Theology Discussion Question

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Theology Discussion Question

Post by Admin on Sun Jul 30, 2017 4:30 pm

There are approximately 41,000 different denominations out there, all reading the same Bible. How can you confidently believe anything about God in the the midst of so many disagreements in the church?

Your response should be at least one paragraph in length. Support your answer with some of the following elements: scripture, items from the reading, personal experience, and insights from other conversations or reading.

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Response to THEO prompt #1

Post by Spencer Kelly on Tue Sep 05, 2017 6:49 pm

We can confidently believe things about God through the things that the Bible confidently reveals to us. Too much of Christian schism is based in making peripheral topics the ones most tightly held. I believe there are certain things about God that the Bible reveals, that our experiences of Him corroborates. In Evangelical Theology, Michael Bird puts forth a method for doing theology that focuses the “why” and “how” to help us find the truth. In his discussion on the “how” he examines four areas of input that shape our theology: Scripture, tradition, nature, and experience. I believe that the order that we consult these sources often has the greatest effect on our outcome, and is often the cause of most of the differences between denominations.

I personally think that Pentecostal theology pushes “experience” higher than, or even in place of, “tradition.” This has caused the movement to “reinvent the wheel” by going through many phases of trial and error, settling matters of doctrine, and forming fellowships around commonly held beliefs. Without the deep base of tradition, our iceberg has floated freely around as we try to reconstruct it. Also, without a common authority, there has been much disunity within the Pentecostal movement because if someone doesn’t agree with an interpretation of Scripture based solely on their reading or experience, they can start their own thing!

Conversely, Roman Catholic theology elevates “tradition” to the level of Scripture and again falls into error. By taking so many hard stances on peripheral issues that arose through tradition and not Scripture (transubstantiation, Marian devotion, Papal infallibility, etc.) they have put walls around their camp and made it unnecessarily hard to be in union with them.
Both of these doctrinal systems have faults (as does every denomination) and both could be remedied by following the Reformers, and Bird’s, emphasis of prima scriptura.

By putting Scripture first, we center our beliefs and worship styles around the revealed Word of God. Where it is unclear, we can first turn to tradition to offer an answer. It would be a shame, and incredibly prideful, for us to ignore the fact that two millennia of philosophers, pastors, evangelists, and martyrs have wrestled with many of the same questions we deal with today. Their answers (and ours) must be tested against Scripture, but whatever stands the test should be cherished (1 Thess. 5:20-21). Only then should we allow our personal feelings and experiences to add a voice to the chorus.

In Second Timothy 3, Paul gives Timothy a commendation on how Timothy was instructed. He says in verses 14-15, “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” He says to continue in the things firmly believed, not in every “myth and genealogy” (1 Tim. 1:4) that leads to contention and false teaching. He also says that his faith is sound because of who he learned it from, namely, Paul and others. So, by extension, we too can learn the right faith from Paul and Luke and others that were regarded as inspired. The last thing he says is that Timothy has a good foundation from childhood because of his acquaintance with sacred writings. He’ll go on to say, in verse 16, that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” So, for Paul, the standard for belief, teaching, correction, etc., is the Sacred Writings of Scripture.

We can also be confident because the Holy Spirit has guided orthodoxy from creation till now, and we can trust in His leading. Heresy and division may spring up and take root, but they will be separated from the wheat at the harvest (Matt. 13:24-30).

Spencer Kelly
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Re: Theology Discussion Question

Post by Admin on Sun Sep 10, 2017 3:08 pm

Thanks for being the first to respond, Spencer. For what it's worth, I did a little research and discovered that the "41,000 different denominations" is a wildly inflated number, one that has been exaggerated over time. Basically, nobody agrees upon how to define a denomination, and those large figures include hundreds of groups that are Mormon, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other groups that are outside of orthodox Christianity. Here's an article from a Catholic site if you'd like to read more about this: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/scottericalt/we-need-to-stop-saying-that-there-are-33000-protestant-denominations

That being said, the original question still stands - there are many different Christian groups, that are divided along different readings of scripture. Some are major divisions, some appear very minor.

