Lest any of my readers should dismiss me as a heretic, I thought I might clarify my intentions of yesterday’s post.
There were two specific statements I was calling out as idolatry:
- “Without systematic theology you can’t be the church.” (Stephen Wellum via The Gospel Coalition)
- “I don’t have Calvinism in a little compartment of my life. It is my life.” (John Piper)
Now, I realize that many people think anti-theology = anti-God. This is precisely why theological-based arguments are so powerful. Who are you, oh man, to question the attributes of God?
Well, if “theology” simply means the study of God as an activity, then I’m all for it. But most often, theology is used to refer to a particular theological theory or system… such as Calvinism, Arminianism, pre-millennialism, or any other “ism” you want to throw in there.
The problem with theology, is that proponents of one “ism” or another will perform a “Procrustean Bed” operation in order to make the Scripture fit their pre-conceived framework.
In Greek mythology, Procustes was a rogue smith who invited every passer-by to spend the night. He had a single iron bed which he would force every guest to fit into. If they were too short, he’d stretch them to fit. If they were too tall, he’d amputate the excess length.
As an ironic example of the Procustean Bed phenomenon, consider the often debated passage from 1 Corinthians:
Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Is this a challenge to “saved by grace alone”? Is it referring to a separate judgment? How do works and salvation relate?
These are questions one might ask if he was approaching it from a theological frame.
But if you simply let Scripture itself frame the passage, the meaning becomes clear. At the beginning of the argument, Paul states:
For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?
What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
The biblical frame of this passage has nothing to do with the grace vs. works paradigm. It has to do with the jealousy and strife created when choosing one teacher (or theologian) over another.
This jealously and strife is what causes the church to divide. Rather than facilitate open discussion, true intellectuals who challenge extra-biblical church doctrine are branded (and, in the past, burned) as “heretics.”
It shouldn’t take much “theology” to understand that this behavior is despicable in God’s sight.
If you think that one teacher (e.g. John Calvin) or a theological system is the true foundation of the faith… you might be in for an unpleasant surprise when you find all your study, promoting, and defending of that system was in vain! You’ll escape with your life, but you’ll have no reward for all that work.
If a Calvinist or an Arminian or any other pointed you to Christ and the gospel, praise God! But be careful how you build from that point forward.
Paul says that no man can lay a foundation other than the one that has been built (i.e. the Scriptures).
Frame determines meaning.
Anything framed outside of the Scripture text itself is inherently fragile.
Any teacher who doesn’t see the plain point of the text is either dishonest or over-educated into a theological frame.
Any teacher who dogmatically promotes a particular theological framework is an anti-intellectual. Not only is he too dull to perceive his error. He is too prideful to accept correction.
I say this not because I care whether any of my readers lean one way or another theologically. We can remain united in Christ while holding different opinions.
I only want to encourage my readers, literally for the love of God, to do two simple things:
- Be aware of how the passage is being framed
- Reject any frame that is contrary to the biblical frame