Thursday, March 17, 2005

Details and Theological Hedges...

Many of you may not know, I struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I easily become ensnared in thoughts to the point of obsession. That said, I have a sensitivity to this particular topic. When I speak of a "theological hedge" I mean a boundary that we impose -either rightly or wrongly- that we do not cross. An example is the deity of Christ. We are certain of this fact from Scripture, so we set up this hedge and, when interpreting Scripture in other areas, keep this fact in mind knowing that Scripture will not actually (though it may apparently) contradict itself. There is often a good reason for this, too. It is a good hermeneutic to interpret the unclear in light of the explicitly clear. However, it can become dangerous when we build upon our hedges or establish hedges that are un-Biblical. The Scriptures end up being strangled, and often we are either left believing things that are untrue -or we are left in confusion.

An example of where a theological hedge can be detrimental is the concept of libertarian free-will. Many assume that man has free will and that God cannot and does not intervene with our "free will". This is a false lens through which to look at Scripture, and the result is a warped view on many doctrines.

There are times, though, when we set up a proper "hedge", so to speak, but perhaps plant it in the wrong place or forget to prune it back. We become so fixed upon seeing it through that lens, no matter how true that lens is, that we often miss things and come to a very narrow view of things. Sometimes, given the truthfulness and firmness of that hedge, we apply it wrongly to other areas making conclusions that do not Biblically follow. For example, God's sovereign providence and decree does not, though it may seem to logically, eradicate man's responsibility.

For me, this happens at times. When I finally see how my hedge has obscured things and overcomplicated them, it is like a cool and refreshing breeze to trim off the edge so that the light can come through. I become so wrapped up that I can scarcely listen to a man preach without making mental notes of all the things he "said wrongly". If Christ was present in the message, I would certainly be too preoccupied with the negative. It is as if I would only be content in my own personal theological heaven on earth! I also find myself analyzing my own words to death to make sure I do not misrepresent in any way possible the grace of God or some other cardinal doctrine. I wonder how many of us would complain within if we heard Christ Himself, without us recognizing Him, preaching how the Pharisees "would not" come to Him for life? We would perhaps claim that the preacher was preaching a "weak Christ" or undermining or neglecting things like effectual grace.

I guess my point is that:
a) we must always be ready to uproot our hedges when they fail under repeated Biblical examination.

b) we must always evaluate if our hedges are becoming overgrown and Biblically disproportionate.

c) it is necessary to have some charity toward others and realize that no two people have the exact same "garden", so to speak. Let us not become so narrow as to become critics of the wrinkles on the gnat's back. There will always be a brother or sister who is more conservative than us, and always one who is more liberal.

Given this, let us pick our battles, our rebukes, and let the Scriptures breathe. This is one thing that I admire greatly about men like Charles Spurgeon and John Piper. They are not afraid to speak plainly and simply. Piper once said, "if you read and exposit Scripture, and it sounds 'Arminian', then let it sound Arminian". They are not afraid to say things like, "repent so that you may be forgiven!" whereas, in my zeal, there have been many times when I would take someone to task for using this "improper manner of speaking" about this topic... saying that it teaches semi-Pelagianism in some way or that we must "do something" in order to be forgiven. All the while, Scripture uses such wording with no trouble at all.

Don't misunderstand. There are often times when going into such detail and meticulously examining words is necessary - particular when someone is claiming the Bible says something that it doesn't. But how often are we simply nit-picking because we don't like something said a certain way (because of the apparent implications that we think of, but most people may not ever think of).

Another way of thinking of this is to say that we can establish our systems and traditions, which is fine so long as they are Biblical, but let us not use them as a lens to look at Scripture. Let them always be descriptive and tested regularly.

Just some thoughts for the road ahead...


FPL said...

Jesus is a friend for sinners? That explains why priests can molest little kids I guess doesnt it. Religeon is a farce.

Tim said...

Jesus is a friend for sinners, not for sin. Big difference. The question is... are *you* a sinner?

DAO said...

such a profound post that speaks volumes to me personally, where in the world did this stuff come from? regardless of FLP's opinion above, keep it coming. I wonder if he knows of another who can match the shoes of Jesus of Nazareth?
had some bros over the other night and the dynamic of what you say here was going on in our conversation. you know me, Soli Deo Gloria, so i thried to fight off the man-centeredness as best i could. the plethora of "repent" and "believe" passages were hurled at me left and right. rightly so. upon reading acts 2 and 16 again, i noticed that much "preaching" BOTH preceeded and followed these belove textual moorings of theirs. much Law preceeded Peters classic "repent" and much followed. seems the same to me with the phillipian jailer. my point: the "call" to repent and believe is not in a vaccuum. the content associated, the declaration of truth, makes the "call" seems very sensible, that is, what is the nature of this call in the first place. to me, some see man as the key player here...somehow, I see God!
great post, great insight.