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Response to Theology Prompt 1

Post by Lindsay Leeson on Tue Sep 12, 2017 4:46 am

If you take the time to read the Bible with an open heart and open mind, I believe God will reveal truth to you and He can reveal to you why there are so many divisions in the church. I believe it starts with sin. Romans 5:12 states, “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” Because of Adam and Eve’s first sin, believing the lie of the serpent and not putting their faith in God, humanity following became sinful. This means that people continued to believe lies instead of God’s truth and put their faith in themselves rather than Him. When Jesus came to Earth, He gave the world personal access to God again, and many believed in and followed Him. He defeated sin on the cross for us, allowing us to be cleansed of our sin, yet that doesn’t mean we became sinless. According to Romans 6:6-7, Paul writes, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him (Jesus) so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” This means while sin may still be in our life, we are not slaves or controlled by sin. Sin has led to brokenness in humans, which includes brokenness in the Body of Christ and the understanding the God’s word.

Until the day we are with Christ in heaven, we won’t have all the knowledge and understanding of God. That is why while we are here, many have pursued understanding and knowing God, but sin has blinded us to knowing all of God. Even with intentions of just wanting to know God, God is so much greater than our understanding Psalm 147:5 says, “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” Our understanding does have limit, which is why I think there are so many divisions in the church.

I don’t think divisions in the church and differences in theological viewpoints automatically mean we shouldn’t believe anything about the God of Christianity. This doesn’t prove that God isn’t real or that the bible is wrong. It is similar to scientific findings. Scientists used to believe that the world was flat and came to find that it was round. This doesn’t mean just because they originally believed that it was flat that it was flat. The truth was it was round the entire time, we just didn’t have the correct understanding of the world. I feel understanding God and the Bible is similar. There are many different people trying to understand His word and make judgements based on what they believe it to say. Some are right and some are not, but that doesn’t mean the truth isn’t constant or that Bible isn’t true. Rather, we are the variable, with diverse minds and abilities, living at different periods of time with different life experiences, yet God has all of the knowledge and sees the entire picture.

I liked what Michael F. Bird said about one goal of theology on page 56: “Theology helps us to understand which beliefs matter most, which theological hills we should be willing to die on, and which doctrines can be left to personal liberty.” While there are many differences throughout the church, that doesn’t mean they are all heresy. Rather, theology helps us to find the core beliefs that matter most and why. This helps those differences in denominations to come together and ultimately be brothers and sisters in Christ, bringing glory and honor to God!

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How can we be certain of what is true?

