No Hotline to Heaven
Take a deep breath and repeat after me: “I could be wrong.” In the light of day it sounds crazy that we even need to discuss the fact that when we talk about theological issues we must be mindful that we are not infallible. But as crazy as it sounds, when most people enter into theological discussion, the light of day dims. We speak as if our understanding of Scripture was itself divinely inspired. There is much today that is taught about “the preacher’s authority” as he gives his holy message. Some even argue that the pastor is the modern day prophet bringing the Word of God to the people. I would love it if that were truly biblical because then I would not have to be concerned about misleading people when I teach. I could simply be faithful to repeat God’s message verbatim and I would be sure that everything I said was 100% correct. But you and I do not have a hotline to heaven giving us God’s confirmation that our well-studied interpretations of Scripture are correct. When you and I teach the Word of God in a church gathering, in a Sunday school class, or in small-group setting, we are giving everyone our “best guess” as to what Scripture means by what it says. It may be a highly educated, a well thought out, and a beautifully sculpted guess, but it is still a guess. This is also true whenever we discuss theology with someone. Here are some common “I have a hotline to heaven” statements:
“No, you are wrong about that.”
“That is Scripture means X, and your interpretation is simply incorrect”
“Doctrine A is obviously proven by Scripture B and if you don’t see it you are simply blind.”
There is a time and place for absolute statements, but these should not be the common fare in theological discussion. The fact that we do not have a hotline to heaven but that we are all growing in our understanding of God’s Word should be evident in the words we use. Below I have reworded the absolute statements in such a way that take into account the fact that I am a fallible man striving to represent my Lord:
“It seems to me that your interpretation does not take into account Scriptures A and B.
How do these Scriptures fit with your viewpoint?”
“From my perspective it appears that Scripture X means Y because of context Z, but I could be wrong about the context, what do you think?”
“That does not seem correct given Scriptures A, B, and C, but perhaps I am missing
something. Do you see something that I have missed?”
Now it is certainly possible that you can go overboard using these qualifiers, but especially on points of contention it would seem that such careful and qualified language should be the norm.
A Word of Encouragement
Watch some television and consider how they portray people having disagreements. Go out into your community and listen to people as they have disagreements. Disagreement in the world can be harsh and it can be quiet. Unbelievers can argue and they can be sarcastic and they can also, on occasion, remain at peace with one another. The one thing they cannot do is lay down their lives for one another as they disagree. They do not have the God of heaven and earth at work in them causing them to love God and love others. If we as Christians love one another as we talk about the things of God, the way that we disagree will be stamped with the supernatural love and power of God. The world will take notice of us, not because we are divisive and always fighting, but because we are following in the footsteps of our Lord by loving one another more than life itself. Then, perhaps, we will have an opportunity to talk about the gospel and the world will have a reason to listen to us.
Steve Lehrer is director of biblical counseling at In Depth Studies.