By Raymond Harris
Irrespective of church affiliation and whether we know it or not, theology is the background teachings (the underpinnings or foundation, if you will) that you and I received when you and I were new to and growing in the faith. Theology is the informational lens through which our church taught us to interpret the Bible. At best, theology is simply the beginning method for the intellect to understand what God has revealed in the Scriptures.
Because theology represents the mechanism by which our intellect interprets Scripture, when another believer interprets the scriptures differently it is because of their theology. These differing theological conclusions are what drive the debates between and among believers.
As such, our theology will be the background mechanism by which you and I interpret just about anything a fellow Christian says. If the reader agrees, or disagrees, or agrees to disagree the reason is based, in no small part, in differences in theology.
Theology: The Reason It’s Important
As I have been studying and talking with other disciples, it was finally revealed to me why there are so many disagreements, it is a theological disagreement. You might read what I just said and reply, “Duh!” but the reality is that the theological backdrop was never in the forefront of my mind when speaking with other Christians.
It seems that in a very general sense we know that the world is filled with all kinds of theology: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, just to name a few. But it never, and I mean never, occurred to me that as a Christian the reason why I agree or disagree with other Christians is because of theology.
While it can be rightly argued that the English term theology is not found within the pages of the NT, the English term theology is a compound word derived from two Greek Words, both of which have abundant use in the NT: theos (G2316) and logos (G3056).
The Greek word theos (and its variants) is translated into English as: god, gods, and God, among several others. While in English there is a theological difference between the lower case god and the capitalized God, the Greek does not recognize such a convention, the Greek is either theos or THEOS, it is left up to the Greek reader to determine if the context is referring to God (Jehovah – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). The Greek word logos (and its variants) is translated into English as: word, words, and saying, among several others.
What is important about this Greek term is that when we combine theos with logos to construct the word theology which means god word or god saying. Strictly speaking a capital “G” or a lower case “g” does not matter, but since we are specifically speaking about the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob we have accepted the custom of capitalizing God to know that we are referring to Jehovah. So, this God saying refers to the things that we say about God, how we interpret Him, His being, His message, along with the intent of His message.
Theology is a big umbrella term that encapsulates many various concepts and therefore has many categorical classifications, more than we will discuss herein. However, whether or not we are aware, these categories represent the lenses through which we were taught to see the Bible.
It is my conviction that any who teach Scripture truly, to their core, believe their theology is the proper lens to understand God. While to some examining theology seems tantamount to questioning God, we must accept that God is coherent and consistent. Since, we believe that God is coherent and consistent then it follows that theology and theological application needs coherency and consistency. This is why hours, years, decades and centuries have been devoted in an attempt to provide clear, coherent, and consistent answers for every theological category, and then giving revisions when things are unclear, or there are incoherencies, or inconsistencies.
During my studies I have found that the theological categories of dispensation, covenant, cessation, supersession (replacement), and olive branch are root causes for many arguments and disagreements among honest God-loving brethren. The reason for this is faith in God does not require theology, per se; but reading and understanding His Scriptures does. There is not a believer in God who does not want their theology to match what God has taught in His word, because for believers being pleasing to God is important, and properly understanding His word is just as important. Knowing this, agreement or argument among and between believers pretty much depends on which category/categories the believer holds to be true. And for each believer not all categories are created the same.
I will spend a small, and I mean a disproportionately small, amount of time with each of these. The reason my time will be small is because I am not attempting to write a book or thesis about each theological approach, my aim is simply a short discussion of each and what things persuade me for or against a theological category. And in some small way, this is my attempt to reveal to the reader the reason why believers agree, disagree, or agree to disagree. Irrespective if the reader agrees with my conclusions, I encourage the reader to undertake the arduous (and the study of theology is difficult and strenuous) effort to investigate and research theology.
Theology: Aren’t We All on the Same Page?
