How to Formulate a “Theology”

I don’t believe in quoting Bible verses as justification for a specific belief.

The reason is because when one quotes Bible verses as “proof of correctness in belief” there are tens of thousands of other Bible verses people can throw back at you to not only contradict your proof of correctness, but then validate their version of correctness. I see this play out all the time, literally on a daily basis. What then happens is people start to incorrectly look at the Bible, and incorrectly use it, as a literary tool to battle correctness over its intended goal: [simplistically] how to better know the God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in learning principles on how to best bring heaven to earth.

Have you ever seen, or been involved in a conversation–which then quickly turns into an argument–surrounding immigration where one party is justifying their America should have open borders position based on quoting individual verses in the Bible, and then their opposition is justifying their illegal immigrant position based on quoting other individual verses in the Bible?

Or how about a conversation surrounding universal vs. privatized health care where both parities are quoting individual verses in the Bible?

Or how about the trueness of Jesus as Lord vs. atheistic non-belief? Or sin vs. acceptability of same-sex sexual behaviors? Or welfare? Or women teachers in the church? Or speaking in tongues vs. signs and wonders vs. dispensational beliefs? The list goes on and on.

Same Bible. Two views. Two strongly held beliefs that are to the individual’s mind, without a doubt, clearly “justified” in Scripture. One big problem…

Nothing ever gets resolved because neither are focusing on the overarching themes and narrative throughout Scripture. They are instead trying to formulate a practical theology based on individual verse(s) that cannot be generalized to present day circumstances. And then both parties walk away upset at the other; thinking they are more justified in their belief because they “stood up for their Truth” and that the other is using the Bible incorrectly.

The key is, they both are using the Bible incorrectly.

In a world where there are a variety of worldviews, quite divergent even within Christendom itself, one cannot seek to justify their view/opinion/interpretation from singular verses… or even a combination of singular verses strung together and calling it a “theology.”

That is not theology.

Theology is focusing on the transcultural and transgenerational principles throughout the breathe of Scripture, and utilizing those as the basis for justifying something; a belief, judgement, thought, etc.

This way of understanding theology is important because the end-belief, judgement, thought is not singular. It is instead principled: which I define as the common themes continually revealed throughout Scripture. It is not dependent upon individual verse(s) generalizations. This process is what I call a Principled Theology.

From the formation of this Principled Theology (PT) as a hermeneutical base, individual verses can then be included under these thematic PT umbrellas. The individual verse(s) are then acceptably used to support the PT because the verse(s) are not generalizing anything, the overarching PT principles are. This is how I read and interpret the Bible. It’s how I talk about the Bible, understand the Bible and it’s what I memorize.

I don’t memorize verses. I memorize overarching principles in Scripture.

The reason so many don’t practice a Principled Theology is because you can’t just read a portion of the Bible and have overarching and reoccurring themes throughout the Genesis –> Revelation narrative become apparent. You actually have to read the entire Bible cover to cover, over and over and over again.

Nuance is difficult, and it takes painstaking time and effort. But culturally, even unfortunately religiously, it’s much easier and thus in people’s minds, much more efficient, to read a paragraph pick out a verse you like, one that also so happens to justify exactly what you already believe, and generalize from there. This is the exact reason why Christians of different denominations can’t even talk to each other! Such a heartfelt shame and loss…

For all of the reasons above, I created My One Sentence Bible series on my former blog back in 2009. You can find all of My One Sentence Bible posts to the right, in the Topics of Interest drop-down. For me, these One Sentence Bible principles are not an academic exercise, they are everyday conversations for me living in Boystown; specifically those conversations with others who are not working from the same Scriptural worldview.

My One Sentence Bible series, then, are the sub-principles shown within the text (actual verses), that fit underneath the overarching larger generalizable themes throughout all of Scripture. I go through the entire Bible in this fashion, and at the end, have ultimately addressed every verse. I hope you are able to get as much out of these studies as I.

How do you read the Bible and come to generalizable conclusions?

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org 

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About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • X-Gay Apologist

    “The reason is because when one quotes Bible verses as “proof of correctness in belief” there are hundreds of thousands of other Bible verses people can throw back at you…”. There are only a little over 31,000 verses in the Bible. You’ve already lost your credibility with me by overstating your case from the start.

    • Andrew Marin

      I was referencing the “hundreds of thousands” of ways people use the Bible to counter quote verses. I could have made that more clear. Thanks for the suggestion. I have change it, so it makes more sense. Much love.

      • S Johnson

        @Andrew Marin … I appreciate this article immensely … I believe it is dead-on correct.
        Not to beat a dead horse (over-engineer one phrase), but … I believe “… hundreds of thousands of ways people use Bible verses to counter quoted verses …” is even stronger and more accurate than “… tens of thousands of verses …” Keep up the very good, very inspiring work … We weren’t able to connect at your visits in NC this past summer, but I do hope we can connect soon … and that, perhaps, groups in which I’m involved in Indianapolis could host a speaking engagement in the near future …

    • S Johnson

      @x-gay apologist … now that the phrase has been clarified; and since your perspective is, apparently, contrary to that of Mr. Marin’s commentary, what are your specific views toward countering Marin’s views?

