And this is why we need to learn how to think theologically*. It’s not just for scholars. It’s absolutely critical to your spiritual and physical wellbeing.
As Covid-19 rages across our country, and social distancing and self-quarantining have become mandatory government policy, there still were a handful of large, influential churches across the country that had their church doors open this past Sunday, encouraging their congregations to come and worship together.
I want you to listen to the arguments given by the pastors of some of these churches on why they are defying state and federal laws prohibiting large groups from gathering.
Learning how to think theologically asks you to do a couple of things.
First, it asks you to identify the reasoned arguments for or against a certain belief or behavior.
So were you able to identify the arguments given by these speakers?
- Because we love others and Jesus loves us. The argument: God’s love has us covered.
- Church is the safest place. “If you can’t be safe in church, you’re in serious trouble.” The argument: Church = Safety.
- “We’re raising up revivalists not pansies.” The argument: If you’re afraid, you’re not operating in faith. You need to trust God more.
- “Easter blowout service…National gathering…Like Woodstock…We’re going to gather and lift up Jesus Christ”. The argument: As long as something is done in Jesus’ name, we’re good to go.
- “I don’t believe any governor has the Constitutional authority to tell me we can’t. The First Amendment gives us that right.” The argument: The State can’t tell the Church what to do.
- “That’s our command. ‘They shall lay their hands on the sick, and they shall recover.’”…”I’m going to believe God to heal their bodies.” The argument: The Bible tells us that God will heal our diseases, so that settles it.
But “theology” literally means the study of God, so…
The second step in thinking theologically is being able to support your arguments from Scripture.
Christians are “people of the book”. Our primary worldview (the grid through which we interpret life around us) is a biblical one. We believe in the authority of God’s Word to guide our life, values and thought, and so it should be the instinct of every follower of Christ to constantly ask, “Where’s that in the Bible?”
This requires a more basic form of thinking – being able to think biblically*, which sadly 3/4s of Christians are unable to do. So if anyone comes around and waves a few Bible verses around, the average Christian oohs & ahhs, or picks lint out of their navels.
Now it just so happens that there are Bible verses which support most of the arguments these pastors have advanced.
- God’s love has us covered. (“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” ~ 1 John 4:18)
- If you’re afraid, you’re not operating in faith. (“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” ~ Mark 4:40)
- As long as something is done in Jesus’ name, you’re good to go. (“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do.” ~ John 14:13)
- The State can’t tell the Church what to do. (“We must obey God rather than men.” ~ Acts 5:29)
- God promises to heal all our diseases. (“Bless the Lord…who heals all your diseases.” ~ Psalm 103:3 / “With his wounds we are healed.” ~ Isaiah 53:5 / “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.” ~ James 5:15)
So what do you do then?
Here’s where thinking theologically can get challenging, but rewarding as well.
The Bible is a rich and complex book. In fact, it’s a library of 66 books, containing more than 31,000 verses. It’s astonishingly easy to find a Bible verse somewhere to support just about anything imaginable (child sacrifice, polygamy, driving Hondas (“They all were in one accord…”).
When Satan came to tempt Jesus with the idea of jumping off the temple in front of a crowd (apparently to put on a little razzle-dazzle so the crowd would follow him), he found a Bible verse to support that very outlandish idea. “Look Jesus! The Bible says God will catch you! You won’t be hurt!” But Jesus was able to easily shrug Satan off as a scriptural charlatan.
Why? Because he took the third step of thinking theologically.
The third step in thinking theologically is being able to interpret biblical teaching within its proper context.
The #1 rule of sound biblical interpretation is: Context is king.
Yes, there are numerous Scriptures that promise that God will heal us of disease when we pray. But there are also verses that tell us to take our medicine. And verses that tell us how important doctors are. Verses that tell us that we shouldn’t test God by ignoring the laws of creation he has set in place. Verses that tell us to learn those laws. Verses that tell us that sickness can be a tool in God’s toolkit to provide discipline and teach grace. Verses that tell us that when something bad falls on a community or nation, it affects everyone, including God’s people.
Yes, there are numerous Scriptures that tell us if the State gets between us and God, that God comes first. But there are just as many that tell us to submit to the state, and honor our leaders, and pray for those who rule over us, and to be instruments of peace in the places where God puts us.
How do you know the difference? Context is king. There are dozens of verses which tell us. Is the State asking for the death of our male infants? Is the State asking you to kill Jews? Is the State asking you to deny Christ? To pray to no one but the king? Or to stop telling others about God? Is it commanding as a principle that from here on out, assemblies of larger than ten are forbidden?
If however the state is asking – with the backing of people skilled in the science of biology and epidemiology, and the backing of evidence we see with our own eyes of the destruction this virus is capable of unleashing on a community – that we shelter in place, and don’t gather in large groups, and keep our movements restricted, then the right thing, the safest thing, the loving thing is to obey God in obeying our authorities.
Columnist David French wrote in a chilling column, “Reckless Christians can transform themselves from angels of mercy to angels of death, and the rest of the world would be right to fear their presence.”
The coronavirus will tear through your Christian lungs just as easily as a set of non-Christian lungs. “The rain falls on the just and unjust.” And already is. Check out these headlines from christianpost.com.
And this from the LA Times.
And this is why, my friend, you must learn to think theologically.
* There are three levels of Bible knowledge that followers of Christ should aspire to obtain.
Level 1 is learning how to think biblically. This is knowing your way around God’s Word. You’re reading it regularly. You’re memorizing verses. You’re growing familiar with its contents.
Level 2 is learning how to think theologically. A Jehovah Witness can come to your door and spout Bible verses. But they have no ability to connect those verses together. They have no grasp of the wider context of Scripture. They don’t know how to interpret the Bible properly. This is an essential skill to learn.
Level 3 is learning how to think transformationally. This is the ability to grasp that the Bible is given us to change us. It’s meant to transform us into people who are living and loving more like Christ. If you’re puffed up with knowledge of the Bible, but you’re still the same self-absorbed nimrod you always were, then for you, Bible reading is wasted time.
Bear Clifton, writer and screenwriter, is the pastor of BridgeWay Community Church in California, Maryland. His blogs, screenplays and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and his latest – “Living Under The Cross”, a collection of essays on the Beatitudes – all available through Amazon.