by Lisa RobinsonAugust 27th, 2011 17 Comments
It happens to varying degrees. You are chugging along in your Christian walk, learning and growing. Mainly, your convictions grow and become firm. But then something happens to make you rethink your presuppositions or methodology. You begin an inquiry into a different perspective to test the validity. The convictions you believed were firm are starting to loosen their grip. Your investigation yields an overturning of what you had come to accept as accurate.
This can be a good or bad thing depending upon the nature and/or extremity of the shifts. If the process leads to unraveling of orthodoxy such as no longer believing in the deity of Christ, dismantling of the authority of scripture, denial of the Trinity, etc, then it is not good. But on the other hand, the fruit of this kind of disruption can yield a change in theological convictions that are more consistent with the biblical and historic witness of Christianity. Then there is everything in between from bibliology, soteriology, eschatology, ecclesiology, etc.
The concern when these kinds of shifts happen, is when we reject one tenet of belief, the rest in the paradigm might follow. I have noted this especially happens with advancements in scholarship that encourage the re-examination of previously existing paradigms. With the backing of sound arguments, hefty research and biblical proof-texting, challengers articulate valid or seemly valid reasons why some tenets, doctrines or paradigms need re-examining and even discarding. When concepts are popularized, what ends up happening is a wholesale endorsement of everything the proponent advocates.
Needless to say, it is easy to create false dichotomies with theology shifts. If L M and N become X Y and Z when we create false dichotomies, it is impossible to have a combination of lets, say L M and Z. But careful examination might yield just that. Yet the tendency for a shift would be to reject L M and N outright and especially when advocates of positions we are gravitating towards encourage that we should do just that.
This supposes that one person or group of professors, scholars, theologians, etc have a corner on all doctrinal points. One thing I have discovered in seminary is that I don’t necessarily agree with all of my professors on everything, even with agreement on the seven doctrinal points we have to affirm as students. For me, this models the broader world of scholarship where the exchange of ideas lend themselves to upholding particular models over others. We can gravitate towards our favorites who just make sense in what they advocate. That is not necessarily a bad thing. But when scholarship ends up with cult following, whatever is dismissed ends up getting treated as error, sometimes to the degree of dismissing wholesale what we once endorsed as legitimate tenets of Christian belief.
To this end, it kind of grieves me when I hear students support their position based on what so and so professor believes. And this definitely happens outside of seminary as well when we believe X because so and so scholar advocates for it. When our convictions are more rooted in the proposals of scholars, theologians, pastors, etc, the ground is ripe for getting carried away with every wind of doctrine, with the thought that everything that is sold, must be purchased.
On the flip side, rejection of previously held positions can become stringent and to the degree that everything gets treated with a stamp of illegitimacy. I have experienced this myself when I went from fringe Charismatica to soft-cessationism. Once I understood the error in my methodology that led to extreme Charismatic beliefs, I began to gravitate towards authors that endorsed the paradigm I was coming to embrace. That meant not only creating false dichotomies, but disengaging from those with whom I was once aligned and even spurning everything they had to say as false. I have seen this happen in other instances as well, where we throw the baby out with the bath water and deny that position any legitimacy.
But I have learned that the challenges that come with theology shifts do not need to result in wholesale rejection, the creation of false dichotomies or naive following of celebrity scholars or pastors. I believe that careful examination of each component of belief is necessary. Ideas have consequences and the implications must be thought through to the fullest. What sounds plausible, may have some harmful ramifications. On the flip side, we may discover that a different perspective yields a higher level of consistency with the biblical and historic witness. We cannot be afraid of such analysis, even if that means mixing thoughts of competing paradigms. In the end, our goal should be faithfulness to divine revelation and to legitimate Christian belief.
So if you find yourself in the middle of a paradigm shift, please be careful. Don’t reject positions outright and recognize that there might be something else to consider through the fruit of careful analysis.
- Why Protestants Are Quick to Reject Catholicism – And What Can Be Done About It
- A Matter of Perspective
- Women, Scholarship and Authentic Agendas
- Some Thoughts on Biblical Convictions and Being Biblical
- Overcoming Theological Preservation