Tripping Through Theology (TTT) - Take 3

My last posted question in relation to our theology study was a basic one - "Where do you get your theology?" I listed the title of several popular books that have seemingly affected entire pockets of Americans, both believing and non-believing. Do fiction books such as The Shack have a greater claim on our lives than the Bible? I've heard so many people speak about The Shack as if it completely states their theology. Really?

In the comments to that post, my friend, Mrs. Edwards, said something that has really stuck with me and also applies here:
"My view of God cannot be formed by my feelings and emotions--even my intellect. It must be formed by God's own revelation to me. God is not who or what I think Him to be. He is not the creation of my mind or imagination. If my theology is based upon that it is idolatrous."
To take her comment further, God is not who a fiction writer thinks Him to be, He is not the creation of a fiction writer's imagination. So, if I contend that fiction books do not have a claim on God's Truth, then where does one find Truth? Some in our culture would ask a more basic question, "Is there even such a thing as objective Truth?" Others have already concluded that there is no such thing as Truth. Still others contend that Truth is unknowable.

Obviously, there are truths that we can all agree upon; this apple I'm looking at is red, a tree grows toward sunlight and millions of other things that are natural absolutes. So, the Truth that is in debate here really is Truth in matters of morality and religion, right?

Dig deeper into this and you will quickly come up with examples of things that are absolute Truths in matters of morality... crimes against children are wrong, our nation agrees with this. There are truths in many other areas of criminal and civil law as well. If there are not Truths about human behavior that we can all agree are wrong, why do we even have a governmental or criminal system. Clearly, utopia is not coming.

Other moral questions have fallen victim to that slippery slope of tolerance. I may hold to the absolute Truth that stealing is wrong, but to others in this country stealing is OK if you really need something. Relativism/subjectivism has so infiltrated our minds that we do have a slippery slope. Is the bottom in sight? What lies at the bottom?

But I digress. We make self-defeating statements in this area of Truth. When we say "there is no such thing as truth" we are, in that very declaration, making a truth statement; our statement defeats itself. Why do so many who make this exact statement not understand what they are actually saying? I find that many who have spoken these words to me are intelligent people, thinking people who have long ago given up on the idea of Biblical Christianity.

I am an objectivist... I believe that Truth is an objective reality which exists regardless of my belief in it or anyone else's belief in it. Now comes my challenge... finding that objective Truth that exists outside of me. Gratefully, our next class covers the topic of Christian Epistemology or "How does a Christian come to know Truth?"

Still tripping over these Truths,


Mrs. Edwards said…
I'm so complimented and honored to be quoted in your post! Thank you.

I may comment again when I have more time, but a quick comment on "The Shack." I haven't read the book and do not plan to, but a sermon from Mark Driscoll (which I listened to via podcast) called it heretical because it denied the hierarchy of the Trinity (the Bible is clear that Jesus, while equal to the Father, submits to Him), and because it portrayed God as taking on the mode of a woman (modalism is wrong, God the Father is Spirit and does not take on the mode of a human and especially not a female).

I mentioned these objections to a friend who read "The Shack." This lady is a Christian homeschooling mother, using Christian classical curriculum. Her reply, "Well, that's his (Driscoll's) opinion."

Worldly thinking has influenced us so deeply that we don't even recognize it. The only cure is daily pursuit of God and study of His Word. As I try to cure it in my own life I find that I'm becoming increasingly strange to even my Christian sisters.

That's a bit off topic from your question "How does a Christian come to know the Truth?" I'm aggravated by false teaching in fiction novels that has insidiously deceived so many believers, and that struck a chord with me.
Laura said…
I have read The Shack. It was slow and unbelievable to me. I'm glad I read it to know about the hype that my friends and family experience. My greatest prayer is that people would just remember it is fiction; someone's imagination at work.

Thanks for the input.
liz said…
I am with you on the Shack. I read it, only because so many people were talking about it (kind of like the Di vinci Code). I found it too simplistic and overall disappointing, given the hype it has been given. The only saving grace I can see to it is that it is a small thread that may be just strong enough to grab the interest of a non-believer. Then it is up to us to provide the "non-fictional" truths about the Holy Trinity when we find ourselves in a conversation.
Steve Sensenig said…
Looking at the avatars, are Mrs. Edwards and Laura related?? To my eyes, or at least with those little thumbnail pictures, you all look like you could be sisters!!

One question related to Mrs. Edward's comment, and I do not ask this to be argumentative, but hopefully to spark some thinking: You wrote, "God the Father is Spirit and does not take on the mode of a human...." What is your interpretation of who met with Abraham in Genesis 18? It's not a slam dunk that God appeared as a man, but it sure sounds like a possible way to look at that passage.

Like I said, I did not ask that to be argumentative, but to illustrate a point about the difficulty regarding theology. Over centuries, the church has defined certain things in codified formats (usually in the form of creeds and confessions) that then end up taking the place of scripture itself in our understanding of theology.

While the creeds have a very strong role in the history of the church, they are not, in and of themselves, scripture. And to the extent that they codify certain doctrines (such as that of the Godhead), they end up "over-simplifying" things that aren't as neat and clean as we would like them to be.

As an example, we say that the Son is equal with the Father. Yet the testimony of Jesus himself is that the Father was greater than he. (John 14:28) Is that simply a condition of his incarnation and humanity? Perhaps (Philippians 2 seems to indicate this). Yet how can God be "less than" God (i.e., "The Father is greater than I")?

