One of my all-time favorite Hendricks riffs, (in this case Howard not Jimi), is “Most people don’t think, they just rearrange their prejudices.” Going on close to sixty years now, I’ve observed this tendency in myself and others. And its almost default way of deciding where we’re going to hang our hat on any particular issue carries over to theology.
Doing theology is basically a matter of doing responsibly what all of us are already doing. Anytime we express anything right or wrong about God, including denial of His existence, we’re doing theology. Is theology often dry, divisive, and derisive? Of course it is. But is doesn’t have to be. Nor should it be. Good theology connects the dots of what is above us and what is within us to explain what is and why it is. And again, in some way shape or form we all do this so we might as well try to do this with integrity.
So what does doing theology in a way that honors the source of the subject matter look like? Well since God has made Himself known; “In the beginning God created” (Gen. 1:1) and, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1); doing well what we’re already doing involves the following questioning type of interaction with any given biblical text:
1) Inductive Observations – What does the text it say?
2) Exegetical Interpretations – What does the text mean?
3) Practical Applications – What do the principles derived from text look like when lived?
4) Deductive Summations – How does the text relate to the entirety of Scripture?
This kind of doing of theology is the great business of life. It intersects with every aspect of life; both in this world and in the world to come. And there’s no need to feel intimidated by this. This is not an academic competition. It’s an intensely profound communal act of worship and adoration for an audience of One. It is faith seeking understanding in order to think and live in a manner that is pleasing in God’s sight. And we have the rest of our lives to get better at it.
During the Apostolic period of the early church, the Jewish community in Berea was a great example of this. In Acts 17:11 concerning these Jewish people who were seriously considering whether or not the messianic claims of Jesus were valid, it says, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
In contrast to the Jewish community in Thessalonica who treated Paul harshly because they were jealous of the popularity and effectiveness of his message (cf. Acts 17:5), these Berean Jews did not react out of jealousy but rather listened carefully to what Paul preached and compared it to the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures. And many of these same people became believers in the messiahship of Jesus because Paul’s message was consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures (cf. Acts 17:12).
Today, anytime or anywhere we hear or read anyone claiming to teach spiritual “truth;” like the Apostolic Berean Jewish community, we must compare what we’re receiving with Scripture in order to correctly evaluate its validity. Of course this assumes a functional level of biblical literacy increasingly rare in today’s world. So initially Bein’ Berean 1.0 is attaining the degree of familiarity with God’s Word required to exercise doctrinal discernment. And for that there’s simply no substitute for reading the Bible cover to cover.
This brings us to Bein’ Berean 2.0. This involves non-passively reading and listening to bible teachers with some awareness of their underlying presuppositions and interpretative method. In other words, taking doctrinal evaluation and discernment to the next level demands that we think big-picture in the sense of trying to understand how someone got from A -what does the text say – to Z – how does the text relate or contribute to what the entirety of Scripture says concerning a specific doctrinal topic.
In contrast to this, often we chose to align ourselves with certain teachers because we suspect or know that they’re in basic and general agreement with us. Now in and of itself that’s not a bad thing if we have first studied and tried to determine the meaning of a passage or group of passages for ourselves. And essentially that means doing the four steps outlined above to the best of our ability. If we invest the time and expend the effort to do that, then our convictions are truly our convictions. But on the other hand, we end up short circuiting the entire theological process if we’re fishing for confirmation of a position before trying to formulate a position through our own personal engagement with the biblical text! In short, this is precisely what we want to avoid if we are going to be Bein’ Berean 2.0.