I’ve been thinking a lot lately about thinking about theology.
Is it worth the time? Is it necessary? Doesn’t the Bible tell us what our theology should be? That’s why we call it the Word of God, right? Who needs to think when you have it straight from the Man Upstairs?
In the middle of pondering all of this, someone posted a comment on the “Becoming Presbyterian” entry below, signed only as “Anony Mouse” (Click here to read his comments). Mr. Mouse questioned the value of what he called “speculation” by reminding us that “revelation trumps speculation”.
Is speculation out of place in one’s theological journey? Not according the Scriptures. David speculated over and over in the Psalms about when God was going to actually bring justice to the world. Job questioned and wondered aloud about his wretched condition. Ecclesiasties is also an example of often wild speculation about the nature of life.
The “catch” for Mr. Mouse is to understand that Scripture must be interpreted, and sometimes interpretation involves speculation. If one reads any church history it is quickly apparent that theologians often disagree, with both sides reaching Scripturally sound conclusions on how to interpret issues such as predestination.
Through the squeaking, Mr. Mouse insisted that I needed an “interpretive framework”, so that people can understand how I come to conclusions about the questions I’ve asked. How does one precede when trying to interpret Scripture? Here’s an incomplete “interpretive framework” that may help Mr. Mouse and all of us think through the difficult questions that we sometimes come across in the Bible. Here are some questions to ask when interpreting a passage:
– What is the immediate context of this passage?
– What is the wider context (the book or the Bible as a whole)?
– What events in history surrounded the writing of this passage?
– What cultural customs provide background to this passage?
– What genre is this passage? Poetry? History? Apocalyptic?
– Have I prayed for the direction of the Holy Spirit as I study this?
– How can all the above help me discover the author’s intended meaning?
Not every topic in Scripture can be answered by quoting one or two verses. There are some questions to which we must apply Scripture carefully with a measure of speculation as we reach a conclusion.
In those moments we would be wise to acknowledge that we must grow accustomed to humility in our theology, recognizing that none of us can see things completely as they are, for “we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). As much as we hate to admit it, the very nature of faith to have an incomplete understanding of things.
We can be certain that “God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9 paraphrase), but as Meister Eckhart said, “God is like a person who clears his throat while hiding and so gives himself away.”