So when the creeds state that Jesus is fully God, fully man, how does that reconcile with scripture? It doesn't cleanly line up with scripture, in reality. Scripture indicates something perhaps way more complex.

We say that the Father, Son, and Spirit are "three-in-one", yet in Revelation, we see the "Ancient of Days" (presumably the Father) and the Lamb (obviously the Son) appearing separately (one is on the throne, the other approaches the throne), and something often translated as "the seven spirits of God" (or sometimes "the seven-fold spirit of God").

That's not a classic portrayal of the Trinity, is it? Not even close! So, is Revelation on par with "The Shack" for its heresy? (That's tongue-in-cheek, please note!) ;)

The Bible refers to us being sheltered under God's wings. And Jesus used the same metaphor when weeping over Jerusalem. Yet we know that God is not a mother hen, right? :)

This is part of the problem both with "The Shack" itself and with the reactions against it, such as Driscoll's (which I also listened to). Both positions attempt to explain something that ultimately defies description. And yet we judge one over-simplification against another over-simplification and then find it to be lacking.

As you, Laura, have pointed out quite correctly, "The Shack" is a work of fiction. Driscoll dealt with it as if it were a theological textbook. And in doing so, he falls into the same trap that the creeds fall into -- they ignore much of scripture that doesn't fit their definition in their rush to tighten the boundaries of "orthodoxy".

So, in one sense, the other homeschool mother was at least partially correct. Driscoll was expressing his opinion, albeit using historical creeds and other extra-biblical definitions to support his opinion.

I would suggest that it's not "wordly thinking" to question Driscoll's critique. It may actually be healthy discernment.

Having said that, you are correct, Mrs. Edwards, that "daily pursuit of God" is exactly what is needed for all of us.

Blessings on both of you ladies. I enjoy reading these thoughts and always enjoy the opportunity to think out loud about these beautiful and very important topics.
Laura said…
Ah, creeds and councils... an area in the history of Christianity that remains little-studied by lay persons. Church tradition absolutely plays a role in our theology, whether or not we realize or admit to it.

From my miniscule current knowledge of the early councils, I see where you are coming from, Steve, regarding the 'rush to tighten the boundaries of orthodoxy.' I imagine genuine heart-felt believers struggling with the interpretations of scripture in Nicea and hoping to find a way to keep their flock from going astray following every false teacher. Perhaps, instead, they were self-seeking, power-hungry men who wanted to impose their doctrine on all. Either motive is worthy of consideration if we are going to base a major Christian doctrine on their decision.

Hmmm... so what should they have done? It would be interesting to know if they used a systematic approach, reading all Scripture that could possibly relate to the idea of the Trinity (and other controversial issues of their day and ours) or if they selected only a few passages supporting their own position.

There are many things we accept today as orthodox Christianity that, as you say, we have over-simplified. However, our over-simplification does not make every one of those topics untrue. The Truth of the God-head does defy description... it is beyond our limited understanding. And yet, our inability to grasp it does not change whatever Truth exists.

You are not argumentative. If we cannot have a healthy discussion between believers about these challenging topics, we will have no witness to those whose objections we hope to respectfully address. I post these ideas in hopes that people like you, Mrs. Edwards (who is only my sister in Christ) and myself will benefit from the dialogue. As you know, I do not have this figured out, and do not expect to completely 'get it' this side of heaven. And by the time heaven comes, I'll probably not much care about how the Trinity works, I suppose.

It is a privilege to noodle through these things with you guys. Mrs. Edwards, you are so right, we do appear more and more 'strange' as we make choices that line up with our growing faith. May our strangeness be a positive thing and may our oddity ring with Christ's love. More to come...
Mrs. Edwards said…
I knew I shouldn't have commented about "The Shack" since I haven't read it!

While a select group of people, such as us, enjoy tossing around these issues intellectually and checking them against Scripture as the Bereans did, the vast majority of people read things in popular culture and then listen to the experts for how they should think about them. (Actually, this could be said about more than just fiction novels.) Since I didn't even read the novel in question, that is a bad example for me, but a more obvious example might be cultural issues of feminism, marriage, finances, etc. People want the shortcut of the Christian expert rather than the hard work of being sanctified through the Word. In short, what bothers me most is that there are so many who are not grounded enough in Scripture to be able to put The Shack through the wringer and deal with its portrayals of God on the level that you are, Steve.

By the way, since you heard Driscoll, you know my "God is spirit..." line was more a less a quote from him about modalism. On that point I'm out of my league and should just bow out.

But, in answer to your question about God's appearance to Abraham, my belief is that when God appears as the Angel of the Lord, or the visitor that Abraham met it is Christ pre-Incarnate. Of course, it is speculative and, as I've said before, God is Who He Is, not what I make Him to be, but that is how I understand Scripture, given the other conversations He had with Moses about His Presence.
Steve Sensenig said…
Mrs. Edwards, good thoughts in response. I appreciate the dialogue. I was taught the "Christ pre-Incarnate" view, as well. It's a handy way to keep everything lined up, but as you said, it is definitely speculative. Fun to discuss and debate, but we really have no way of knowing for sure.

Laura, I don't know if you ever saw this post of mine, but almost two years ago, I wrote a post called "Know Your Heritage" which discusses some history surrounding predominantly the Council of Nicaea. You may find it very interesting to read.

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