Archive | Theological Learning

Four Lessons I’ve Learned from Reading Broadly

(Lisa Robinson)

It’s comfortable for Christians to read inside our denomination/tradition. People who think like us, who draw the same conclusions make learning fun. But I think we can become too tribal about Christianity, put our stake in the ground to quickly and use it to battle others in the body, often unfairly.

I’m increasingly realizing the value of reading broadly and by extension, learning broadly. By broadly, I mean works outside of our denominational/doctrinal perspectives. Actually, I don’t think I read broadly enough. But the more I do, I’ve recognized some characteristics about myself have emerged that reinforces the need to get out of the comfy box.

1.  My discernment: or rather lack thereof. There’s something about having to read through work that doesn’t necessarily align with my doctrinal/denominational perspective that forces an examination of what the author is really getting at. I love that in seminary, some professors intentionally assign books for this purpose. Some books even have such troubled theology that sounds really good, not unlike what we might encounter in the contemporary evangelical landscape. I’ve observed that going through the exercise of deciphering what is valuable and what is opposed to historic Christian orthodoxy, sharpens discernment. But if we only read from one perspective, the tendency might be to oppose anything that doesn’t sound like how the gurus from our tribe define it.  Reading broadly on the other hand with the intention of understanding, strengthens discernment. That last part is important because reading to tear something down defeats the purpose of learning.

2.  My arrogance: I can place a great deal of confidence in own investigation. And I have certainly done this. Of course, there were many instances where I claimed to “fairly” evaluate all sides. But honestly, I really didn’t.  Reading broadly confronts that sense of superiority I feel when I think I have everything figured out. It helps me realize that I can learn from others, even those with whom I disagree. When combined with point #1, I’m increasingly finding some valuable nuggets that a more tribal perspective might suppress…and has suppressed.  In fact, I can’t even count how many times I’ve dismissed something just because it’s aligned with a certain teacher or doctrinal perspective without giving it a fair shake. Yep, arrogance. Continue Reading →

Shawn McCraney on the Linear Thinking of His Theological Critics

Shawn McCraney is a former Mormon who became a “born-again” Christian and eventually left Mormonism, received some ministry training through Calvary Chapel, and launched his own ministry in Salt Lake City to evangelize Mormons. In the past few weeks Shawn has gone public on his television show denouncing the term Trinity as “garbage” and explaining his own doctrine of God in ways that have been confused at best. I flew out to Utah to meet with Shawn, had very friendly and enjoyable conversations with him, and appeared on Shawn’s show Heart of the Matter. I also posted a few messages on Facebook regarding the controversy.

On March 12, 2014, Shawn McCraney’s lecture on his TV show was a critical response to his critics, whom he characterized as scholars, theologians, and apologists who impose their exclusively “linear thinking” on the church to rule, control, and dominate. There is a “teachable moment” here because the issues that Shawn’s argument raises have relevance beyond the specific controversy over his teaching. Continue Reading →

What’s After Seminary? Not a Job, But an Adventure

(Lisa Robinson)

This is for anyone who is contemplating seminary, in seminary, has graduated seminary or has asked anybody in seminary what they plan on doing.  For those of you who don’t know, I am a student in the ThM program (systematic theology track) at Dallas Seminary.  At the end of this semester I will be about 3/4 of the way done and graduation is anticipated for Fall 2013.  I also happen to be a single mother (widowed since 2004), raising a teenage boy and work part time.  So the 5 1/2 year track that I’m on is pretty reasonable all things considered.

One question that I am frequently asked both from within the seminary walls but especially outside of them, is what are the plans after graduation.  Whether stated directly or indirectly,  the real question is what job will I obtain after graduation.  And you would think that makes sense, right?  After all, who would leave an upward rising, good career, pack up to move 1,700 miles to a city with no family to live on less income, juggle school, work and parenting (oh all right we’ll throw in writing too) to come out without employment at the other end? Oh and let’s not forget the $40K tab that comes with it.

