Is Your Theology Influenced by Subjective Persuasions or Objective Truth?

Theology is at the epicenter of a person’s worldview. In fact, the way a person views God affects the way the person evaluates everything in life—from politics to science. Facing this task has been challenging; in that one must evaluate how one views God. N. T. Wright was correct when he stated that “all talk about God is necessarily self-involving and that the mode of this involvement will vary according to what is being said, or at least what is being meant, about God himself.[1] Paul Froese and Christopher Bader further challenged this assumption as they presented evidence that suggests that Americans view God in four different ways: “Authoritative (immanent and judging), Benevolent (immanent and loving), Critical (distant and judging), and Distant (distant and loving).[2] The question must be asked; how much of our knowledge of God is based upon subjective opinion as opposed to objective fact? Where does one find these objective facts concerning God?

Specific Revelation

One such way a person can find objective information concerning God is in the disclosed revelation of God: namely, the Bible. It is agreed with Gerald Bray in that “the Bible is an exhaustive source of theological knowledge.[3] To reduce one’s subjective reasoning pertaining to biblical objective principles concerning God, one must practice good hermeneutics in interpreting Scripture. Great theological problems have emerged throughout church history when an interpreter seeks to justify one’s personal perceptions of God as opposed to the attributes of God presented in Scripture.

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine Chapel

General Revelation (aka. Natural Theology)

Secondly, objective information about God can be obtained by God’s natural revelation; or the attributes of God revealed by God’s creation. While much is agreed with Gerald Bray’s book The Doctrine of God, Bray’s assumptions that the natural theologian’s “attempts to rescue God from oblivion…are best described as pathetic[4] are completely rejected. With the great success of Christian apologists such as William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Norman Geisler, and Gary Habermas, who all to a degree employ tactics found in natural theology; this writer must strongly disagree with Bray on this matter. For it was Paul who wrote that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.[5] Thus, God has revealed Himself through His creation. Truly the psalmist was correct in stating that the “heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.”[6] Hence, natural theology has its place and demonstrates many of the objective attributes of God (i.e. God’s omnipotence).

In conclusion, it is of utmost importance that one bases one’s knowledge of God upon what God has revealed about Himself through specific revelation (the Bible) and natural, or general, revelation; termed natural theology. The Christian leader must consider whether their viewpoints concerning God are based upon God’s revelation or upon personal preference. In addition, the leader would do well to lead the congregation into a proper understanding of the Creator based upon the Creator’s revelation, as well.

Addendum

It should be noted that theology influences every other walk in life. As the following chart demonstrates, a person’s theology, or lack thereof, influences how one views humanity (anthropology), Christ (Christology), the Spirit and spiritual dimension (pneumatology), the church (ecclesiology), salvation (soteriology), and the end times (eschatology). In addition, Paul Froese and Christopher Bader note, in their book America’s Four Gods, that how one views God influences how one views politics, religion, governmental affairs, ethics, and just about everything else. In their book, they describe four ways that a person views God:

Authoritative (one who views God as immanent and judgmental),

Benevolent (one who views God as immanent and loving/non-judgmental),

Critical (one who views God as distant and judging),

and Distant (one who views God as distant and loving/non-judgmental).”[7]

One must note that all four viewpoints are lacking. The authoritative and critical viewpoints are correct in thinking that God will hold each person responsible for his or her actions. However, those who hold such views may forget that “love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” [8] Those who hold to the benevolent and distant views may hold a correct view of God’s love, but may fail in their understanding when they find that God holds people accountable for their actions. For the writer of Proverbs states that “the eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”[9] In addition, those who hold to the authoritative and benevolent viewpoints understand that God is very close to the actions of the world. Yet, they may lose the majesty of God’s transcendence and the importance that God places on individuals to take responsibility for their lives. As Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”[10] Jesus placed an emphasis on a person’s responsibility to the Father and Him. Also, the advocate of the critical and distant views may have a correct interpretation on God’s majesty and power. Yet, they may fail to see that God is nearer to the actions of the world than they may fathom. For Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[11]

Thus, it is important for each individual to evaluate their own theology. Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he said that each Christian should “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”[12] Each Christian needs to evaluate his or her beliefs. Are their beliefs driven by the objective revelation of God? Or, are their beliefs driven by personal persuasions and wishes? In the end, it should be the goal of every believer to focus their attention on God and not themselves…especially when it comes to theology. For “theology” is a study (logos) of God (theos).

Notes:

Note #1: The following was a journal entry posted by the author of this site for credit at his university. Therefore, any information used in this article must be correctly documented for class projects or the user may be found guilty of plagiarism at his or her respected school.

Note #2: For the next eight weeks, I will be engaged in an upper-level theology course called “The Doctrine of God.” Therefore, the following eight posts, including this post, will provide information that has been learned through the process of study.

Chart is not original to Pastor Brian. All rights belong to credited author.

This chart is not original to Pastor Brian. All rights belong to credited author.

 Bibliography

 All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Bray, Gerald. The Doctrine of God, Contours of Christian Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarity Press, 1993.

Froese, Paul, and Christopher Bader. America’s Four Gods: What We Say About God–& What That Says About Us. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Scripture noted as “NKJV” comes from the New King James Version. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1982.

Wright, N. T. “Christian Origins and the Question of God.” In Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives. Edited by Bruce L. McCormack. Grand Rapids, Scotland: Baker, Rutherford House, 2008.

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[1] N. T. Wright, “Christian Origins and the Question of God,” in Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives, Bruce L. McCormack, ed (Grand Rapids, Scotland: Baker, Rutherford House, 2008), 23.

[2] Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, America’s Four Gods: What We Say About God–& What That Says About Us (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 24.

[3] Gerald Bray, The Doctrine of God, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarity Press, 1993), 18.

[4] Ibid, 109.

[5] Romans 1:20.

[6] Psalm 97:6.

[7] Froese and Bader, 24.

[8] 1 John 4:7-8, NKJV.

[9] Proverbs 15:3.

[10] John 15:10, NKJV.

[11] Matthew 28:20, NKJV.

[12] Philippians 2:12.

 

Copyright. Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.