We’ve been discussing the issue, “How ought we to ‘do’ theology?” The topic is extremely relevant to me, for this semester one of the courses I am teaching is entitled “Theological Methods and Issues.” My upper-level seminary students are following an eight-step method articulated by my friend Dr. Bob Ferris.
We’ve noticed the following STEPS:
The FIFTH STEP in our theological method involves EXAMINING THE BIBLICAL DATA. If “doing theology” does not fundamentally rest on examining the Scriptures carefully, then we are only engaged in human speculation and conjecture. And there is enough of that already!
The SEVENTH STEP in our theological method is CONFRONTING SPECIAL PROBLEMS.This step is where we ask if there are cultural or cultic challenges to the Evangelical position which we must address. We need to be aware of not only our own culture, but also the culture to which we are ministering. For example, a research paper on “The Biblical Picture of Marriage” would need to take into account cultural views in an African context (if the paper is meant for that particular audience). Historical and contemporary heresies are “special problems,” for heresy is often described as “a new, fresh look at the Bible!” Spencer Burke’s A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity comes to mind here! [I've listed some of Burke's quotes after our study questions. You won't believe some of the things he says!]
1. Why are Evangelicals not more aware of cultural or cultic challenges to orthodoxy?
2. I’ve often told my students who have been believers for a while to occasionally read books that they know “will boil their blood before they get past the preface.” What boiling books have you read or are reading?
QUOTES BY BURKE IN A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity:
“But I believe we need heretics today. What’s more, I believe heresy can be a positive rather than a negative force in our spiritual journey. Of course, it can be argued that there is no orthodoxy today – no one way to practice religion anymore, and hence heresy no longer exists.” (xxiii).
“What is grace? For me, it is a subversive and scandalous twist in human history – an unexpected and revolutionary turn of events that offered a new way of relating to the sacred and each other. Religion declares that we are separated from God, that we are ‘outsiders.’ Grace tells us the opposite; we are already in unless we want to be out. This is the real scandal of Jesus. . . . He’s in the business of grace, and grace tells us there is nothing we need to do to find relationship with the divine. The relationship is already there; we only need to nurture it.” (61).
“It’s not conditional on recognizing or renouncing sin, and it comes to us whether or not we ask for it. We don’t have to do something to receive it, nor do we even have to respond to it in some way. It simply comes.” (63).
John 14:6 “. . . I don’t believe it can be used to argue that Christianity is the only true religion.” (107).
“Jesus doesn’t ask for universal agreement to a set of propositions about himself. He simply invites us to follow him.” (137).
“Faith is many things, but it is not a requirement. It is faithfulness, the giving of oneself, trust in God, and belief that something greater than the material world exists for all of us. Any other interpretation of faith diminishes the gift of grace and places hurdles between God and humanity. In reality, nothing stands between us and God’s grace.” (184-185).
“I’m not sure I believe in God exclusively as a person anymore either.” (195). “I now incorporate a panentheist view, which basically means that God is ‘in all,’ alongside my creedal view of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. For the record, panentheism is not the same as pantheism, the view that God and the universe are one and the same. Rather, panentheism is like saying God is the ocean and we are the fish in it.” (195).
“As the theologian Brian McLaren rightly notes, ‘More significant than any doctrine of hell itself is the view of God to which one’s doctrine of hell contributes.’ The God I connect with does not assign humans to hell.” (199). “And yet I do think it’s possible to reject God’s grace.” (199).
“The truth is that none of us deserve grace, and nothing we do will earn grace. It is ours simply because God has invited us to the party. We’re in unless we choose to be out. That is how grace works. We don’t opt in to it – we can only opt out.” (202).
“I no longer believe that evangelism means the arguing of propositional ideas about God but rather that it is the telling of one’s story. There’s a big difference between sitting down with someone and talking about one’s life experiences and sitting down with someone and offering them a set of concepts about God on which their eternal destiny is said to depend.” (207).