Post by Matt Ostermeyer on Tue Sep 12, 2017 5:17 pm

I confidently believe that theology and our beliefs about the Word of God do have one single straight way. By this I mean that though there are approximately 41,000 different ideas about the truth that God has left us with, there is truly only one way and we must find it. Jesus says in the gospel of John, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And just at Jesus tells us that there is only one true way he also teaches us about the foundation of teaching (Matthew 7:24-27). That there is only one proper foundation of teaching to build upon, and if we build upon an improper base then we are like a house that will collapse when our balloon of broken theology is finally pricked. By Jesus teaching us about the way and the proper foundation of Christian belief, it implies that we are able to find that as long as we have the Holy Spirit with us and we seek for it from God himself.
There are many sources of theology in the world that we live in. Michael Bird makes a point to reference several of these in his book that are proper sources. Many people who identify with following Christ in this life may not be as confident as others at finding the truth because their source of belief is not what Jesus intended. In my life, I have come across many “believers” who do not understand the truth about God because rather than seeking and having an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ their beliefs have come to them from people who teach them at home, or at church. They never look deeper than that. Just like with teachers at school many believers will take church leaders at their word. This is dangerous because it creates a Christianity filled with believers who are either hearing good teaching or bad teaching and are believing it. This is why Jesus warns us about false prophets and false disciples (Matthew 7:15-23). If our sources are broken then our theology will be broken as well. This is why we have to look to sources given by God.
Michael Bird does an excellent job of pointing us to what are good and true sources of theology. Of course the first of these is the scripture that God has given to us through his son Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets of long-ago. “Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Many will argue that the Bible was written by imperfect man and therefore will not see it as complete truth. If we look at the Word of God as something that has imperfections and false teachings then we must discount it as a credible source. However, the Word of God is painted by God through man. This is spoken to by the apostle Peter in his second letter, “prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1:21). Here we see that Peter himself is relinquishing authorship of the Holy Scriptures and the revelations of God’s people to God himself. The Word of God is perfect and is the whole truth. Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Therefore, as scripture says in 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” Therefore we do not need to fear the teaching of others, but simply bring this teaching and submit it to Jesus and the Word of God asking if it is in line with the truth of God (Bird, 63).
Michael Bird, using the Word of God (the ultimate source of teaching) has also pointed out the importance of tradition, nature, personal experience, and culture with some safeguards. The apostolic tradition was carefully passed down through the early church that others would read the scriptures in light of their teachings. Warnings exist throughout scripture on the wrath that would come against those who meddle and manipulate the Word of God. Reading scripture in light of the teaching of the apostles is important because it will keep us on track with not only the truth of God, but also the true teaching that we ought to be passing down to other generations. Nature is another source of teaching of God though it should not be exclusive. Scripture tells us in the Psalms as well as in Romans that we can see the power of God manifested in creation and that what has been created speaks of God. Though we may gain insight and revelation through nature it should never be without careful examination of the Word and prayer. Personal Experiences and Culture work much in the same way. Much of what we believe is shaped by the world that we live in as well as the experiences that we have. However, the same applies to these sources. Personal Experience and Culture may influence the way we see teachings however they do not alter what is true or produce truth in themselves. What we gain from these experiences need to be brought into the light of Jesus.

Matt Ostermeyer
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Theology Prompt Response

Post by Kelly Lantz on Wed Sep 13, 2017 12:44 am

I believe that while there are lots of divisions and denominations in the church, we can still be confident in what we believe about God.  Lots of the divisions that interpret different passages differently, or feel one theological issue is a "bigger hill to die on" than another.  Bird says, “Theology is an attempt to say what we can, the most we can, and in the best way we can.” I think because we are imperfect people, there are always going to be imperfect interpretations of the Bible, although we should always be aligning our theology with Scripture, in the best way we can and seek God's guidance throughout.

I think the church disagrees because there are many ways to interpret text, as we have learned from our exegesis readings as well.  Being sure we are reading the Bible in the intended context and translation is essential to how we are to live out Scripture.

I am also reminded of 1 Corinthians 2:
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
   so as to instruct him?”[d]

But we have the mind of Christ.

Because we understand the Gospel and have accepted that as Truth and the basis for which we live, we have the Holy Spirit within us.  I believe the Holy Spirit helps us recognize the Truth that God has revealed to us.  As Bird says, there aren't specific verses that directly talk about issues such as stem cell research in the Bible.  I believe through testing what we believe with Scripture and seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit, God is going to convict or affirm what we believe about him.  We must consistently align our mind with Christ's, and become aware of cultural biases and be diligent in consistent exegesis (Bird). I think this verse also explains why non-believers may see our division and disagreements as a reason to not believe, or even their general confusion or disagreement with the Bible in general.  They lack "the mind of Christ."

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Turning Points Response

Post by Brittony on Wed Sep 13, 2017 3:18 pm

Growing up in a traditional Methodist Church, going to a Grace Brethren College, and now being affiliated with the Assemblies of God, I am able to see very real differences that set boundaries to each denomination but all have the same goal, to honor, love, and live with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Yes, some parts of the Bible are emphasized more than others in different churches but that doesn’t negate the loving and all-powerful character of God shown throughout the Bible. He’s the God that led his people out of Egypt (Exodus 13), He’s the God that appointed David king (Samuel 16), and He’s the God who gave His only Son up for our sake and for His glory (John 3). All the churches I’ve been apart of believe in all of these events, and in the amazing power of God. The main difference wasn’t the scripture but the response in worship. It was common in college to raise hands in order to show more affection toward God; however, it was uncommon to bow, yell, dance outside of your chosen seat, or to vocally agree with the Pastor as it is in the Assemblies of God Church.

