Theologies are funny things.
On a number of occasions I have heard someone express the thought that it would have been better if the Bible had been written in the style of a systematised theology book. Imagine how handy it would be if everything concerning the various topics of scripture was neatly laid out in a logical step-by-step fashion. We would instantly know what the biblical position is for everything! And wouldn’t it be great if the biblical writers had included a helpful section at the end of each book answering all the possible questions we could ever have?! Yet anyone who has ever taken the time to open and read a Bible knows this ‘ideal fantasy’ (of some!) is very far from actual reality. There are very good reasons for this, and maybe one day I will write an article on it as it is an interesting subject to explore.
The various ways the biblical material is presented should push us towards a desire to want to learn how to correctly interpret the text. That is, assuming we really want to acquire an accurate understanding of it. Correct interpretation is essential if we truly desire to arrive at an accurate picture of any subject in the scriptures.
Unfortunately, it is rare for theological truths to be explicitly presented to us on a silver platter. Indeed, when we think they are, we are often sorely mistaken! Instead, theologies are ‘discovered’. They are devised and constructed, using the building blocks provided by our biblical exegesis (exegesis = drawing out of the text its original meaning, as opposed to reading into it our own ideas).
Importantly, we must remember that both exegetical work and theological thought is carried out by fallible human beings. As I happen to be one myself, I am very aware of just how fallible we can be! This natural tendency to want to get all our ‘ducks in a row’ is not as straightforward as we would like to think.
Steps of separation
The degree of accuracy of any theological position depends on many factors. The translation of the Bible into English (or any other modern language) introduces an interpretational step away from the original text. It is also a step away from how the original audience experienced it. Our own biblical exegesis (interpretation) introduces a second step away from the original. Finally, we insert a third step when we take that exegetical work and use it to construct our theologies.
Whether we realise it or not, most of us live within the world of our theologies. They constitute our worldviews. We see and interpret both the world and scripture through the lens of the various theologies we have chosen to adopt. As such, most of us are operating in a world a minimum of three steps removed from the original biblical text and audience. This increasing separation opens the door to unintentional errors creeping in during the process of a constructing a theological view. In extreme cases it can give rise to false teachings. Tragically, if the error is serious enough, abuse of our fellow brothers and sisters can be the result.
When we throw into the mix an almost limitless number of presuppositions and interpretational methodologies, it’s almost surprising we ever arrive at theological truth!
It takes work
This places the onus on each of us to seriously dig down into the text. We must diligently apply ourselves, and conscientiously engage our minds during our study. Only then can we hope to ‘rightly divide/handle the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15).
Extensive theological knowledge does not just magically materialise in our minds upon a superficial reading of scripture. It takes work. We must learn how to ask questions of the biblical text. This is often acknowledged, but not always practised. However, what is often not acknowledged or practised is the need to ask questions of our theologies.
For some strange reason, theologies have a control over us that we must not question. In fact, we are often so invested in them that when the biblical text does not seem to conform to our theology, we will go to great lengths to try and make it ‘fit’. This process is the exact reverse of what it should be. Asking questions of our theologies should really be the normal practice of anyone who wants to be a mature disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. If our Christianity consists of simply regurgitating theologies we have been spoon-fed from the pulpit, without asking any questions of them, then shame on us. We are not only letting ourselves down, but also the One who gave us the scriptures in the first place.
Our first theological view is…
A couple of months ago I mentioned that we would soon be choosing a theology for examination, to see how robust it is. It can be helpful to observe a fellow interpreter in how they approach the interpretational and theological task. No-one is a perfect interpreter, especially me! I have had to change my theological positions on several occasions. I did this because I saw someone else asking questions that I myself had not thought to ask.
Contrary to the belief of many, this is actually a good and healthy thing. With the Lord’s help, the experience has helped me to improve my defective interpretational ‘skills’. But it does not stop there. Perhaps more importantly it has helped me to realise that my ability to interpret is always potentially defective in some way, and in need of improvement. I just might not realise it yet! This realisation is a good place to be. It guards against complacency, and brings the additional benefit of increased confidence in God’s Word. In other words, it strengthens my faith and the assurance I have in Christ. And that is important.
One area I have personally been interested in for several years is the relationship between Israel and the Church. What is the nature of that relationship? Is there even a relationship to be spoken of? Is the Church now God’s Israel? It is a wide subject to investigate in depth, so I have decided to focus on one interesting area. I will take a look at what is commonly known as replacement theology. What is replacement theology? What is its exegetical (interpretational) basis, and how theologically consistent is it with scripture?
I will begin by looking at the first of these questions. Whatever our current position is regarding replacement theology – for, against or just neutral and wanting to learn more – I hope it will be an interesting and fruitful study of what is a popular theological position. Who knows, perhaps I will discover that my current position does not have satisfactory answers to all the questions…