What to Do…Subterranean Theology Part 2
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This is the promised follow up to my immediately preceding blog essay about what I call “subterranean theology”—control beliefs that are 1) assumed but rarely examined, and 2) not clearly supported by anything in scripture. My conclusion from many years of studying many kinds of Christian theology is that many traditions and denominations operate on the basis of such control beliefs. I gave examples in that previous blog essay.
So, the question remains to answer: What ought someone do about such “subterranean” control beliefs?
One response is to let them be; do nothing with or about them. They exist at such a deep level that most Christian traditions, denominations and theologians don’t really examine them. Most aren’t even aware of them being “subterranean.” They simply take them for granted and are puzzled that any Christian doesn’t already operate out of them.
The problems with that approach are disunity, inability even to communicate across tradition and denominational boundaries, and unexamined faith-living. “The unexamined faith is not worth believing” just as “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
A second response, assuming someone wants to examine his/her faith-life, is…to explore them and examine them. How? If they truly are not provable from scripture, then how to examine them?
One approach returns to the first response—go with tradition. “This is what we have always believed.” Again, that seems irresponsible to me especially insofar as they can be supported or unsupported (if not falsified) by reason.
So, another approach is to examine them using reason. What does that mean?
Simply put, any control belief (or just any belief!) that contradicts other beliefs is problematic at best and probably should be discarded or radically changed.
Also, any control belief that reasonably leads to consequences that cannot be embraced ought to be discarded or radically changed.
Of course, a third approach is prayer and asking God to shed light on the control beliefs and lead us to continue to embrace them or move away from them to other control beliefs.
I think the best example of a problematic control belief is nominalism which leads to voluntarism which means that God has no eternal, unchanging moral character that governs what he does and commands. The most common expression of that control belief is “Whatever God does is good just because God does it.” Another way of putting the same thing is “Whatever God commands is right just because God commands it.”
That response almost always comes at the end of a long discussion or debate about God’s goodness in relation to divine determinism including unconditional election that is dualistic (some to heaven and some to hell). At the end, when pressed to explain how God can be good in any meaningful sense, the determinist will almost always say something like “Whatever God does is good just because God does it.”
The problem is, of course, that the meaning of “good” slips away; “good” in that sentence does not mean anything other than “God does it.” That God is good becomes a mere tautology that is uninformative about the meaning of “good.” The person might as well just say “God does it” and leave off “good.”
The problem is that, in this case, God himself is ultimately morally ambiguous if not just plan amoral.
I propose that this defeats that control belief—nominalism/voluntarism. It makes God arbitrary. Nobody (so it seems) wants to make God arbitrary. So there is a subterranean aporia in divine determinism insofar as it wishes to believe in the real goodness of God where “goodness” means something to us (other than just “what God commands”).
I have had this conversation with many Calvinists. There are other Christians (and non-Christians) who operate out of this nominalist-voluntarist control belief WHEN they want to justify the ways of God, but Calvinists are the most common lot. Ultimately, however, most of them are inconsistent with themselves. They need to become self-consistent in their beliefs. To wit: They do not want to believe that God is arbitrary or that God’s decisions, deeds or commands are arbitrary. However, “Whatever God does is good just because God does it” reflects, at least at the moment it is uttered, belief in God’s arbitrariness.
So, my lesson is—examine your subterranean control beliefs. Subject them to scrutiny. Ask if they are truly biblical and reasonable (logically consistent with other beliefs and/or avoid leading logically to unacceptable beliefs).
Over the years I have met and held conversations with many Christians who believe strongly either that once a person is saved he/she cannot lose salvation (so-called “eternal security”) or that such a saved person can lose his/or salvation. For the most part, such people have never really examined their belief and, the problem is, scripture “speaks” both ways. So, if one of those two control beliefs is to be examined and confirmed, it must be in terms of logical consistency with other beliefs strongly held.
I propose that it is illogical to believe in genuine free will AND that a person cannot reject the grace of God in which he or she once stood before God as righteous in his sight. Thus, only a person who believes in irresistible grace is logically permitted to hold to inamissable grace-grace that cannot be lost. Yet, the majority of Christians who believe in inamissable grace do not believe in irresistible grace! So something is amiss there.
So, let us examine our subterranean beliefs and be open to revising them or else continue in obscurantist traditionalism.