It is easy to become consumed in church doctrine and not consumed with the doctrine of Jesus Christ, the one on display to display the power of God. I think that if people look at Jesus for who he is, what he did, and as a filter rather than their own doctrine, there would be a lot more agreement within the church. Christians have been commanded to be like Jesus and this allows all who believe to be one in Jesus, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call (Eph. 4:2-4 ESV).” Our own doctrine may change to best personally follow Jesus but Jesus’ doctrine, God’s word, never changes (Hebrews 13:Cool. Through the truth of these scriptures and how God has interacted in my life, in ways that are aligned with scripture, I can confidently believe in God. Not everything I experience comes from God, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God (1 John 4:1-2 ESV).”

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Theology discussion

Post by Kenji on Wed Sep 13, 2017 3:37 pm

Since the question is "how can we confidently believe anything about God...?" I think I want to point out that even in the midst of disagreements, as long as it is not a cult(meaning not Christianity), even a semi-heretic denomination(Seventh day adven...) will have core beliefs that are shared with other denominations. I think we can believe in those truths(let's call it Mere Christianity truths) very confidently. Even though it's not from the Bird reading, the Knoll reading had some interesting points about why creeds came about and why they were important. I think the truths that we find in the creeds are things that most denominations will believe in and therefore should not be a discouragement as a believer. The main message of the gospel has power in itself to save and we are saved by its hope.

Now since the question also asks "how can we confidently believe anything about God...?" I also want to point out that much of our confidence relies on the hope that we have in Christ, which is produced by faith through grace, and not only is it intellectual but also experiential and supernatural. Our sole intellect and Bible study will not produce nor give us such confidence or hope. Romans 8:22-25 says "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." Somehow the spirit-awaken person "groans inwardly" as they wait, and they wait patiently. The spirit-awaken person also does not see, but he hopes. And he hopes only through the spirit. If such "groaning" is not found in the spirit-awake person, perhaps he is not awake at all. Hope and faith will always be part of the equation for Christianity, and confidence comes from such hope and such faith that is spiritual, experiential, and supernatural.

So now looking at the question as a whole "how can we confidently believe anything about God in the midst of so many disagreements in the church?" I want to answer the question with "I cannot confidently believe in some things about God." The Mere Christianity truths, I can believe confidently because of above paragraphs. But I don't think it comes as a surprise to God or the church that there would be disagreements and conflicts between thoughts. What comes to mind is the disagreements between Paul and Barnabas, or the conflicts between Paul and Peter in the Jerusalem council. Already in scripture we see that there were disagreements and difference in thoughts. Perhaps that's part of the deal with Christianity, that we would pursue truth as we rub against disagreements. Paul and Barnabas parted ways, but other disagreements came to mutual conclusions. It is kind of petty to form new denominations because of disagreements and I don't like it. I wish all Christians came together and discussed things more. But part of it is that we're simply sinful and unable to search the depths of God in a unified way.

Kenji
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Re: Theology Discussion Question

Post by Dane Miles on Wed Sep 13, 2017 4:21 pm

Q: There are approximately 41,000 different denominations out there, all reading the same Bible. How can you confidently believe anything about God in the the midst of so many disagreements in the church?

A: It seems to me that there are three distinct ways we can test the validity of our beliefs about God as revealed in Scripture. They are experience, church history, and discipleship (i.e. how other believers have taught us). For example, I have experienced the work of the Holy Spirit through contemporary worship, and this style was taught to me from other believers in my congregation. That being said, many others might find hymns of a capella singing to be the only forms of acceptable worship. Here, it seems as though there will be certain areas of missiology and church style that a) are not covered directly in Scripture, and therefore b) require grace and freedom for believers to choose strategies which best fit their congregants.

In the realm of more theological questions (i.e. is the trinity real, is Jesus fully God and man, etc.), I am less certain. In my life, I have found that "testing the spirits" to be the best course of action. Personally, I know that if I have proclaimed Jesus as Lord, and this faith is evidenced by action, my security is eternal. As far as a perfect certainty on more "minute" areas of scripture, I am uncertain.

Dane Miles
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