The Bible Shows Us How to Do Theology, Rather than Telling Us What to Believe

The Bible Shows Us How to Do Theology, Rather than Telling Us What to Believe August 21, 2018

In a recent blog post, Pete Enns wrote:

Not all biblical writers were on the same page when it came to describing what God is like and what it means to believe in this God.

And the reason why we see these differences is because—just like every other human—biblical writers lived in different times and places, under different circumstances, asking different questions and seeking different answers.

To put it another way, their life experiences led them to think of God and faith differently. That’s why the Bible gives us such varying—even conflicting—portraits of God…

The question for us is not to decide which of these portraits is right, but to acknowledge and embrace Scripture as reflecting the varying voices of a people on a centuries-long journey of faith, of discovering what God is like—and adapting their thinking accordingly.

Frankly, watching this sort of thing happening in the Bible is a lot of what makes it interesting for me to keep reading. It reflects back to us our own experience of adapting our thinking of God to account for our experiences of God in the world.

That is how a faith tradition survives. By adapting. not by standing still.

I’ve long thought that the Biblical material makes better sense, for those interested in contemporary theological and practical application, if it is considered not as something that seeks to provide definitive and final answers that must then be repeated in perpetuity thereafter, but as providing an example of how it is appropriate for a faith community to apply and adapt the heritage that it inherits.

I think my first exploration of that idea in print was probably the article I published in Irish Theological Quarterly back in 1998, with the title “Change in Christology: New Testament Models and the Contemporary Task.” You can read it online in Butler University’s repository of its professors’ scholarly work.

Of related interest, see Vance Morgan’s post on commiting to wrestle with rather than believe stories in perpetuity, as well as this new book:

Meet This Book: An Introduction to the Scriptures of Israel: History and Theology


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  • The Mouse Avenger

    Very nice little article! ^_^ And those first few paragraphs in that quote have me sold on the other article! 😀 I’m gonna go read it right now!

  • Nimblewill

    Great response that your article reminded me of. Orthodoxy vs Orthopraxy.

    • Neil Brown

      I like this guy’s thinking! Thank for sharing.
      What can “believe” possibly mean, except “I act in accordance with the idea”?