Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Mindset of Biblical Interpretation & Labeling

There’s been a good discussion over on Wade Burleson’s Blog—about how you define a “Christ-Honoring, Theologically Conservative Evangelical”. Read about it Grace and Truth to You: A Good Definition of a Christ-Honoring, Theologically Conservative Evangelical

I added that the above can be defined as “anyone who agrees with me” and those who don’t are a “liberal”. It got me thinking about why we are so apt to label those who disagree with us and I wanted to offer this possibility.

Most of those participating in these types of discussions or take a great interest in theology took great care in establishing what they believe and why they believe it. Pastors and others today spend hours reading, studying, learning from the Word of God and most of all, asking for wisdom while believing that God will honor as well as answer that request.

So, after much study and growth, after trusting that God has revealed a theological conclusion regarding a passage or a doctrine we are convinced that we have heard the heart of God and so know and understand Him better.

And then we come across someone who has a different understanding, a different interpretation to a said doctrine or passage. If we truly believe that “God is the same yesterday, today and forever”, then we have a hard time reconciling how the same God can lead 2 people to different interpretations.

As the mindset goes, since we know how much time, effort, and prayer we put into establishing our position, we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and conclude that the other guy must have missed something or wasn’t really listening to God on this issue. You conclude they may be a great person and believer, but they’re just falling for one of Satan’s old tricks on this particular issue.

So the mindset is to trust your time, efforts, motives and convictions while inherently having serious doubts directed toward those who disagree. That’s how a Christ-Honoring, Theologically Conservative Evangelical” (which of course I am) becomes a “liberal” when they disagree with me.

I know this is simplified, so please feel free to add more to it.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,



Marilyn said...

My answer to this is "no one knows and understands the depths of any one passage in the Bible, let along many passages." Perhaps we got "some insight and truth" from God into a passage. The fact that we only got "some" is due to our flawed, fallen nature and mind. Not due to God not enlightening us. So, I say, one believer is able to grasp part of the truth and I am able to grasp another part of it. The whole truth is too big for either of us to grasp. I resolve most of these conflicts between believers and denominations by saying the knowledge of God and His Word is too big for our human minds. Each denomination emphasizes different things - all combined have only part of the truth also.

Bryan Riley said...

I like what you have written a lot and, for me, it shows why all the liberal or fundamentalist name tags are so problematic. it also, i believe, without being able to speak for him, is why Wade wrote what he did. Although you are correct that in a way by defining a new "term" we may just be creating a new label, but I don't think that is what he was doing. What I would hope for that post is that people would see that they could agree to a definition of a new term for which they had no stereotypical beliefs.

This is a great post. Thanks for calling my attention to your blog. I will read further later.

Bryan Riley said...

To add to what marilyn said above, I believe God can have a word just for us, the individual believer, that isn't meant to be a word for everyone else. Clearly, when Paul wrote, he understood that people would have varying understandings with regard to their relationship to the Father. Anyway, how i interpreted your post is that you were confessing your own weakness to judge others when they didn't share your well studied view of a scripture.

Kelly Reed said...


Just so you know, I wasn't worried about a new term being used as the new label.

My sentiment is much the same as Wade's in the sense that it would be nice if we didn't hurl label grenades at each other, as opposed to actually talking to each other and realizing that people are still my brother and sister in Christ, worthy of my respect and fair treatment, even if we disagree on secondary issues.

I was merely exploring why it is so easy for us to use those label grenades and why it is so common even among great, godly, Jesus loving leaders.

I sometimes shake my head at great men of the faith in the SBC at what they have to say about each other. How is that a display of the heart of Christ? They (as I do) have a passion about the faith, and desire to stand for it, but in the process can easily become overzealous and harsh toward their brothers & sisters in Christ.

I pray we would come to a level of Christian maturity when we wouldn't do that.

Pursuing Him,


Bryan Riley said...

I agree. That is why, on the post from yesterday, i've twice commented asking everyone to think how a new Christian or a non-Christian would view the comments. It is truly disheartening to see such vitriol over things that aren't really about showing the world who Christ is.

Phil said...

As you say, God never changes, however, we do. One does not have to note a difference in interpretation from one believer to another, but simply from one stage of life to another to question why there are differences. It is both scriptural and sensible that our understanding not only will change, but must change, as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God. An example of this would be Billy Graham. If you've heard recent interviews with him, his understanding of many biblical passages has changed a lot from 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago. I also have observed it in myself and am extremely grateful that God has graciously led me to grow (and, thus, change).

Kelly Reed said...

Just a note of clarification--the "anyone who agrees with me" definition is to be taken as sarcasm!


Heath Powers said...

I'm glad I am not the only one tired of pointless labels. You have some good ideas of why people do this. I think there may be an additional reason: some people are afraid to ask questions. Let me give you an example. When's the last time you heard a Baptist preacher discuss "Once Saved Always Saved" and actually tackle the difficult passages. Most Baptists have never looked beyond those few passages that soundly endorse this greatly loved doctrine. Most prefer to read over Scriptures that appear to oppose the idea. Wouldn't it be better to ask, "Why does it say that? I thought we couldn't lose our salvation?" And then actually study the issue out so that we know why we believe what we believe. How about we do an honest study of the gift of tongues? I think some would hesitate because they don't want that in their church whether it is biblical or not. From my perspective, people like pithy statements made from the pulpit that give them a clear understanding of what they are supposed to believe. "You can never lose your salvation!" "The Bible is inerrant!" Don't bother with the details. When our previously held beliefs are challenged, we hate to admit that we really do not understand what the Bible says on the matter. Our faith to some degree is based on those pithy sayings and a select reading of Scripture. We are vulnerable because we are really not grounded. We have accepted positions taught by people in "authority" that made us feel comfortable. It's much easier to throw around labels than to question beliefs we have held for generations. If our belief about a doctrine is shaken by honest questions and serious Bible study, then good. We obviously need to be better grounded. Let's not fear the conversation.