How much of your faith is instilled from your upbringing and how much is from exploration?
Donald grew up near Canberra and found himself supporting NSW in the State of Origin. We all understand why. He goes to a school deep within NSW supporter territory. His peers, parents and teachers are all going to steer him to support NSW. His views are shaped by his past more than any rational thoughts.
It is the same for most areas of our lives: from our politics to the brand of cereal we buy. But what about our Christian beliefs? Are Jesus' words filtered through our preconceptions more than the Biblical context of these passages?
Developing our theology: Bible or our past?
As I read through some of the weird unorthodox dribble in the theological world I see a pattern. Many authors talk in depth about their own church upbringings and what impacted them.
Their theology seems to be shaped more by their reaction to their past, rather than a clear view of the Bible itself. Now I know this is a generalisation. But I see a trend. I also see a caution for us all.
My NSW-supporting friend, Donald, described Bishop Shelby Spong as 'an interesting philosopher but not a theologian'. What a brilliant insight!
The point is that the core of the Bible's message about sin and salvation is by very definition, the Christian faith. If someone disagrees with that definition, that is fine. But by definition it is therefore outside Christian belief and into a philosophical realm. That's Spong.
Spong spoke recently about his upbringing in the church. He said he was influenced by the hypocrisy of the church that preached love but, in his church anyway, also taught that whites were better than blacks. And they justified these social injustices from the Bible.
Whilst so many of his friends left the church in disgust, Spong entered ministry shaped by this. His theology seemed to be a reaction against what he had experienced.
John Crowder and Steve McVey are on the extreme periphery of the Charismatic continuum. They talk lots about the God they heard growing up in church. God was portrayed as a vengeful angry God just looking for someone to nuke with His wrath. As a result, they spruik their ministry to a reaction of this Biblical distortion.
Hence, they make God like Santa, penal substitution 'a lie' and sin is redefined as just our negative thoughts holding us back.
Whilst I may be generalizing, the point is that their theology is shaped by their upbringing more than a clear analysis of the Bible. They seem to start from this polarized view and shape their Bible interpretation around this.
What are your theological hobby horses? Are these influenced more by preconceptions from your past more than analysis of the Bible? These are tough questions because they make us think and question our views. It is hard also because there is an over-layer of our culture that influences our views as well. For example, Spong grew up in a culture that accepted racial discrimination.
So what's the answer? There isn't one.
We can't escape our upbringing or cultural baggage any more than a fish can escape the water it lives in. But there are two guides: awareness and the Bible.
Firstly, we can be aware of what influences us. Just like noticing a passionate NSW supporter, awareness of a person's beliefs stops us from blindly accepting everything that is said. We need to be students of our culture and psychologist to our own cognitions to see how these influence us.
Neil Postman was a philosopher with an amazing ability to examine the trends in our society and the way it shapes us. His famous book Amusing Ourselves to Death is an examination of the hegemony of television over our culture and thoughts.
Church historians, such as Carl Trueman, do a brilliant job in examining our church culture today in light of the trends from the past. Awareness is vital.
Secondly, the ultimate author of our faith should be the Word (John chapter 1). Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. His plan is revealed in the Bible.
These books have historical context that must be understood to gain the clear gospel message. So if someone says whites are better than blacks and gives a Bible verse, you should be able to look at the context of that passage and examine how it fits into the Bible's big picture and see the error. Reading the Bible correctly is vital.
In the big eternal scheme of things, supporting NSW or QLD doesn't matter. And we can't change how we were brought up or the influences we might have had. But we can try and be aware of the influences we have had and balance these with a prayerful interpretation of the Bible. Jesus is the One that should shape our beliefs.
Want to explore this concept more? Have a read of the well-known author Graeme Goldsworthy's book Christ-Centred Biblical Theology.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html