      • X-Gay Apologist

        I apologize for not responding sooner. The holidays have been full of family and merriment.
        Let me say at the outset that I have a high regard for what Andrew Marin is attempting to accomplish in his work and respect much of what he has to say. He is responsible for an important contemporary dialogue.
        And to the specific question being addressed, I agree that ‘proof-texting’ is very often a misused ploy to give seeming support to all kinds of opinions that the texts themselves do not substantiate. The specific examples offered are sufficient proof, though I find it astounding that people would actually try to support their views on immigration and health care by quoting biblical texts! But my disagreement with Andrew is precisely here. It’s what I see as a failure to distinguish the use of proof texts from their misuse and abuse. I wonder if there is an underlying skepticism about the ability to ever know with certainty what any biblical text is really saying. But the Bible needs to be approached like any other piece of literature, as a collection of letters, words, sentences, etc. to which the correct application of sound hermeneutical principles can and will yield a correct understanding of a text. Such principles will include contextual, philological, and exegetical considerations that will limit the application of any text to what it can legitimately be used to prove. The misuse of ‘proof-texting’ comes from a failure to do this very thing. But this misuse should not prevent us from concluding that there are texts in the Bible that are good summaries of ‘overarching themes’ and can be used as such.
        I also obviously agree that the ‘entire Bible’ must be read ‘cover to cover, over and over and over again’ because it has ‘overarching and reoccurring themes’ that transcend cultural and generational considerations and put the individual verses in a context. We would both call that context ‘theology’, but I don’t agree with Andrew about what ‘theology’ is. Theology is at its most basic level the attempt to discover what the Bible teaches as a whole about a given subject. To do this successfully, every individual text that deals with the subject must be considered and conclusions drawn accordingly. This is why simply quoting one or two isolated texts can get us into trouble. They may not give us the whole picture, and we end up with a distorted view of the thing. Theology is primarily inductive, not deductive. We let the individual texts form the finished canvas. If I am understanding Andrew’s concept of ‘principled theology’ accurately, he starts with the ‘canvas’ and looks for the supporting texts by deduction. My question is, upon what hermeneutical basis can he do this? How can we possibly know what the overarching themes are if we don’t get there by considering the relevant texts first? In other words, how does he know that the chosen text really supports his theme?
        The basic issue at stake here is the authority of scripture. If it is a collection of human writings only, then the Bible is just a nice book full of thoughts and opinions like any other human writing. If that is the case, who really cares what that old book really has to say about anything? It’s just throwing more opinions into the public arena. And you know what they say about opinions! But if it is God’s communication to us – His word – then what it says is of immeasurable importance…a matter of inestimable consequence. And if God did speak, then he spoke in such a way that what he said is understandable. Most attempts to undermine this fact and make the biblical texts into something obscure is precisely because what the texts say is very understandable, and we don’t want to hear it.

        • Andrew Marin

          Hope you had a great Christmas and upcoming New Years as well. Thanks for responding again. Here are my thoughts:

          I totally understand your point regarding authority of Scripture. And I think we’re speaking the same language when it comes to “theology.” I feel your definition “Theology is at its most basic level the attempt to discover what the Bible teaches as a whole about a given subject” and mine are basically saying the same thing – as you can’t know the “whole” of a given subject Scripturally without also knowing God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s involvement in them.

          As for the authority, I see your logic questioning my interpretation deductions. The most informative text I’ve read regarding Scriptural interpretation is http://www.amazon.com/Grasping-Gods-Word-Workbook-Interpreting/dp/0310262232/ref=pd_sim_b_1. A Principled Theology is not ignoring the text, it is taking the text in context of the whole of Scripture. A verse(s), even placed together, are no more than verses put together which have importance, yes, but cannot be properly generalized in various cultures over time without a more full understanding of the whole of what those verse(s) are trying to communicate.

          I don’t feel a Principled Theology jeopardizes the authority of Scripture, in my understanding it makes the authority that much more full – as it is giving the text the rightful ability to act/be implemented transculturally, transgenerationally.

  • Columcille

    Andrew, this is about as convincing as making it up.

    If you want to know how to read the Bible and interpret it, then you need to learn how Jews interpret the Old Testament, because it is their book. Learn about it here and why Jews think your doctrine of interpretation, which relies upon the doctrine of sola scriptura is impossible and illogical.
    This is from Jews for Judaism:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpW8ftB-zaM&feature=share&list=UU5qG9wUJNISCbVF8AVp7-xw

    After you learn from the Jews, next turn to the Catholic understanding of interpreting Sacred Scripture, because the New Testament is their book – they complied it and transmitted it down through the centuries. How do Catholics read scripture and interpret it? This is the key document in question:
    http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html

    If you would rather have a quick 9 minute summary here is one:

    http://youtu.be/wUt2_LiK-3U

    Test your theories against the Jewish and Catholic approach to reading scripture (you will see that they are the same).

    Best.

    Columcille

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/loveisanorientation Andrew Marin

      Hi Columcille – Thanks for writing! I read/watched your videos/links and there is one glaring difference between what you posted and what I wrote: I wrote a post about theology and how I directly hermeneutically address Scripture. The links you gave focus on Jewish and Catholic justification for their unique doctrines. There is a big difference between theology and doctrine. PS- in the 9 minute video you posted, that guy said the exact same thing as myself around 2:30 of the video. Much love.

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  • Ambaa

    I wish more Christians understood this.

    For me having Bible verses quoted at me is even more ridiculous, since the Bible isn’t my Holy book and has no authority in my life at all. That’s a difficult concept for people to get. But I can understand and respect a well-thought out belief based on the principles of Christianity more than I can understand shouting individual verses.


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