To be honest, I have cringed at this question.  It’s not because I don’t have an idea of where I might end up or would like to be.  But because until recently,  I have felt compelled to respond to this question under the parameters of employment.  This is made infinitely more challenging  because I am a woman and have no interest in women’s or children’s ministry.  Nor am I seeking ordination for any pastoral roles.  Well, where the heck does that leave the options for some financial compensation?  Parachurch? Writing? PhD for future teaching?  Well, maybe, most likely yes,  but not necessarily for employment but for ministry.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to land a vocational position for that which I am being trained for.  I would love to leave the career in which I spent two decades in order to spend my waking and working hours engaged with activities that prompted me to go to seminary in the first place – encouraging others to think about how they think about God, how they learn about Him in order to worship Him.  It doesn’t really matter the venue or format, whether it be writing, teaching or speaking.  Being in seminary has not only increased that desire but placed some teeth on it.   Yes, I would love employment. Continue Reading →

Overcoming a Low View of Scripture

(Lisa Robinson)

I want to write about something that has troubled me for a good while.  I don’t want to present it as picking on anyone or isolating those I don’t agree with for the purpose of highlighting that which I don’t agree with.  That is not the purpose of this post.  The purpose is to address an epistemology (understanding) that determines the truth of God’s communication in ways other than from scripture in a way that dismisses what scripture communicates.   The goal is to highlight why this ultimately could undermine Christian unity, undermine how we understand revelation of God and why having a high view of scripture is important.

Epistemology  is the method we use to to know and understand truth.  Our epistemological foundation determines what avenue we come to understand God’s truth, how He has communicated that and how that translates into expectations He has for Christians to obey His word.  Having a low view of scripture means that we base our epistemology on some other method of determining God’s truth that supersedes scripture and in some cases dismisses it altogether.

A low view of scripture stands in contrast with a high view of scripture.  When we speak of a high view of scripture it is this – that God has unveiled Himself through the pages of scripture and culminated His revelation of truth in His Son.  This revelation is enscripturated in the 66 books that portrays God’s story as a unified whole.   Having a high view of scripture means that we assign scripture as the final authority of faith and practice.  It is recognizing that God has already spoken through His word. Thus, we read it with the intent of understanding what each author is striving to convey and how each piece fits within the unified whole.

Now,  a high view of scripture should not be confused with biblicism, or at least the way it tends to be used in a pejorative manner that makes the bible the object of worship over the triune God.  Nor am I addressing concerns related to interpretation (hermeneutics) that produce divergent opinions as to what is being communicated.  I also am not addressing traditions where the church is historically considered the guardian of faith. Continue Reading →

Yes, We Should Follow ‘Man’…But ‘Man’ With Understanding

(Lisa Robinson)

I have encountered an expression on a number of occasions that goes something like this…”I don’t follow man, only God”  Sometimes there might be “denominations” thrown in, to emphasize that following God does not mean following denominations.  Of course, that is the sentiment behind not following ‘man’.  By man, I don’t mean male but anyone that represents Christianity.  I believe the idea behind this thought, is that people have opinions about Christianity or about what the bible says.  It does seem more spiritual to say that one does not follow such opinions but only relies on what the bible says.  Not only is this thought counterproductive to real learning,  it is antithetical to Christianity.

Throughout the pages of scripture, God placed people in positions from which His people should take cues, instruction and learn from.  There was Moses and Joshua, the judges, the kings and the prophets.  Jesus Himself, instructed his disciples to make disciples and teach them everything He commanded.  We see a beautiful portrait of this in the early kernels of the Church as new converts sat under the apostles teaching (Acts 2:42).  Paul commended Christians under his tutelage to follow him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).   He gave instruction for leadership to carry on the apostolic witness in the teaching of Christ.  This necessarily comes with the expectation that Christians must follow man in order to understand Christ.

To say that we don’t follow man, is the same as indicating we don’t need teachers and we can arbitrarily decide what is best for ourselves.   It is an attitude that we learn according to our own private interpretations, that says I only need me and my bible since the Holy Spirit will give the interpretation.  However, this contradicts the fact that God has always given his word to His people, organized to learn from each other.  An examination of Ephesians 4, indicates that the body of Christ, united by Spirit baptism, contribute to each other’s growth under the tutelage of leaders.  The same goes for 1 Corinthians 12.  We must rely on others as each one contributes, and learning from others is a part of the package.

The reality is that unless we live in complete isolation, it is a false statement to say that we follow no one.  There is usually someone or a group of someone’s influencing our bible interpretations.  I actually find it ironic when the ones who insist on not following ‘man’, are being influenced by like-minded thinkers who have listened to their brand of interpretation.  The danger here is that private interpretations, and particularly ones that have rejected the historic witness of the faith for something “new”, can create interpretations and biases in such away that removes Christian faith from its very foundation Continue Reading →

Be Careful With Theology Shifts

(Lisa Robinson)

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.  Continue Reading →

Some Valuable Lessons On Theological Learning From An Analysis of Origen

(Lisa Robinson)

First off, this post is not really about Origen (c. 185-254).  But it is about some lessons that I learned from studying Origen’s homilies in relation to how we do theology in general.  Prior to taking an elective last fall in History of Exeges is, I had a certain idea about Origen and his interpretive methods.  I had not read Origen’s work directly, but learned what I did of him from historical theology surveys and articles I read on the internet.  Mainly, my impression of Origen being the father of Alexandrian school of exegesis was that he utilized a wildly allegorical style of interpreting scripture where symbolism ran amok and passages were assigned some arbitrary meaning. In fact, many of the descriptions I read of him identified him in relation to this but in more of a pejorative light. What I gathered was that Origen was just a wild and crazy guy when it came to interpretation.

