Developing Theology – two majour approaches

When you talk to Christians you often hear a lot of “Christian talk”. They think they are talking about Christian living, that is, the application of biblical teaching and not theology. However, they don’t realise that their talk is in reality theology. The ideas about God’s grace, Christ standing in the gap, the Spirit leading, etc, were all worked out by theologians in the past, but these were preached so many times over and over again that people don’t think about theology any more, but they call them application.

In my view we need to be concerned about two things:

1. what does the text say (theology)
2. what does it mean to me in my everyday life (application)

No 2 depends on No 1, no question about it.

Sure, you can read the bible for yourself without having any biblical education and get something out of it. What you get out will depend on you, your ideas, cultural settings, whether you want to justify what you do, etc. But Paul says the scriptures are not for private interpretation. What does he mean? Maybe we need to make an effort to find out what it says and submit ourselves to it.

But things are not so simple.

In my opinion it is virtually impossible to come up with the absolute correct interpretation. Who is to decide which is correct? Look around, you find zillions of different books written on what the bible says. They all claim to be right, why else would they be written? Find two commentaries on Revelation that agree. You cannot. There is this huge jungle out there and the poor Christian is lost. If the Spirit led Christians into all truths, as it is promised, why such a diversity? There can only be one correct interpretation, the rest of them must be wrong.

Now I am utilising a literary tool again, taking things to the extreme to make a point, like when I said in my earlier post that it is better to close our bibles.

Sure, all theologians bring something to the table, and you read them and pick and choose what you can accept. Don’t deny this is how it works. People are selective when they read stuff. At least I admit I am. I read things and if it makes sense I retain and use that information.

But if you really want to make sense of this huge variety of interpretation you examine their approaches and the history of the development of the theology. What is the basic assumption, what are the fundamental statements they make and how well are these verified and tested. Then you can sort theologies into various categories.

In my view there are two majour categories.

1. The “in the OT the NT is foreshadowed and in the NT the OT is explained” group that claims it is impossible to understand the OT without the NT. This group develops their theology (admittedly or not) from the NT alone and force it upon the OT. This is where most of Christianity falls, except for a few small groups.
2. Develop theology from the OT and explain the NT in its light.

Within the first group you have another two subgroups,

1. Catholic theology
2. Reformed theology (faith alone, sola scriptura)

Then you have further groups within the second group, I will not detail them.

I favour the approach of the second majour group as the OT (and its Greek translation the LXX) was the bible for Jesus and the apostles in the first century. By that time Judaism, though it had a number of theological streams, had a well developed theology as expressed in the teachings of Jesus and of the apostles. The NT writings were written over the period of about 60 years after Christ, and became only widely available over time. They didn’t have internet and Paul didn’t have a website.


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