Questions about thinking theologically
Do we know how to think theologically?
Do we know how to teach others to think theologically?
What’s the difference between indoctrination and teaching?
In an ever changing society how to each teach so that people are able to engage society with boldness yet humility, with clarity and integrity, honesty and thoughtfulness?
During the second half of the 19th century and into the first half of the 20th century as the modernist controversy was being waged, people crossed denominational lines and banded together to help people understand what “The Fundamentals” were. This lead to essays (90 of them from my count) that were send to 3 million pastors and teachers between 1915 and 1920, leading to the publication of a 4 volume set by R A Torrey entitled, “The Fundamentals.”
These essays dealt primarily with 5 fundamentals:
1. The inerrancy of the Scripture (the autographs)
2. The deity of Jesus Christ
3. The virgin birth (Jesus true humanity)
4. The substitutionary death of Christ (atonement)
5. The body resurrection and second coming of Christ.
This list was not intended to be the sum total of theology, but key issues that were being challenged in day. As with most of our theology, it is not developed in a vacuum but in response to a challenge the church is facing at the time. And while these 5 issues had been addressed and developed into doctrinal statements prior to the modernist controversy, the controversy caused them to be re-explained.
Are they the only essentials? No, I don’t think so. There is no mention of the nature of God in this list–that was not at issue. Today, there are a number of areas being challenged (see my current/developing list).
To answer the question of essentials or fundamentals, we need to ask a number of other questions, or rather look at the issue form a variety of angles:
1. What is necessary for salvation? That is, what must a person know and believe to be saved?
Most would agree this should be a short list. But is that the sum total of the essentials?
2. What is necessary for orthodoxy? That is, what must be believed (agreed to) in order not be be considered a heretic? What does Scripture delineate as priority?
Over which items of theology will I separate from other believers (personally or as a church)? Realizing that throughout the history of the church individuals, churches and denominations have separated or divided over a multitude of issues, many I think are insignificant.
What areas of commonality are required for me to have fellowship, true biblical communion with other believers?
Over what areas am I willing to die (absolutes)?
3. What is distinctive about my believe system? That is, not only what do I take as foundational or essential, but what issue do I have conviction about that makes my system cohesive and therefore a system not just a set of beliefs. How do I evaluate my system on an ongoing basis?
4. How honest am I with my convictions and beliefs? Can I distinguish the essential and non-essential based on degrees of certainty? Are there things in my theological system that I hold as true with absolute certainty? Are there issues I believe and hold to be true, but due to the amount of information or clarity within the Bible, with a lesser degree of certainty? How does that affect my convictions? And do I understand the strengths and weaknesses of my convictions when they are less than certain?
To answer these questions requires personal study of Scripture. Personal conviction. The question isn’t just “what does my church believe” but what do I believe.