Sorting Through Theological Claims – Part 35 min read
How to Interact with So Many Movements
With so many categories and camps, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. “How can so many people be in opposition? Can there really be so many people in the wrong? Don’t they have the same Bible? How can they read it and come to different conclusions than I do?” While these questions are common, they have at their foundation a faulty assumption. They assume too much good in people. These questions make the general populous in Christendom sound like devout Bible students, when that simply isn’t the case. Scripture promises that many false teachers will be in the world; thus we should expect to see both false teachers and ignorant followers in many places we look. We have no right to assume the best of people’s theories. That approach is a great disservice, not only to us, but to our theology.
So then, we need to understand the basic decision-making process of each person. No one is completely unbiased and objective in their beliefs. That is impossible in a human with a fallen nature. Rather, the average person’s beliefs are usually founded on one or more of these three factors.
- Influences. Regardless of how unbiased one may think he is, everyone sees through a mental lens which has been given to them by their influences. These influences will affect how comfortable they are around certain claims, whether those claims be true or false. So then, it is nearly inevitable that people interpret their surroundings by how their accepted influences interpret the same thing, unless the person controls his influences and not vice versa. This is why we see so much tradition-based belief in Christendom: people are comfortable with what they were first and primarily influenced by.
- Ignorance. Often people believe things without knowing why. This is the case with most of the world, because a majority of people don’t like to do meaningful research into why they believe what they do. Whether secular or religious, most are happy with what they grew up with or with what their education taught them. Thus the standard proofs they hear for their own system are good enough for them, regardless of how bad the proofs are.
- Presuppositions. Everybody interprets the world and the ideas around them by certain assumptions about life. Many of those assumptions are formed subconsciously. Depending on how Biblical those assumptions and starting points are, they will determine one’s conclusions when faced with a certain teaching. When we encounter a teaching from someone that sounds, for lack of a better word, “fishy,” it is probably because we have a different set of assumptions – a different foundation for our beliefs. Our job is to assess whose presuppositions are right before we ask whose beliefs are right.
Along with this, we need to understand how collective systems have originated. This will aid us in knowing what they base their theology upon. To fully understand the origin of different beliefs, some research into history will have to be done, but it will be worth the effort. Not every view can be right, and often the background of certain views can help identify just how far it is from truth.
- Some movements are started independently. If an independent movement comes from a new idea or “revelation,” we can definitely dismiss it. But if that movement is a rediscovery of old truth, it may have more merit.
- Some movements are started as a reaction to some other teaching or system – sometimes for Biblical causes, sometimes not. With these groups, often their views are too extreme one way or another, since it is difficult to be fully balanced when directly and constantly opposing some teaching.
- Some movements are started as a division from an initial system. For instance, Eastern Orthodoxy broke from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054; thus, today it seems very Catholic in many of its practices and forms, though it definitely remains its own system. Division is common amongst fallen man, which means we should expect many different movements to exist.
These factors also apply to us and our backgrounds, and we need to challenge our own decision-making process: only this will bring us closer to objective theology. So then, what influences do you have? Are your influences thoroughly Biblical? Do you only subscribe to one teacher? If so, you will probably find yourself replicating most everything he believes given enough time. Be Biblical and balanced in your influences. We also need to ask whether or not we are ignorant about why we believe what we do. Have you thoroughly studied Scripture for your convictions? Or do you just believe what is easiest and what suits your emotions? Lastly, we need to ask what foundation, what presuppositions, our theology will start on. Scripture will automatically form some of these for us if we immerse ourselves in it. But there must also be a thoughtful determination of how we will study doctrine. These are just a few, among many, foundational questions that need to be established before we do any sorting through theological claims.
So then, competently viewing the theological world around us will make our path to the truth far less intimidating and complicated. In all of these things, the foundational question is this: what is the center, man and his word or God and His Word? Do we subscribe to clear explanation of Scripture passages for our beliefs, or do we need obscure passages and unbiblical frameworks to vaguely prove our conviction? There are clear differences between what is true and what is false. It is not impossible to distinguish between these. But we must be people of the Word. We can’t simply follow a teacher. We can’t simply have our set of books. We need the breath of God Himself burning in our souls. Otherwise, there will be no guarantee that what we believe is right. God has promised to guide us Himself into truth by His Spirit (1 Jn. 2:27). It is not that we don’t need theology books and Bible teachers (otherwise, you shouldn’t be reading this); rather we are to put the emphasis in the right place, which is on the Word of God. Movements and belief-systems are by man; truth is from God. What will we subscribe to? Will we assess man in light of God, or God in light of man? The choice will affect the entire prospect of our own discernment.