Friday, January 15, 2010

Logical Biblical Thinking

Sometimes I use my blog to express ruminations of all sorts relative to my Bible reading, current events and trends, theology and ministry, and "burrs" that get under my metaphorical saddle. Today is a "burr" day. This is a period of our national history where logical, rational, and balanced thinking is almost disappearing. We make assertions without evidence, and we make declarations without knowledge. And many times it doesn't seem to bother us much.

This kind of thinking carries over into the Christian world as well. Regularly, consistently (shall I say), almost every day, I hear Christians make assertions and declarations that they contend is biblical, but have little evidence of being a biblical view at all. Many Christians have become "parrots" simply repeating what they have heard or read. If they hear a preacher, teacher, or leader say something that seems to register as being right, then they repeat the view or "fact" without knowing if it is fact or not.

The most obvious and blatant of this kind of faulty reasoning comes from the recent statement that the earthquake in Haiti came because God is punishing Haiti for its sin. Now, there is NO DEBATE about the issue of whether or not God punishes sin; He does, and He will. But the question is, "Did the earthquake occur because God was punishing Haiti for its sin?" If we say, "yes", then we are stating that we have absolute certainty based on absolute epistemological evidence that this cause and effect is clear and undeniable. And we must answer why God has not judged other sinful nations (including our own) in a similar way. The truth is, God does not give us the epistemological insight and certainty to make such statements. The best response that I have read on the biblical and theological meaning of Haiti and the earthquake comes from Dr. Albert Mohler on his blog. I would suggest you read his entry on the topic.

I would like today to think with you about logical, biblical thinking in general. How can we as Christians do a better job of discerning and declaring true biblical truth?

1. Make sure you get the Bible right.
The Bible gives many trans-generational, trans-cultural, and transcendent statements regarding many things, especially in theology including moral and ethical behavior. The main teachings of the Christian faith ("worldview", if you prefer) are clearly, consistently, and obviously taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible. These theological truths are clearly seen when appropriate and right hermeneutical principles are applied to the interpretive process. It is vital and necessary for a Christian to have a right understanding of what these hermeneutical principles are.

2. Don't go beyond the biblical material.
Once President Abraham Lincoln was asked to submit a biographical for use in a speaker's forum. He did so with this note, "Please don't go beyond the material." I believe God would say the same thing to us. Don't say God said things that He did not say. Don't leave out what God said, as if He did not say it. Stick with the material. Dr. James Shields was one of my Bible professors in college at Howard Payne University. He used to say to us preaching students: "When the Bible talks, then talk; but, when the Bible shuts up, shut up." Good advice. Be especially careful to not ADD to the Bible or speak extra-biblically with authoritative power. Do not, for example, speak as if God has TOLD you something in a subjective experience. There is NO SUCH THING AS EXTRA-BIBLICAL REVELATION. God does not speak to us in dreams, visions, or even subjective reasoning (as an old friend of mine used to say, "It must be right, because it seems so right to me." He always said this with a smile knowing and admitting the ludicrous nature of the assertion.)

3. Handle uncertainties with wisdom and care.
There are many modern (and ancient) questions for which we have no clear biblical statement. In such cases we look for guiding principles inherent and stated in the Scriptures that give us guidance for opinion making and decisions. But when one does not have CLEAR and CERTAIN biblical background for making a statement, then it is best to couch such comments with language of moderation and personal perspective. One may say, "It appears to me, in light of what I know about Scripture, that this may be the true explanation of..." Those who hear this type of introductory statement automatically understand the speaker to be saying: "I can't speak definitively from the Scriptures, but what I am about to say seems to me to be right in light of what I know." This is acceptable language in such cases. It is VITAL that if we don't KNOW something, then we should not speak as if we do know something. We can still talk about it, and even offer opinions, but let's reserve the authoritative language for those things about which Scripture speaks authoritatively.

4. Speak the truth with love.
The theology of the Christian faith, and the moral issues relative to the broad-based understanding of what is right and wrong, are all taught clearly, authoritatively, and sufficiently (that is, we have no other authoritative revelation from God other than the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.) taught in the Scriptures. But even when we speak truly, genuinely, and accurately from the Scriptures, we must do so with love and kindness. The Scripture verse that speaks to me on this topic is Ephesians 4:15. Christians are conduits and voices of divine love speaking the truth from God in light of the Scriptures. We must never forget this.

For your convenience, I have put a link here with Dr. Mohler's blog which I referenced earlier in this blog.


  1. Brother John- My "saddle" experienced the same "burr" this week when non-believers approached me on multiple occassions saying "Man, I can't believe you Christians are taking this position (referring to PR's comments).I intend to forward your post as well Dr.Mohler's to them.
    Thank you! Troy

  2. Points 1-4 Good reminders for all of us!

  3. So that's what you call those incessant irritations...

    Thank you for your clear, thorough explanation of how to proceed when reading and explaining the Word.