In a recent Christianity Today article the author concludes with this observation:
“We’re either building our lives on the reality of what God is truly like and what he’s about, or we’re basing our lives on our own imagination and misconceptions,” Harris writes. “We’re all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true.”
As I pondered that summary, I began to understand how complicated Christianity has become. Indeed, in many respects, we are all theologians based on how we not only understand God, but how we understand what it means to live under the umbrella of that understanding. For some that could be a basis for situational ethics, for others it is living a “holy” life within a set structure of laws.
Let’s take one example. For many God is immutable. That is, He cannot and does not change His “mind.” In other words, it is a literal adaptation of God being “the same yesterday, today and forever.” Setting aside what I believe is the contradiction in Scripture of the concept of immutability the very idea of salvation is at odds with that supposed divine characteristic. Because of our sin we deserve death, but because of Christ, God changes His mind and gives us life – both abundant and eternal – instead.
Now aside from the individual understanding of certain things about God, like immutability, we also apply that same idea of individualism to the ethics or moral “laws” of scripture. Ideas like drinking or abortion find a cover for large debates among many protestant denominations. Other issues which may not be so ambiguous yet find a forum for much debate are things like homosexuality or adultery. One group may hold to the letter of the Word while others appeal to the open arms of grace and love.
Early Israel found themselves faced with the same struggles, at least to some degree. In Numbers 15:32ff there is story of a man who was found “gathering sticks on the sabbath day.” They brought the man to Moses, Aaron and the whole community, then put him in custody “because it was not clear what should be done to him.”
Why the struggle and uncertainty? Exodus 31:14 made it very clear any one who profanes or “does any work” on the Sabbath will either be killed or cut off from the community. However, looking at the situation there must have been some hesitation perhaps because they felt what the man did was necessary or justified in some way. It might have been a moment of hesitation because surely God would not punish a man for gathering wood to keep his family warm or provide fire for cooking. Yet God’s response was very clear – “stone him.”
For many of us that may seem a bit extreme. Commentators and scholars would conclude the issue was keep the community of Israel pure and holy at all costs. But that is not how we live in today’s world of faith. We don’t stone anyone for violating the laws of God. We seldom, if ever, take any disciplinary action for those who openly violate the moral standards of the Bible as we understand them. In many regards, we take our understanding of God – accurate or not – and apply it to a whole host of situations that make us uncomfortable and give ourselves a certain rationalized comfort.
Does that make us all theologians? Indeed it does. Does that makes us right either in our theology or application of that theology? I’ll let the Apostle Paul answer that – “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (Rom 6:1)