July 29, 2005

Theological Reactions

I just read an interesting quote by Robert Trail. He said:

"...usually such men that are for middle ways in points of doctrine, have a greater kindness for that extreme they go half-way to, than that which they go half-way from" (Works, i, 253) Quoted in A. C. Clifford's Atonement and Justification, page 141.

This point is worth some meditation. I find myself moving in various theological directions and sympathizing with those I move toward, rather than with those I am moving away from. Have you been hurt by a particular theological error or by those who adhere to it? It's understandable to react against such things. Fear of falling again into that error or compromising makes us ever watchful and sensitive.

One writer says this:
"When people undergo a brush with death they become far more paranoid of the regular actions during their daily routines. For instance, a man or woman who may have been involved in a car accident, though they may be classified as a safe driver, will be far more cautious on the road subsequent to the accident. The trauma enacted upon the faculties of their mind from the wreck stimulates their awareness at turns, stops, accelerations, highway lane changes, and the like. Brushes with death are not exclusive to car accidents. This may also be true when theological shifts occur in one’s comprehensive Biblical understanding of the Gospel. This can be classified as a brush with death, especially if one plays with the fire of a false Gospel. When this happens, the Christian becomes much more astute to the dangers of false theological positions."

Coming out of deceptive theological positions can leave us bruised. Anything that even seems close to that false, deceptive position hurts the sensitive bruise. We recoil, and that's understandable.

However, we need to also be careful to not overreact. Keeping our theological equilibrium is very difficult due to the noetic effects of sin (the effects of sin on the mind). Luther's analogy seems fitting. He compared fallen human reason to a drunken man trying to get on a horse. If he manages to climb up on one side, he falls off on the other.

The wobbling effect is descriptive of the church throughout her history. The Christological debates surrounding Chalcedon supply us with many examples. Usually a person or party is not completely wrong. They have half-truths that they take to an extreme. Their concerns are valid, but they are so zealous that they can warp the complete biblical picture. One truth may be elevated beyond it's biblical proportion, or one truth may be put in antithesis to other truths.

Discernment and humility is absolutely vital in order to avoid this reactionary thinking. For the most part, we all think we are balanced. We say that other people are too far to the left or too far to the right, but we guage what is "balanced" by where we are on the scale. One comedian gave his perspective on the difference between a maniac and an idiot when driving. Maniacs are those driving faster than he is. An idiot is anyone driving slower. True balance is possible, but the measure is God's word and not ourselves or our systems.

We need to be constantly examining ourselves by the scriptures in theology. Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls. This can not only happen in our behavior, but also in our thinking. One might think they have "arrived" theologically, but they might have serious blindspots. Our tendency is to try to make reality fit our preconceived notions, due to pride or the veneration of a theological system, which results in eisogesis instead of exegesis.

It's also possible to just be deceived while zealously pursuing truth. We choose certain positions because we are unaware of all the options. We may have been presented with false dilemmas.

Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, has an interesting analogy involving a comparison between bending a stick and living virtously. Sometimes to straighten a stick, one has to bend it in the opposite direction. A back and forth bending can straighten the stick. Such a back and forth bending may occur in our lives as we seek intellectual virtue and truth. Be aware of those times when you sense a strong reaction in yourself. Pause and think carefully. Test yourself. Try to recognize your presuppositions and filters through careful listening and/or reading. If you have been bruised by some error, beware of overreacting. Read church history and see where the church made mistakes. Historical theology is very important for this very reason. Watch out for theological reactions!

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