for the fine post. All the best for continued blogging.

7:13 AM, November 28, 2005  

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