That was until I took the History of Exegesis class, where a good portion of it was spent on analyzing Origen’s interpretative methodology and some of his homilies on Luke that were delivered to new Christians. What I discovered was that there was a method to Origen’s seeming madness.   Not only that, but he was consistent in his approach to interpretation.   His multiple sense of interpretation always begin with the literal sense that is not divorced from the text albeit not necessarily concerned with historical accuracy.  The spiritual sense of the texts correlated meaning to an overall analysis of what was going on.  This would lead to the moral sense, which was to affect obedience to God.  For Origen, this was the ultimate goal.  Understanding the text corresponded to the reader’s spiritual maturity and the correlation between obedience to Christ and an illumination of the text.  Origen’s interpretation was rooted in a strong Christology that sought to draw the reader to Him.   Needless to say, this was quite a different understanding that I had going into the class.   Moreover, I was refreshingly surprised at how much I was personally edified in my Christian walk as a result of better understanding of where Origen was coming from.

But like I said this was not about Origen but rather the affect of what I learned particularly as it relates to theological learning and discourse.   It seems to me just as I had one impression of Origen’s interpretive methods that admittedly came with an attitude of scoffing, we often approach theological topics, positions, systems this same way.  We have built an identity around particular issues or theologians that we have come to reject, treat as insufficient or just don’t agree with.   And let’s face it, theological discourse can be very reactionary.  Often times, that reaction can propel unexamined rebuttals that are not really honest to what is being proposed.  But I propose guarding reactions in consideration of these  key points that I found useful in my example of Origen.’s exegesis. Continue Reading →

When Theology Becomes a Stumbling Block

(by Lisa Robinson)

I love Tim’s clip here asking the question can theology destroy our faith.  He honestly assesses, yes if it the information is not applied towards a genuine relationship with God.  Information should not be feared because any genuine relationship is built on having the information.  So theology is understanding about God and how we think about God, that as we grow in understanding through Bible reading and instruction, prayer and genuine fellowship, should provide a tool for facilitating growth. The discipline of systematic theology will involve the study of how others have come to conclusions of the main tenets of the Christian faith.  I think this is a valuable and fruitful exercise, combined with Bible study, as we grow and mature in the true knowledge of Jesus Christ. It also gives us a better understanding of theological differences.

It occurs to me however,  that the topics of theology have to be introduced progressively according to the maturity of the believer.  I think the programs at Reclaiming the Mind/Credo House do a great job of that in helping people think about their faith without supplanting the core necessities for spiritual growth.  But, theology can become a stumbling block when theological debate takes precedent over spiritual growth.  This is especially critical for young, immature believers in Christ.  What do I mean by stumbling block? It is something that causes a believer to sin, which will deter spiritual growth.  Here is how I believe theology can do this.

In Matthew 18, Jesus is responding to his disciples question of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven

Truly I say unto you unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in my name receives me  (Matthew 18:3-5 NASB)

Simply put, Jesus is addressing the fact that those who place faith in Him, will be received.  It is not exclusively a reference to children, as some of argued, but reflects those who would humble themselves in recognition in the work and person of Christ.

When believers come to Christ, they need to be instructed in Christians basics.  Period.  That might involve laying out what competing positions hold to, but the goal of Christian instruction is to ground the believer in their identity in Christ and their knowledge concerning the revelation of God.  As believers mature and learning increases, then it is feasible to start introducing competing viewpoints and especially those that might be directly opposed to what that particular denomination or affiliation espouses.

We read in the gospels Jesus’ opposition to the Pharisees.  The problem with the Pharisees is that in their quest to preserve obedience to the law, they imposed a righteousness upon the Mosaic legislation that was not intended.  It makes sense, since Israel as a nation was scattered and anticipated restoration of covenantal promises that had been transgressed through Israel’s apostasy and subsequent exile.   Continue Reading →