In the opening post of this series I made the statement that ‘theology matters’. Now I want to explore this in more detail by outlining four categories of theology. With each category I will explain what is meant by the term, the implications of believing such theology, our response to those believing or teaching it and some examples. I acknowledge that this is not a perfect framework and not every doctrine will fit simply into one of the four categories. In saying that I still believe it can be somewhat helpful and further highlight why theology matters.
4 CATEGORIES OF THEOLOGY
Meaning – By definite theology I simply mean clear and truthful theology. The bible speaks clearly to this particular topic or doctrine. For those that take the Bible seriously there is no debate. I have to preface ‘take the Bible seriously’ because there is always someone that will twist the clear teaching of scripture to put forward their unfortunate agenda. Definite theology implies that all Christian’s essentially agree with this particular doctrine.
Implications: If someone believes or teaches this theology or doctrine it leads to life and godliness. Their faith is grounded in truth. Their Christian experience will be consistent and their eternity with Christ secure.
Response: Believe and Rejoice. Our response to truth is faith and joy. True theology is to celebrated; people coming to know and believe the truth is to be celebrated. We believe it ourselves and rejoice when others do likewise.
Examples: The basic core elements of the Christian faith. Jesus death, burial and resurrection for example are something we all agree on as clear biblical truth. As Christians we all believe it and rejoice in what is meant by it. When someone from a slightly different church camp from us comes to believe in this same truth, we likewise rejoice with them. Definite theology is what makes it Christian theology.
Meaning: By debateable theology I mean that bible is less clear to this particular topic or doctrine and it would be regarded as more of a secondary issues within Christian belief. Those that hold a different view on these doctrines remain as part of the Christian community because they believe in the definite theology. Within ‘Debatable Theology’ there is a great sense of appreciation for someone else’s view while graciously and humbly disagreeing. This theology is held with more of an open hand than a closed hand.
Implications: If someone believes this theology or doctrine the implications are predominantly intellectual, though at times may alter ones Christian experience to some degree. Whichever side of the debate one lands their eternity with Christ remains secure. They are Christians with whom we disagree with their interpretation of scripture.
Response: Debate and Disagree. Our response to such theology is to disagree graciously. In love for each other and with a godly desire for truth we will debate but we do not arrogantly argue, fight, or slander. Rather we encourage each other to continue to seek truth and to submit to it as we see it. Good godly debate around these topics is helpful rather than hurtful.
Examples: Baptism. There has been much debate in the church over which mode of Baptism is right, Paedo (Latin for child) or Credo (Latin for believe) baptism. If it’s of interest to you check out R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur’s debate (youtu.be/2VzUOiNtgio). Two incredible minds and two great friends completely disagree with how they interpret scripture on this topic. Both seek to be obedient to their interpretation while extending grace to the other. Due to the nature of the doctrine of Baptism, neither side is placing anybody’s eternity at risk through their teaching.
Other examples could include the debate of cessationism Vs continuationism and whether the miraculous gifts of tongues, prophesy, miracles etc still exist in the church today. Or the debate around eschatology and the end times. These are secondary issues that do not affect one’s salvation only one’s intellect and Christian experience. Therefore we hold our interpretation of scripture but we do so with humility, grace and openness to learn from the other side.
Meaning – By dangerous theology I mean that there will be elements of truth layered within significant error. Due to the mixture of truth and error a trajectory is set that can be harmful and even destructive if arrived at a particular destination. It’s dangerous not because it’s utterly false but because there is falsity within the key premises upon which the overall theology is derived.
Implications: If someone believes this theology or doctrine they may remain a Christian however it will affect their Christian experience greatly and has the potential to put their eternal security at risk. This theology leads down a dangerous path and therefore needs to be carefully considered.
Response: Reject and Warn. Our response to such theology is to reject it personally and to warn both teacher and learner of the potential danger in holding to such theology. Debate and discussion need to occur however due to the possible ramifications a step further must be taken to warn people in love. It is stronger than basic disagreement; there is genuine concern that this theology is able to lead someone down a very dangerous path.
Furthermore, let’s not throw out the Heretic label here too quick. I do believe scripture allows a distinction between a false teacher and someone that teaches falsely. Well meaning, passionate people can be ill informed, ignorant, naïve and lack adequate hermeneutical education. It’s possible for people to learn, grow and eventually correct previous errors. I sure know this has been true of me. So while it is plausible for someone teaching falsely to be a false teacher, it’s not necessarily always the case. Dangerous theology while false theology may not necessarily mean heretical.
Examples: Liberalism is often a good example because it always begins with slight theological nuances and sometimes ends it utter denial of definite truth. I say sometimes because it depends on how far one goes. But the trajectory is always set by that 1% adjustment in the theology. If followed through to it’s logical conclusion certain aspects of liberalism often lead to despair and complete loss of ‘definite theology’
A good biblical example of warning against dangerous theology is in Titus 3. Speaking of people that are teaching foolish controversies, genealogies and the like Paul tells Titus to warn them. If after a few warnings they don’t heed the warning then reject the person, ‘knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned’ (Tit. 3:10) Titus is to reject the theology and warn them first, before out rightly rejecting them.
Meaning – By damning theology I mean heretical. It is false and will lead people away from Christ.
Implications: If someone believes or teaches this theology they will not inherit God’s kingdom. They will not be saved. They will not live with Jesus in glory. Their experience will not be consistent and their eternity will not be secure.
Response: Reject and Rebuke. Our response to such theology is to call it out for what it is – false. While I do not believe we have to call out every individual teacher by name, we must identify the theology and when necessary call out the teacher. We cannot and should not tolerate any such theology because only truth leads to freedom.
Examples: Prosperity theology teaches that God wants everyone to be materially wealthy and if you have enough faith, give enough money God will give you material wealth. Prosperity gospel is a false gospel and needs to be called out for what it is. It is destructive. It misrepresents God and misleads people to worship a completely different god. The message is ‘come to God he’ll make you rich’. Through this false gospel, many people come to God as a means to an end. God in essence becomes their butler or better yet their genie that gives them what their hearts desire. Prosperity preachers have riches as their true god, and they ultimately use God and people to get the false god the truly want. Prosperity theology needs to be rejected and prosperity preachers need to be rebuked and called to repentance.
We are often told in the Christian community that we shouldn’t call out bad theology because it causes disunity. The bible teaches us that we must rebuke false teaching and false teachers where necessary because it would be unloving not to do so.
In fact Paul outlined in Titus 1:9 that a qualification of an Elder is one that must, ‘9 hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Tit. 1:9)
A few verse later Paul states that those of the circumcision party ‘must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families’ (Tit. 1:11) by their false teaching and that Titus should, ‘rebuke them sharply’ (Tit. 1:13). Paul himself called certain false teachers ‘dogs’ in Philippians 3:2; he stated that those who distort the gospel should be ‘accursed’ or destroyed and damned to hell (Phil. 1:8).
In the same way that I as a father would not allow someone to come into my families life and speak destructive lies to my children about who they are, or where they came from, I am instructed by God to protect his spiritual family. There we rebuke false teaching and false teachers.
Q – So where would I place sinless-perfectionism and the saints by nature theological movement?
Well I guess you’re just going to have to wait to find out…