Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Bible is...Not A Theological Handbook

Thanks to some great conversations at Rachel Held Evans and Storied Theology, I would like to begin a discussion about the Bible.  These two great minds have been discussing, among different circles and different approaches, what can we expect from the Bible.  I even posted a question a few weeks ago, simply asking to finish the sentence:  the Bible is________.

I received one response:  The Bible is the inerrant word of God.

While this may be a good answer, it is a very ambiguous one.  What does it mean that something is inerrant?  What is the word of God anyway?  How does that work?

It is important for us, especially us Protestants, to have a clear view of the Bible.  If we are to read, understand, and apply the Bible to our life and faith correctly, we must be reading it correctly.

Therefore, I would like to begin a discussion on what the Bible is, and is not.  Today I would like to begin by saying that the Bible is not a theological handbook.

A theological handbook, or a systematic theology, is a book that works through (systematically) topics of interest about God.  It works logically through the nature of God, to the attributes, to the actions, before moving on to discuss other topics such as sin, salvation, humanity, church, etc.  While the practice of systematizing our theology is not inherently bad, we must recognize that this is not what we are given with the Bible.

The Bible does not begin with a detailed description of God--in fact, the God of Genesis is rather mysterious.  He reveals himself partially, slowly, and sometimes secretly.  The name of God is not actually revealed to a human until we get to Moses in Exodus.  A systematic theology would not want to leave so much to the imagination!

Beyond this, the Bible does not systematically answer questions about God's nature or actions.  Why does God act the way he does?  The answer in Job is that He is God, so don't ask those questions.  Is God more loving than he is just, or more just than he is loving?  The Bible never gives us an answer.  The Bible leaves us with stories that reveal God's nature, allowing us to wrestle to get to know Him through the story.

Finally, the Bible leaves many questions unanswered about God.  For example, while clearly expressing the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Bible never tries to explain the relationship between the two, or their relation to the Father.  The Trinitarian formula was not developed for 300 years after the writing of Scripture was complete.  The Bible is complete without giving us complete answers; no theological handbook can say the same.

What do you think?  Is there evidence that the Bible is a theological handbook?  Is systematic theology helpful?  Please share your thoughts!

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