If It Works For You

Here is a quote from a Facebook comment made today concerning a divisive and difficult point of theological application:

“We all have our own interpretation of what’s right for us, and we’re all correct!”

This is not only rationally ignorant, but it smacks in the face of Scripture’s most basic teaching and 2000 years of church history.  Did Jesus believe every interpretation that “worked for us” was valid?  Did Paul or any of the apostles?  Should Athanasius have simply let Arian move forward with his interpretation of Christ as a created being?  Should Augustine have allowed the views of Pelagius to go unchallenged because it was a good interpretation for him?

I know that this side of glory we will always have theological differences of interpretation.  There will at times be inappropriate attitudes and judging against those with whom we disagree.  It can at times make the whole process seem pointless, so why not just let everyone believe what they want and call it “all correct.”  Because it isn’t responsible.  Biblical interpretation is not something to which we want to step back and punt.  We should approach it with humility and respect, but still make up our minds about what the Bible is saying and how it is applicable today.  Interpretive ambiguity is of no help to ourselves or our hearers.  Sure, there are times when we must admit “I don’t know the answer.”  But we should be diligent in our study, in our prayer life, and in our thinking as to have a solid understanding of what the Bible says and means.  It doesn’t matter what we think the Bible says.  All that matters is what the Bible says.  So let’s work hard on determining what that is and not violate the very basic laws of non-contradiction by asserting “it’s all correct.”  As an old professor of mine used to say, “it’s hard work.  But it’s important work.”

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11 Replies to “If It Works For You”

  1. Careful, my friend…I know that commenter well and he had his tongue firmly in his cheek. The problem with written words is that we can’t see someone’s facial expression or hear the tone of his voice. So, as a wise man recently said, “Calmeth down” and “chilleth out.” You might also consider “backeth off” and “retracteth”–not the heart of your post, which is absolutely correct, but from your point of departure, which is based on a misunderstanding.

    1. Thanks Mike for clarifying your friend’s intent – his post certainly does not read as tongue in cheek as he seems to suggest anyone can be and is right. And sometimes all we have to go on are written words, we can’t always see and hear.

      Besides, since I did not have the opportunity to speak with the author about his comment, I left him very much anonymous and spoke more to the underlying issue of that statement, which is very prevalent today as you know and worthy of comment.

      Was my post written in a manner which suggests I need to calm down? I actually thought my response was written pretty darn level-headed and not with any contempt for anyone except the problem itself. At least that was (and always is) my goal. If I am misreading myself and came across as on a tirade, then let me know. I certainly do not want that.

      1. The word “ignorant” caught my eye–I realize it was directed at the logic (or lack thereof) of the statement and not at the one making the statement but it still struck me as a bit strong.

        And, while you did indeed present the statement without identifying the commenter, it is always difficult for someone, in this case me, to separate what is said about someone (or in this case about someone’s remarks) from what one knows about that someone who is sometimes, as in this case, a friend, as are you. And if you followed that sentence your education was worth every penny.

        Again, your points are well made and rationally presented.

        My point is that the guy you quote was kidding.

        “Tirade”? What do you mean “Tirade”? Chilleth out.

        1. Fair enough brother. Concerning your second paragraph, you would be the .00000000001 percent of the world population who would read this and know the guy. So, it seems in my defense that has to be taken into account – the philosophy behind the remark was my concern. Having said that, I appreciate your personal knowledge of the guy and do not mean him any harm. Heaven knows how many times I have been misinterpreted (although that is a chance you take if you decide to take up your pen, or keyboard, and write).

          Tirade – a prolonged outburst of bitterness. Typically, to use your recent obsession with King James language, to admonish someone to “chilleth out” is to suggest they have reached a level of tiradeishness thereby deeming them needful of the chilleth. I was wondering if my post warranted such an admonishment. 🙂

          Should you “chilleth” on the ordination thing? Have we taken this too far by now?

  2. I read through all the associated posts and comments that I believe this came from and found a couple of things very interesting and telling. The first is how so many who critique scripture use two methods to defend their deliberate desire to not accept it.
    The first that usually comes out of trying to be politically correct is to state that because Jesus in many ways acted very “liberally” for the time period that he would always lean liberal. Just because Jesus broke with some traditions of the time does not mean he will break with any and every tradition of that time or now. When we study what Jesus did do we can directly use that as a teaching and learn from it. If however we extend that to factually unrelated actions or views we are crossing over a line, especially if it even comes close to conflicting with other Biblical statements.
    The second is to take a known fact and expand it to make facts that do not exist. One statement said that Romans 16 which mentioned Phoebe means that since she was a leader in the church she therefore must have spoken in the church. I understand this conclusion since it is obviously based on modern thinking. However the facts are not stated and could just as easily be that the reason she was a leader is because she always went to her husband with thoughts and restrained from speaking over him. I do not suggest this as fact but as an alternative possibility that fits both Roman’s and Paul’s statements.
    I understand that there will always be disagreements over our analysis and understanding of Biblical issues and I personally believe that God in his infinite wisdom left some things for us to either figure out on our own or maybe because He is big enough to allow multiple acceptable possibilities. However we must disagree and debate in humility and an agreed desire to learn and seek understanding. Not a desire to win the debate or cast someone else down.

  3. Dear Philip,
    I so enjoy reading your wise words. For a man so young in years you are old in wisdom. As I have grown older I listen to theological arguments and discussions less and less. Maybe I am returning to my childhood but I think I am returning to my childhood’s simple faith of reading God’s Word and accepting it as written. There have been years of my life in which I doubted, questioned and tried to make God’s Word validate my theology. The years have brought some wisdom and as I have read, studied, prayed and pondered God’s words I have relaxed, and when I read and study the Holy Spirit reveals the accuracy, meanings, and interpretations of what God is saying to us.

    Do I understand all of it? No way but each step closer to God in my walk with Him, He reveals exactly what I need to understand for that moment and it always builds on what He taught me previously. I used to overthink and try to make it say what my current theology at the time said. It doesn’t work that way for I needed to realize that the Bible is completely accurate, God breathed, and infallible and I have learned after many years to just relax and let God tell me what He wants me to hear at that moment in time.

    I still study many sources, ponder what I read, and pray about what I have read but God always is faithful to teach me what He knows I need and it is so freeing not to have to apply man’s theology to God’s Word.

    Have I rambled enough? Just chill and let God do His thing in our lives.

    1. Thanks for your kind words Frances. You spoke about refraining from “making God’s Word validate my theology.” I think that is incredibly important. Theology is incredibly important. But we come to text openly and honestly, not looking to substantiate a theological model we already have in mind. Blessings to you.

  4. Dear Phillip,

    You probably never thought your blog would cause us to think so hard about things! I don’t comment often but I want to echo Frances Robson’s remarks about your wisdom. Your blog is one of a few that I check daily and Julia and I talk about your thoughts all the time. I still remember and reflect on a sermon you preached on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Keep up the good work for the Lord young man!

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