Thursday, October 16, 2014

The scriptures are more historical than theological

One of the things that will help us to understand and grow in the scriptures is to know how we ought to think about and approach the scriptures. Here are a few suggestions.

The scriptures, in large part, are a historical record of God's interaction with mankind. From his creation, his fall, his instruction, his redemption, and his expectations for the future, the scriptures paint for us a panoramic view of God's love, provision, plan, and action on behalf of mankind. To try an understand the scriptures apart from its historical context and the historical connectedness between its included books is like trying to understand your own life apart from an understanding your personal history that has brought you to where you stand now. The scriptures invite our faith, not into a system of beliefs, but to the reality of a history that still has power to save and reform our lives today. The message of the Gospel is not a doctrine of theology but the recounting of a historical event that, if we choose to believe, can offer salvation to our souls and the promise of eternal life to come. We are called not to a theology of salvation but to the reality of salvation as it was accomplished and recorded in history.

The problem comes when we turn the scriptures into a theology book, full of doctrines and dogmas. While it is true that the scriptures have much to teach and have been the foundation of dogmas down throughout history, the one who comes to the scriptures is first drawn to its recorded history and that history's efficacy in their lives. Only secondarily is it drawn to the theology of that history. Paul gave this promise to the church at Thessalonica, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 4:14) Notice that their belief is historical. Believing in the historical truth that Jesus was raised from the dead, they can also have confidence that those who die in Christ will also rise from the dead. Consider also what Paul said,
"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also." (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
Notice that what Paul relates as "first importance" in the Gospel that he received personally from Christ is largely historical in nature. However, often our preaching and our transmission of the Gospel is theological in nature; we preach doctrine and theology, inviting those to join us in our beliefs. We have made Christianity the conformance to a system of beliefs and dogmas not faith in a historical realities. Rather, instead of calling people to belief, we ought to call them to faith; faith in who Jesus was, what He said, what He did, and what He promised. We ought to call them to faith in the historical Jesus who, though being one with the Father, was born in human flesh, lived a sinless life, died for our sins, and rose again that we too might have eternal life. This faith is a faith rooted in history; rooted in events that actually happened. Faith in history can save us, even if a person's theology is wrong or lacking. It is the reality of what Christ did so many years ago that has the power of salvation in our lives today, not the dim light of theology that our mind holds to. When we come to the scriptures, we come to a history; a history that is to be believed, a history that calls us to faith, and a history that has power to save.

David Robison

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