Fifteen Undeniable Truths For Theological Reflection
(As Selected by Paul Smith)
1. The number one requirement for reading and interpreting the Bible is humility.
1.a The primary expression of this humility in theological reflection is a submission to the Scriptures as they stand written. We do not, as interpreters and theologians, stand over the text, we stand under the text.
2. The books of the Bible, even the most difficult sections, were written for the purpose of being understood.
3. The authors of the Bible expected their message to create its original intended purpose. This purpose might be encouragement, exhortation, obedience, etc.
4. The Bible is a record of the relationship God formed with man, his creation. It is also a record of man’s failure to live within this relationship.
5. Theology is man’s attempt to understand this relationship between God and man. The beginning of theological reflection is the careful study of the Bible.
6. However, the study of Scripture is not for the lazy. The original texts were written in three ancient languages and the youngest of these manuscripts is now approaching 2,000 years of age. We must be extraordinarily careful in the study of Scripture that we do not read our historical situation (culture, biases, feelings) back into the original texts.
7. While some passages of the Bible may be open to more than one application, very few have more than one interpretation. Otherwise, Scripture would be meaningless.
8. If you have to rely on just one single verse of Scripture, or some obscure variant reading of the original text, or an obscure definition of grammar or of a word or phrase in the original language, then your conclusion regarding that passage of Scripture is in serious trouble.
9. In regard to the point above, it is especially important if you are unable to read the original languages to refer to as many translations of the Scriptures as you possibly can. To limit your study to one translation is to limit yourself to one perspective, one set of translation principles. Reading from multiple translations allows for other ideas and concepts to inform your final conclusions.
10. Attitudes and beliefs have consequences. Words, used to express those attitudes and beliefs, have equal consequences. Words chosen to convey spiritual concepts have eternal consequences.
11. The choice of imagery used in Scripture has as much value as the message communicated by those images. Example: the many metaphors used to describe the “people of God.” (Which is in itself a metaphor).
12. Grace always precedes covenant. This is illustrated by the covenants of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Likewise, covenant always follows grace.
13. The practical work that flows from theology, then, must follow this pattern. We are drawn to God by his grace, but in order to thrive in a relationship with God we must be bound by God’s covenant.
14. Theology cannot be separated from morality and ethics. Healthy, genuine theology demands action. Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy!
15. The practice of doing theology requires the honest appropriation of lessons learned from history. We cannot handle the text of Scripture honestly today if we ignore, or even worse, disparage the work of theologians in our near or ancient past. This is true both of those theologians with whom we agree, and with whom we disagree. To borrow a phrase, “Those who do not learn from history (or past theology) are doomed to repeat it.” History is a beautiful thing.
15a. However, the above truth does not mean that we slavishly follow every conclusion reached by earlier theologians. We must read theology with a discerning eye, knowing that all humans are capable of great spiritual insight, and all humans are capable of great sin. We are to respect our forefathers and foremothers, not worship them.