Theology is the unspoken assumed “we’re all on the same page” mentality that every church expects of its people. When questions arise, and questions always do, it is primarily due to differences in two things. One, Biblical interpretation; but two, biblical application based upon the church’s assumed to be “understood by all” theology.
When anyone becomes cantankerous and perhaps to the extreme heretical to the local church or the universal church it is because of differences in Biblical Interpretation driven by differences in Biblical Theology. In a very general sense, and I mean very general, the twentieth-century cofc that I grew up in interprets the Scriptures through a Dispensational Replacement (i.e. Supersession) Cessation Theology, herein referred to as DRCT.
I know it is DRCT because of the following observations about what was taught. One, this part fits into Dispensational Theology: God manages His interactions with humanity through Dispensations or time frame management. Two, this part fits into Replacement (Supersession) Theology: that God had the NT replace the OT. Three, this fits into Cessatist Theology: that miracles, signs, and wonders (like speaking in tongues) stopped at one of two times: either when the NT canon was completed, or when those who had received the Apostles laying on of the hands died. These three theological categories support a certain style of interpretation and biblical theology.
The reader might respond, “Big deal! So, what’s the point?” The point is that theology drives the practice of the church and the disciple. Theology is why churches and disciples look the way they look, act the way they act, and do the things they do.
Let us take this DRCT theology and apply to my specific situation. DRCT theology drives the need for the twentieth-century cofc to find and determine “the law of Christ” in order to establish a pattern for normative church worship and discipleship behavior. DRCT seeks to define concepts and terms like: baptism, christian, disciple, repentance, salvation, and worship independent and isolated from OT influences. More specifically, DRCT prevents the twentieth-century cofc from using the OT for normative church practices and discipleship, yet somehow DRCT permits the twentieth-century cofc to use the OT in order to prohibit and restrict church practices and discipleship.
Theology: An Early Conclusion
Whether it is comfortable or not, salvation and eternity do not necessarily depend on one’s theology. While the Holy Spirit and Scriptures inspire us to have faith in God and in Jesus, the scriptures do not come with a specific handbook guiding us into interpretation and theology.
Men and women, throughout the ages, have attempted to specify proper interpretation and proper theology. Volumes have been written and scores of libraries have been created in an attempt to help believers have the best theology, helping us find practices and behavior pleasing to God Almighty.
While I am uncertain of the origins of the saying, there is an axiom that has come down through the Christian ages: “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” The message of the axiom is a laudable goal having the ideas originate with Jesus (John 17.17-23); but Christianity seems to have done everything but have unity, liberty, and charity. Through Paul, the Holy Spirit has provided a starting point and some guidance about theological interpretation beginning in Romans 14. But century upon century seems to breed greater discord and division, these discords and divisions are created, in part, by the adversary, but also by the pride of God’s people who have to be the one who has the correct interpretation of God and His Word.
In some ways, it gives us confidence and comfort to have rock solid infallible theology, but we are people, and as people we fail and fall short in our understandings. But it seems proper that theology should be consistent and coherent. Inconsistency and incoherency lead to misunderstandings; worse they can lead to hypocrisy. At the end of the day, and perhaps at the end of time, theology represents humanity’s finite capabilities to grasp and understand the Infinite Creator, and therefore theology seems to take a back seat to faith. Yet. Yet…
Theology is important. Whether we realize it or not theology is partly the cause of arguments and divisions among Christians. It seems improper and nearly judgmental to proclaim one theology superior to another because, as stated near the beginning, “theology is simply the beginning method for the intellect to understand what God has revealed in the Scriptures.” But one thing seems certain: Theology should be Clear, Consistent, and Coherent.
Still to come, thoughts about:
Replacement (Supersession) Theology
Olive Branch Theology
Where Do We Go From Here?
SOME RESEARCH LINKS
The links are not provided to affirm or deny my perspective; they are, however, provided so that my readers can continue their study drawing their own conclusions.
Covenant Theology, Wikipedia.com.
Replacement Theology (Supersessionism), Wikipedia.com.
Olive Tree Theology, Wikipedia.com.