Some Debates Are Worthy of Repentance

Note to self: If your biblical wisdom and precision in the arts of hermeneutics and exegesis don’t end in praise to God and a passion to see the lost man know Christ as Lord and Savior, then your theological endeavors are faulty and quite possibly worthy of repentance.

This is one thought I routinely have as I take in online theological debates, and as such dialogue relates to mission.

The Apostle Paul instructs us to examine ourselves to see if we’re continuing in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). Knowing the attitudes and positions of our hearts in relation to the pursuit of theological precision and how that relates to our missional engagement is probably a good exercise.

As a seminary student, I have to remind myself of this on a near daily basis, because if I don’t, my propensity is to get sucked into the endless and often fruitless debates concerning the number of angels that might dance on the head of a pin.

These debates have their place and purpose. There is no doubt that we live in a theologically illiterate culture, and so we must fight for doctrinal accuracy. Unfortunately, I find that the tones that frequently get struck do not necessarily lead to love for God and love for others. Instead, the arguments are too often ends in themselves.

The prize of winning a theological argument isn’t the honor of being right, though. It’s the privilege of knowing God and being known by Him that ought to be the goal of our theological discussion.

Without these things, our theology, if we can call it that under those lesser circumstances, may be nothing more than a letter of condemnation. Knowledge apart from faith cannot save, and theology that doesn’t provoke doxology is simply an exercise in academia.

I can say these things with conviction because the Scriptures warn of the danger of knowing things about God, without actually knowing Him. Jesus hammered the Pharisees and religious leaders for their hardness of heart in spite of their wealth of knowledge (Matt. 23:27).

Are some of us armchair theologians and hack bloggers at risk of becoming Functional Pharisees? 

Within the framework of online theological debate, I seldom hear the participants say, “The position I’m arguing for has led me to worship God in the following ways…” Or, “The position I’m arguing for has filled me with a desire to live a sent life because…”

I think we need a little of that.

Now, it might be that we’re just not saying what we’re thinking, but for the sake of guarding our hearts from the dangerous pursuit of mere knowledge, we might do well to sift all of our theological pursuits through these types of filters.

Anti-intellectualism isn’t the answer to cold Christianity. Our God is an intelligent God, and He created us to be intelligent, resourceful creatures that discover and grow in part through the careful study of His word. There is a right way, and a wrong way to read and interpret God’s word. 

Those ways are differentiated by the application of established, interpretive principles that help us rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). I need to say, for the record, that it’s quite all right and even healthy to debate the dichotomous versus trichotomous nature of man, for example.

But, the question is, how does such a debate increase your love for God and neighbor?

If you have no meaningful answer to this question, then the argument you’re making might just be one worthy of repentance.

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1).