As a pastor I love studying God’s Word. I love it when after years I still stumble across new insights or things fall into place in a way that I never quite saw before. If you’ve read the Bible for years you’ve probably noticed how you can read the same passage but get something totally different from it each time you read it.
Unlike a lot of Christians, I enjoy studying theology. What I don’t enjoy is arguing about it however. There are some basic sets of framework that help us interpret all of the Bible. The best known systems are Calvinism and Arminianism but there are also systems such as dispensationalism and covenant theology.
Systems are valuable if you need to explain your theology quickly and you can say that you’re a Calvinist as easily as you might say that you’re a Baptist. Whomever you are speaking to can get a pretty quick idea of what you believe.
Outside of the quick need to sum up my beliefs, I hate using the labels. To proclaim that I am a Calvinist or an Arminian will immediately put up a wall between me and about half of the people I speak or write to. Many will immediately want to tell me why I am wrong and they are right. I have no problem defending my beliefs and I feel quite secure in them. My experience is that many people adamantly hold to beliefs that they don’t really understand themselves but instead have just been taught to believe. They can repeat arguments that they’ve been given but they can’t actually explain why they believe what they believe. So if it comes to a debate, I feel pretty good about getting into one.
My problem with arguing theology is that it is typically unproductive. These issues become divisive within Christian circles. Unless it is a debate over how one is actually saved, I don’t think that theology is good to be divided over. Every so often I’ll get an email concerning one of my articles telling me why I’m wrong or what I’ve missed. For the record, I get more emails in agreement that someone likes my approach to theology. But the people who disagree are more vocal.
Those who disagree with my understanding of the Bible and wish to provide me with the “right” answer are unlikely to listen to reasoned arguments anyway; they’ve already made up their mind. People who are actually open to a discussion are unlikely to email me and instead they will do more research on the subject.
For clarity’s sake, I should mention that when I’m talking about theology here I’m talking about what might be termed systematic theology. There are important social issues that divide the church – homosexuality, poverty, abortion, etc. – that are worth fighting over. Not to downplay the importance of good theology but ultimately it doesn’t matter if you are a Calvinist or Arminian. On the other hand, it makes a big difference in life concerning what you believe about poverty or abortion.
Theology is important because it helps us read and understand the entire Bible. It colors the way we interpret many different passages. I encourage everyone to study theology and determine not only what they believe but, more importantly, why they believe it. Debating it with an attempt to change someone’s mind is probably going to be unproductive but you should at least be able to explain why you believe it.