Friday, November 8, 2013

On Theological Debate

I recently followed along with a theological debate via a series of blog posts, articles, video responses from many different parties or theological camps. The specific topics of the debate aren't important for my purposes here. Let's just say there was a theological position being critiqued, then there was the subsequent objections, clarifications, definitions and re-definitions.

Theological debate and clarification is not always fun. In an ideal world, the church would get along without theological disagreement. Heck, in an ideal world, all of humanity would agree on theology, especially that about the nature of God, the lordship of Jesus, the meaning of the cross, salvation, and the eternal state. But as it is in this fallen world, there will be debate, and there will be disagreement, even among the people of God:
"The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate..." Acts 15:6-7
Throughout the course of my following this particular debate in the blogosphere, I did encounter some who were uncomfortable with the fact that we had a debate at all. "Why can't we get along, why can't we be unified?" they would ask, somewhat understandably. Still others would assert something along these lines:
"I'm not into theology; I'm just into Jesus. We don't need to debate doctrine; we just need to be about God's love."
Now, I can understand being uncomfortable with debate or division. In a sense, this discomfort is a longing for heaven, when God's people will all finally agree! However, it saddens me to see the responses indicating that such a discussion about God's truth doesn't matter. Or that we need to just "be about Jesus" or "be about God's love."

Allow me to ask, when you are "just about Jesus", how do you define who Jesus is? When you just "focus on God's love", how do you know what exactly God's love IS and what it ISN'T? If you make the claim that you don't need to be about theology, you must realize that whatever you are "about" is itself its own theology! As Tim Keller says:
"The insistence that doctrine does not matter is itself a doctrine."
You cannot define whatever it is that you are "about" - Jesus, God, Love - without theology or doctrine. Once you have insisted what something IS, you have also stated what it ISN'T. At that point, you have raised a clear definition which is grounds for theological debate or disagreement! For example, if you are just going to be "about God's Love", you must define what God's love is/isn't and what it does/doesn't do - and someone may disagree with you. If you are just going to be "about Jesus", you must define who he is/isn't and what he has done/hasn't done - and someone will disagree with you.

I'm not saying that all debates or issues are of equal importance. Nor am I claiming that all are handled in the right manner. But when issues arise, to simply take a pass or claim them as unimportant is a position in and of itself. At some point, Christians stand on doctrinal definitions, without which we wouldn't actually exist.

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